“Are we not like two volumes of one book?” – Marceline Desbordes-Valmore
An understanding of your and your partner’s personalities allows you to appreciate the ways in which you are similar and dissimilar. When we fully understand the complexities of personality “preferences” we are able to appreciate differences and understand how to best work together to find common ground.
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) allows you to understand that personality differences are really just different ways of seeing things. There is no such thing as a Myers-Briggs personality type that is “better” or “worse” than any other. When you understand the ways in which your and your partner’s personality type interact, you are able to gain a deeper appreciation of your connection and avoid seeing personality differences as meaning that you or your partner are somehow “better” than the other.
The Myers & Briggs Foundation explains that “a knowledge of type preferences can … help couples and families negotiate differences in approaches to lifestyle, intimacy and affection, division of chores, managing money, and other areas of potential conflict.”
Rather than viewing your introverted partner as “antisocial,” understanding of his or her personality type can allow you to appreciate the fact that your partner may simple enjoy recharging in solitude or processing independently. Conversely, an introverted partner may view his or her more extroverted partner as too demanding of communication (i.e., before the introverted partner is ready to communicate) or “too social.”
“Birds of a Feather” or “Opposites Attract”
According to Carl Jung, whose theory of psychological type the MBTI is based upon, opposites attract in intimate partnerships. He believed that when we are attracted to our opposites (“shadow“), “it’s as if we are looking for that rejected, abandoned, or unlived half of ourselves. In this view, we are not so much seeking similarity in our mates as complementarity – the idea of contrapletion, or the completion of ourself by its opposite” (Keirsey, 1998, p. 209).
However, according to temperament theory and the principle of assortative mating, we are more likely to be attracted to those who are similar to ourselves. Within the Myers-Briggs framework, the four temperaments and their opposites are:
- NF: Intuitive / Feeling (opposite: SP)
- NT: Intuitive / Thinking (opposite: SJ)
- SJ: Sensing / Judging (opposite: NT)
- SP: Sensing / Perceiving (opposite: NF)
There are plenty of examples throughout history of successful and unsuccessful relationships built on similar and opposite personality types and temperaments. However, “Please Understand Me II” explains that “by far the most frequent mating appears to be between SP … and SJ … which is neither exactly a matter of like attracting like nor of opposites attracting” (Keirsey, 1998, p. 210). This also has to do with the fact that SP and SJ types are more prevalent than NF or NT types.
Beyond Attraction to “Getting Along”
Whether or not you find yourself attracted to someone “just like you” or someone who is your “opposite,” once the attraction brings you two together in a relationship, quickly begins a longer process of figuring out how to live together in harmony. It is important to recognize that despite what personality and temperament theories say, two well-adjusted people of any personality type or temperament are capable of creating a strong stable marriage. That being said, what temperamental combinations work “best?”
Keirsey (1998) explains that similarity of thought and speech (abstract or concrete) tend to create stability in a relationship. People with an “S” (sensing) personality preference tend to communicate primarily about what they can observe, while people with an “N” (intuitive) personality preference tend to communicate about what they can imagine. When two partners are either an “N” or an “S” they tend to have an easy ability to understand where the other is “coming from.”
Problems of both excessive similarity and excessive difference can be solved, but it may take more patience and work to decide that you are invested in understanding your partner’s point of view or tendencies. It is important not to get locked into thinking that one person’s personality is inherently “better” than the other. We all have certain strengths and weaknesses, and in any relationship that is destined to last, it is crucial to take the time and effort to empathize with and understand your partner’s innate temperament and personality tendencies.
Opposites do attract and birds of a feather do flock together. The ones who stay attracted and who stay “flocked” are dedicated to compassionate understanding of their partner and active compromise towards building a loving and lasting bond.
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If you are interested in taking the official MBTI personality assessment, you may take it at MBTI Complete for $59.95. For an unofficial version of the Jung Typology Test, you may take it for free at HumanMetrics.
Keirsey, D. (1998). Please understand me II: Temperament, character, intelligence. Del Mar, CA: Prometheus Nemesis Book Company.
The Myers & Briggs Foundation. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.myersbriggs.org/
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