My husband and I have a mixed marriage. He is the epitome of an extrovert. And I am the exact opposite.
He can talk to anyone – from close friend to perfect stranger. I could go for days without talking if I didn’t have to. He loves parties and crowds and small talk. I love staying home with a good book or a deep conversation with a good friend.
It’s probably needless to say that we had different reactions to Corona-induced lockdown. For my husband, his reality was suddenly completely altered. No more getting on a plane every 5-6 weeks. No more drinks with friends in our garden in the evenings. No more coffee or lunch networking meetings. No more constant contact with other human beings.
For me, things didn’t change as drastically. I already worked from home. I already could go days without leaving a 2 block-radius from my house, let alone the city limits. I definitely missed seeing friends, don’t get me wrong, but it wasn’t the same doomsday feeling that I know my husband was feeling.
As much as my husband struggled with being home with just the 5 of us all the time, I struggled with the 4 of them all being home with me all the time. I crave space and alone time. Sure, I can close the door to my office and no one will bother me (unless the wifi stops working or they are super hungry), but I can still hear background noise of other people in the house. I love the sound of utter silence and knowing that I am the only one home.
So what happens when an introvert and an extrovert are basically locked in together for weeks on end? Well…the good news is we are both still alive and still married to each other. The better news is that we were forced to confront things within ourselves as individuals and as a couple that we otherwise could have just continued to ignore.
Here are the 2 main things I’ve learned:
Perspective Matters – sometimes, when something is crystal clear to me, it is unfathomable how someone else may not see it the exact same way. I know, this is not something that should be so surprising, but yet, it still came as somewhat as an epiphany to me when at some point mid-argument over something I don’t even remember my husband said to me – “can you just stop and actually look at it from my perspective for a second?” Introverts and extroverts by definition have opposite perspectives – taking that hard step of forcing my mind to imagine a different perspective was eye-opening.
I could think of so many worse things than being told I have to stay home. My husband could think of nothing worse. While I tried to make (mostly inappropriate Holocaust-related) jokes about how things could be worse and we could be in hiding with no food, I didn’t realize how traumatizing it actually was for my extroverted husband. I know how real my need is for alone time to recharge especially after being particularly social, but I never fully understood how real his need is for human interaction and conversation. I will never stop making sure I get to fulfill my own needs even if that means taking a nap in the middle of the day or hiding in my closet with a good book, but I have a new appreciation for how hard it can be for the extroverts around me to understand this and not to see it just as laziness or a desire to specifically not be around them.
Communication is Key – again, not an earth-shattering revelation here, but when you are living a busy life, in non-pandemic times, it is so easy to go for days without properly communicating with your spouse. At least that was the case for us. There would be the ongoing whatsapp messages throughout the day about the kids’ schedules and who needs to be picked up from where and dropped off when. And maybe some discussion about dinner or evening plans. When life is “normal” (by normal, I mean pre-pandemic) and your spouse is annoying you, it’s easy to avoid them and avoid having a conversation that could turn confrontational. When you’re in the same house together 24/7, no matter how big the house is and how many places there are to hide, at some point conversation becomes inevitable.
Again, I’m an introvert who hates confrontation and often keeps my feelings to myself (Unless it’s in writing. Then I will share all. But make me actually talk, and forget it!). Married to an extrovert who is not scared of confrontation and will share his feelings with anyone who will listen. So you can imagine how communication may present a challenge for us. My husband, the extrovert, wants to talk and talk and doesn’t understand why I, the introvert, am not responding immediately. In the meantime, I am trying to absorb what he is saying and am getting overwhelmed with being talked at and can’t formulate the words to respond. Trust me, it isn’t a pretty situation. And it can easily devolve into shouting (just a side note..if you’re going to have a shouting match with your spouse, close your windows if you don’t want your Israeli neighbor to yell “SHEKET!” at you), which is almost always counterproductive.
While neither of us are likely to change our communication styles and habits, I think we’ve both used – maybe by necessity and maybe by choice – the lockdown opportunity to take a step back and try to understand each other better. To not make assumptions about tone of voice or words that are left unsaid. To find the space to really listen to what the other is saying or not saying.
For us, the biggest lesson we’ve learned during Corona is how to communicate better in order to make the other understand a different perspective. A valuable lesson in a marriage, as a parent, and as a human being in general. If an introvert and an extrovert can survive lockdown together fairly unscathed, then maybe there is hope for humanity after all!