My husband is an extrovert.
I am an introvert.
I could just leave it at that and let you imagine what sort of hijinks have ensued, but I'll help you out: We've been married for 23 years. Together for 27. We've figured out a way to make it work. But it has definitely been a bumpy road.
First, an agreement on definitions: There's plenty of misunderstanding about what the words mean. Many people think extrovert means "outgoing and loud" and introvert means "shy", but that's not really the case. People who've known me for years are incredulous when I tell them I'm an introvert. ("Yeah, right," they usually snort.) But it's true. For the sake of brevity and for the purposes of this story, here are the characteristics I know to be true of extroverts and introverts:
EXTROVERT: Derives energy from being with other people. Often needs to process thoughts "out loud".
INTROVERT: Derives energy from being alone. Usually needs time to process thoughts in their own head.
(The above are vast generalizations. If this topic interests you, I highly recommend you get to know my friends Beth Buelow and Jessica Butts. They're both experts on this topic and can speak to it with far greater authority than I can.)
So, like I said, my husband is an extrovert, and I'm an introvert. It's taken me some time to realize that I'm an introvert. I thought extrovert was what I was supposed to be. It's only been with the blessing of middle-age that I've been able to get to know myself well enough to see that I am drained by social interactions. (That sounds bad and I don't mean it that way. I enjoy them! They just use up my energy.) I need lots of alone time. I like to think before I say stuff, and I try not to say things I don't mean.
But my point here (she said, nine paragraphs into her story) is about bedtime.
For me, when I go to bed, it means I'm done. I've used up all of my energy, no more time for thinking. The brain is empty and it's time to get some sleep to refill it. Lights out. Go to sleep. End of story.
That's an introvert's way of thinking.
My husband, bless his extrovert heart, works differently:
Kiss kiss. Goodnight. I love you. Lights out.
"So, I've got this thing at work that I've been thinking about ..."
My eyes fly open. What?!?
"I was thinking that there's a better way to do it. I keep getting crap from so-and-so, but he doesn't realize that the way to do it is ..."
Are you kidding me? I kick my brain back on: Wake up, brain. We've got more work to do. I listen patiently. Getting an understanding of the scene. Offer my feedback. I engage. I'm up. I'm ready.
"... and that's probably what I'll do. OK. Goodnight!" He rolls back over and goes to sleep. Soon, he's snoring.
My eyes are like saucers. I'm wide awake.
What we've come to realize is this: He's an extrovert. He needs to get these thoughts out of his head before he can go to sleep. So do I, but I do it pretty much by getting so tired I can't think anymore. He does it by voicing them out loud.
I came to call it "processing on me". As in, "Look, honey, you can't process on me like that."
I explained to him that my brain is exhausted by the end of the day, and once I've committed to bed it's done. To kick it back into gear so that it can engage with another human being and help them sort out a situation takes a great deal of energy, and that makes it hard for me to go back to sleep.
He explained to me that it was something he needed to do to be able to sleep. Even though it may have felt like he was "dumping" his problems on me, he really wasn't. He just needed to get them out of his head. He also let me know that he didn't really need me to engage at the high level I thought I did. He mostly just needed to talk, there wasn't usually a need for me to "fix" things.
So now I know to engage with him at dinner time, well before bed, so that he can "process" his thoughts for the day, and he knows that I do not like it when he comes to bed ready to chat about his challenges. So he tries not to. Which is kind.
Now, if we could just agree on when it's time to leave a party.
This article first appeared at LeslieIrishEvans.com.
Leslie Irish Evans, Author, Speaker, and Self-Care Genius, lives on the Internet and writes about it at www.leslieirishevans.com. She encourages all of her readers to secure their own oxygen masks before assisting others. Her new podcast "Get Touched" debuts on Sept 14th at 3pm Eastern (noon, Pacific) on Contact Talk Radio.