Is your Relationship stuck in a Communication Loop?

Today the subject again deals with different personality styles, this time with the focus on the traits “extroverted” and “introverted”, respectively. If you diagnosed your type with the help of our free personality test, you already know whether you are an extrovert or an introvert:

Extroverted: Energetic Doer, Laid-Back Doer, Determined Realist, Social Realist, Spontaneous Idealist, Engaged Idealist, Groundbreaking Thinker, Dynamic Thinker

Introverted: Individualistic Doer, Sensitive Doer, Reliable Realist, Good-Natured Realist, Dreamy Idealist, Harmony-Seeking Idealist, Analytical Thinker, Independent Thinker

Extroverts and Introverts significantly differ from each other in the manner in which they communicate with others. Extroverts enjoy communicating a lot and without an effort, they “carry their heart on their tongue”. They often think aloud, ventilate their thoughts before they have finished them and don’t understand how one can keep that which deeply moves one, to oneself. They have no problem talking about anything personal and private, are quick to interrupt others and have trouble with long silences. Introverts, on the other hand deal with many things on their own, don’t talk until they have carefully thought out what should be said and whether it is even worth saying. They rarely voice their most innermost thoughts, in any case. The pace of their speech is significantly slower than the extrovert’s and they tend not to respond to a question right away and if at all, not unless and until their response is well thought out. Silence does not threaten them, it is restful; they don’t jump back and forth between a variety of subjects as do extroverts but prefer to finish one before beginning the next one.
It is always relatively easy for us to communicate with people who are similarly programmed. As an extrovert, I am comfortable in the company of an extrovert because I recognize myself in his perky, lively and open nature and therefore have an easier time taking his measure. Conversely, as an introvert I am going to have an easier time with other introverts because they are going to respect my private space as much as I respect theirs and their manner of expressing resembles mine.

It gets interesting when we encounter personality types that are differently wired. Depending on the intensity of my or my counterpart’s extro- or introversion dimension, communication can very quickly become stressful. For instance, extroverts frequently get the feeling that introverts are reclusive, solitary and only interested in themselves. The extroverts sometimes perceive this as downright unfriendly and feel rejected. The introvert’s measured pace of speech and his/her tendency for longer pauses during a conversation irritates some extroverts; then they are likely to finish their counterpart’s sentences or change the subject attempting to somehow keep the conversation going. And then when the extrovert gets the feeling that his/her introverted counterpart always lags two steps behind or takes forever to respond, the introverted counterpart is incorrectly perceived as a little “dense” or boorish.

On the other hand introverts are also occasionally more than irritated by their extroverted conversation partners. From their perspective they appear to be superficial, garrulous sometimes actually obtrusive and pushy. They can’t quit prattling, about this and that, all sorts of the latest stuff and a thousand things the introverted would never have mentioned about him/herself – and especially after just meeting someone. This effusiveness and non-stop irrelevant gibberish is clearly a front for substance! And then the continuous interruptions; as an introvert it is impossible to finish a thought not to speak about having an opportunity to express oneself. The way in which these extroverts always insist on raining on a person’s parade before one has had the chance to open one’s mouth is more than inconsiderate.

With these different styles, communications tend to escalate especially swiftly when one partner is rather more introverted and the other happens to be extroverted. (By the way, that is one of the reasons we tended to group similar types in our “who is my match” fields.) But then it is not all that unusual that an extroverted man falls in love with an introverted woman, or the other way around – at least early on this difference can very attractive. The daily routine issues usually don’t rear their ugly head until later. If one isn’t careful, those are apt to degenerate into real vicious circles. A favorite stereotype is that of a woman who continuously babbles, wants to talk about everything and is hurt and angry when the man responds to the question about what happened during the day with “nothing” while he unfolds the newspaper.

Obviously this scenario also works the other way around. Systemic therapists have illustrated these interaction patterns with interaction loops that perfectly demonstrate how these issues continue escalating.
Partner 1: is taciturn, doesn’t talk much, and prefers to withdraw

Partner 2: is made to feel insecure, nervous, speculates, suspects the other excludes him/her from his/her innermost world and reacts accordingly: he/she inquires, probes, if he/she doesn’t get any or an unsatisfactory response, may even spy on the other

Partner 1: feels pressured, interrogated, persecuted and constantly under fire from all sides and reacts accordingly: he/she withdraws further, talks even less and in order to protect his/her privacy tries not to present a “potential target”

Partner 2: this naturally makes him/her even more frantic, he/she doubles his/her efforts to “get through” to the other, force him/her into a conversation, spend time with him/her and is now convinced to be on to some dark secret

Partner 1: now begins to feel like a victim of the Spanish Inquisition and tries to escape from being “stalked” . . .

Here it makes no difference who started this loop; a unidirectional causality does not exist. It always takes two to tango. The loop can have its beginning at any point; and frequently this loop is predominantly created between partners (or friends) when one tends to be extroverted (for all practical purposes he/she represents the “pursuer”) and the other, rather more introverted (turns into the “victim”).
In case you get caught in such a loop yourself, the good news for you: it can be broken at any time! As an introvert you should be aware that your extroverted partner is probably deathly afraid that you are harboring any number of dark thoughts he/she knows nothing about, or that you lost interest in him/her because you don’t want to talk to him/her (any longer). If you are the extrovert, be aware that your behavior continues driving your partner into just that corner from which you are desperately trying to lure him/her. Until you give him/her the time and space to breath deeply he/she won’t be able to approach you on his/her own.

For you, the introvert this means: step out of your emotional paradigm and explain to your partner that you have recently learned about your different communication styles and that there is nothing he/she should be concerned about just because you talk less than he/she. Together search for opportunities for him/her to satisfy his/her more extensive communication needs – because they are simply too much for you to deal with. For you, the extrovert this means: even if it is difficult for you, rein yourself in and wait for your partner to come to you. Give him/her a little more space and practice your composure! There are surely other folks in your environment with whom you can converse about everybody and his cat. And, don’t always take his/her restraint so personally – it is not directed at you but merely the expression of his/her individual style.