Is Your Personality Type a Help or Hinderance toYour Relationship?
How to Know What Your Type is
Susan complains that she and her husband, Jack, don’t communicate. He says he communicates just fine; she just doesn’t listen. She feels frustrated. He feels unheard. Maybe therapy can help.
Included in most therapist’s toolbox are exercises to improve communication, like active listening, reflecting back, or making “I statements” such as “I feel….” or “It’s my experience that….,” statements that don’t make their partner feel put down. These are all well and good, but they often fail to address an important underlying problem — personality styles.
It was Swiss psychologist Carl Jung who first developed a comprehensive theory of personality styles — or types. Your personality “type” is inborn, with the environment having only the slightest influence. For example, you are either an introvert or an extravert. An introvert may, at times, or in certain situations, act in an extraverted way, just as extraverts may prefer being alone at times the way introverts do. But their default mode is one or the other.
Another component of your “personality type” involves what Jung called the “four functions.” These include thinking and feeling as well as sensation and intuition. Generally, people have a strength of one of each pair. For example, a person may be a “Thinking Type” (versus a feeling type) but also have good intuition. Thinking and feeling refer to how people make judgments. It has nothing to do with intelligence or how emotional someone is. Thinking types make judgments on the basis of logic (i.e. Does this make logical sense?), while feeling types decide things on the basis of how they feel (i.e. Does this feel right?).
People also have a preference for either sensation or intuition. “Sensation types” are more attuned to the concrete world of the senses (hearing, tasting, smelling, seeing, touching and facts). In contrast, intuitives pick up on things that may seem to defy objective data, or evidence, yet prove later to be true. They simply have an intuition about it.
HOW TO DETERMINE YOUR PERSONALITY TYPE
You can determine your type by measuring the strength and preference of each function. Several test instruments have been designed to do just this. You can find these online. Jung, himself, diagnosed a client’s type by observation. Many Jungian analysts can do this too, but others prefer taking (or giving) a test, even though tests are not necessarily more reliable than an assessment by a trained analyst.
The test will tell you if you are an introvert or extravert, a thinking or feeling type, and an intuitive or sensation type. In my own case, I am an introverted intuitive feeling type, which means, in addition to being an introvert, I am highly intuitive and make judgments on the basis of how things “feel.” What is less developed in me is thinking (using logic to make decisions) and sensation, which is the least developed in me and can cause problems, especially when I need to find concrete, provable and practical solutions to things.
COMMUNICATION PROBLEMS AS A FUNCTION OF TYPE
So let’s return to our couple, Susan and Jack. Let’s imagine that Susan is an extravert with good intuition but poor sensation. Her husband is an introvert with excellent sensation but poor intuition. She perceives things intuitively, while he needs objective proof (evidence) that something is true. You can see where this might lead. At the same time, Susan makes judgments based on logic (thinking) while Jack judges things on how they feel.
As an extravert, Susan is stimulated by other people, things and events in the outside world; she is energized by them, while Jack, as an introvert, finds all this activity tiring: He is more oriented to his inner world and overwhelmed by too much outer stimulation.
WHEN OPPOSITES ATTRACT
Ironically, we are often attracted to our opposite and may even enjoy what they bring to the relationship, we may find that, over time, our differences become annoying. This will happen early on during courtship or after we’re married, whenever the need for consensus and commonality becomes important. Suddenly, the feeling type sees their thinking partner as insensitive and uncaring. The sensation type experiences his intuitive partner as out of touch with reality. The extravert may want to go out more; the introvert may prefer spending more time at home or alone.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that they have irreconcilable differences and need to break up, but it does mean they must accept, even embrace, and understand their differences. To the degree that each partner has developed some sense of themselves, that is, they have a strong enough ego to tolerate differences, the relationship is salvageable. However, if one or both partners cannot tolerate differences without judgment and angst, the relationship is going to suffer. Better communication in these cases requires the following:
- Recognize that the other person sees things through a different lens; they are not “Wrong” just because they don’t see the world as you do. Thinking types often accuse Feeling types of being “illogical,” while feeling types complain that thinking types don’t hear or value their feelings about the “rightness” of things.
- Realize that your partner is not trying to be difficult or make you miserable, frustrated or annoyed; he or she is not purposely “doing this TO you,” but is doing or thinking this because they are being true to themselves.
- Appreciate the different perspectives your partner brings. The introvert can help the extravert to slow down, relax, reflect on life; the extravert can introduce the introvert to people and activities they might not seek out on their own.
This is not to say that couples don’t also suffer irreconcilable differences, but the differences in typology can often be worked out, with or without a therapist. Over time, we naturally develop the less evolved parts of our personality, some more than others. However, our least developed function (which Jung called our “inferior function”) may continue to create challenges for us (and our partner) over a lifetime. What we need in this case is patience, kindness and increasing consciousness. And all of these involve commitment and work!