My husband has long enjoyed socializing more than I have; this was a semi-frequent pre-pandemic encounter of us that was whitewashed during quarantine because no one could go anywhere. It came out in small increments as we were working in the same limited space (my husband likes to chat during the work day; I like to bury my face in a computer in a quiet room) but most of the time my preferences prevailed.
Now that we are back in the world, the fight is back, and I can see it extends to our children as well. Our little one is more like my husband, while our older daughter is more like me. She and I don’t mind seeing people, although sometimes we need to be persuaded to socialize – and always need some downtime to recharge. The more extroverted couple can travel endlessly and require less recharging. Neither of us are extremely introverted or extroverted, but there is tension when trying to figure out family activities.
The first thing I learned when I started talking to experts about how to deal with our differences is that not everyone agrees on the definitions of “introverted” and “extroverted,” and it is important to define terms when you do Want to assess your own family dynamics. Kenneth Rubin, a professor of human development at the University of Maryland who has studied social withdrawal for decades, said that “people throw around terms like ‘shyness’ or ‘introvertedness’ or ‘fondness for loneliness’ or ‘social’ with fear ‘in one big box, although they are actually all quite different. “
Shyness is reluctance in social society. In preschoolers, said Dr. Ruby, shyness is based on fear of the unknown; in older children and adults, it is based on the fear of being judged. Social anxiety is “shyness with steroids,” as Melinda Wenner Moyer put it in our guide to dealing with shy children. “It is a diagnosable disorder characterized by a fear of being watched and judged by others that is so intense and persistent that it disrupts daily life,” she wrote.
Introversion is a predilection for loneliness and is sometimes defined as a loss of energy from social situations, while extroversion gains energy from social situations. “I like energy as a shortcut to talk about the whole thing,” says Susan Cain, author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.” “I tell people to introduce themselves to company they really enjoy and think about how they feel after about two to three hours. As an extrovert, you want the party to last a long time. As an introvert, no matter how socially competent you are, you have the feeling that your battery is empty and you have to recharge yourself. ”This definition resonated with me – after about two hours of socializing, it is as if a switch was thrown inside me and I have to take a break from people even if it’s only five minutes in the bathroom staring silently at my cell phone.
So how do you find out if your family members are shy or introverted, and how do you make sure everyone gets what they socially need? Here are some tips.
Find out the preferences of each family member. In children, start by observing them as they interact with others. If they’re anxious or disoriented in the playground – always sticking to the periphery instead of jumping into the fray no matter how long you’re there – they can be shy, said Dr. Ruby. If, like my older daughter, they need a lot of persuasion to leave the house but like to get involved once they have an activity, they are likely introverted.
For adults, ask yourself this question, Ms. Cain said: “Imagine having a whole weekend to yourself with no social, family or work commitments. How would you spend your time? ” The answer will show how much you really enjoy socializing and how much engaging feels.
It may seem obvious to work to understand each individual’s nature and preferences through observation and discussion, but “it’s not at all obvious,” said Ms. Cain. “Most families have unspoken, unrealized expectations about what is the right way to go,” she said. So if you are an introvert in an extroverted family, or vice versa, your needs may be overlooked or misunderstood.
Discuss plans beforehand. It’s important to discuss weekend activities you might be able to do as a family and let everyone voice their opinions, said Kristine Nicolini, assistant professor in the Journalism Department at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, who wrote her dissertation on introversion and family communication dynamics. You could arrange to do two social things on a Saturday, but allow a break between game dates and barbecues.
It’s also worth being aware of family dynamics when socializing, said Dr. Nicolini. Extroverted family members can invite their introverted siblings or spouses for conversations to make sure they feel included, she said.
Share and conquer. Conducting various activities to satisfy introverts and extroverts can help everyone get what they need, Ms. Cain said. My husband may take my younger daughter to her favorite park while my older daughter and I stay home doing handicrafts and reading. All are happy. With us as a couple, my husband will meet friends when the kids are in bed while I stay at home, watch TV and fold laundry. We both live our best lives.
That doesn’t mean we always avoid conflict. Leisure time, especially when we go out together without our children, is a zero-sum game. I prefer to spend this free time as a couple, while he prefers to hang out with a larger group.
Sometimes we compromise by eating out alone and seeing friends later. Sometimes I go home before my husband, but I get angry about it easily. In a strange way, the pandemic made me grateful to go back to those old irritations; I find it comforting, like a scratchy old blanket. I am so happy that we can make contacts again at all.