Disagreements and fights in a relationship many times involve harping on the habits your partner has that don’t exactly jive with yours. “If only you weren’t so unthoughtful!” you may say. Or, “You’re not being logical!” But what if you could go into it understanding exactly how the other person is wired to behave?
Dr. Karen Ruskin, a relationship and marriage specialist with over 20 years of experience, explains that learning your partner’s personality type is important in improving your relationship—and may even save it.
Why personality matters:
“Personality differences absolutely affect a couple’s decision making and ability to relate to one another,” she explains. “A person’s entire perception of any particular issue, whether sex or finances, is influenced by personality.”
Try to remember back to your last date night with your special someone. It’s one thing to discuss where and what a nice night out should entail, but how it is discussed is entirely colored by personality. When he responds, “Whatever you like,” to your inquiry, you may feel the urge to choke his apathy into sweet silence. To you, your intent was clear, the transmission was perfect, and all the problems were with the receiver, that aloof robot of a man disguised by a rumpled button down under a casual sweater. Psychoanalytic science says there may be more to the story.
“Understanding your own and your partner’s personality type helps make sense of behavior within a relationship. A lack of understanding during an engagement can cause resentment, but being able to make sense of an interaction allows for patience.”
What you are experiencing is a personality clash. In broad terms, we all have unique personalities, but the study of psychometrics deals specifically with grouping those personality traits into a comprehensive and accessible reference for human beings to better understand ourselves and one another. You may be able to easily identify your partner as an “introvert” and yourself as an “extrovert,” but that’s only part of the picture. The rest is discoverable through personality tests.
“Personality tests can be very helpful in facilitating self-acceptance. They can give you new perspective on past interactions and future engagements,” says Dr. Karen. After taking one, you may think back to that conversation or argument and understand dynamics that you couldn’t before. Maybe you were more frustrated by his apparent lack of engagement rather than what he actually said. Perhaps what he meant didn’t come across as intended.
So is date night planning doomed to the same routine? Dr. Karen says no. “Personality tests can be validating and reassuring, but it is important not to let them ‘lock you in’ or be used to lock other people in,” she explains. In short, there is always opportunity for change—but “change” can be problematic vocabulary.
Aim for relationship and personal growth:
“I prefer to use enhancement and growth over change. I like shift. We can all grow and we can enhance. I believe we have a core and if we have an awareness of what we wish to better about ourselves, we can achieve it,” Dr. Karen says. “Change implies to me that something is wrong. Personality is not a matter of something being right or wrong. No one personality is the right way.”
Now that Dr. Karen mentions it, maybe he wasn’t being apathetic about date night at all, but rather assumed you already had particular ideas in mind and he wanted you to know he was willing to follow your master plan. “Whatever you like” from a reserved personality type just so happens to sound like “I don’t care” to an extrovert.
The human capacity for enhancement is an optimistic reminder that personalities and relationships are fluid and multidimensional. Personalities don’t exist in a vacuum. They are filtered through our perceptions of other personality types, and what we understand or learn about ourselves will not reflect the same way in all our relationships.
“A partner will respond differently to aspects of your personality relative to their own. If you consider yourself to be a ‘feeling’ personality type but are not as strongly feeling as your partner, they may consider you to be more of a thinker than a feeler,” Dr. Karen says. This imperfect feedback can muddy communication. We may imagine our partner is purposefully trying to upset us, when in reality, our ideas and feelings are not being transmitted clearly.
How to get on the same page:
Beyond figuring out your personality type, Dr. Karen has one remedy in particular she calls the “reflection technique,” which is an exercise of focused listening and understanding. “Reflect on exactly what it is you heard the other person say, excluding everything else—your emotions and reactions and perceptions—then repeat it back to your partner. Focus on whether or not the other person heard exactly what it is you said and that what you said is understood. It is a technique that can be utilized moment to moment in a conversation, not just once, because it is very easy for people to interject their interpretation into what they hear.”
Regardless of the topic, communication between differing personality types remains one of the biggest, but surmountable, challenges a relationship will face. Lucky for you, there are free and fun resources available to figure out what makes you tick so you can be on the same page.
Try one of these free tests to start improving your relationship today:
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