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Monday, March 10, 2014

Negotiating Conflicting Temperaments in Your Relationship

As anyone who has ever been in a new relationship knows, during the initial heady stage of falling in love in a relationship both people are usually on their best behavior.  During that stage, many people feel they have met their "soul mate."  But conflicts can arise over time, especially when each person in the relationship has a different temperament compared to his or her partner.  If the couple doesn't know how to negotiate these differences, after a while, a relationship can end with anger and resentment.

Coping With Conflicting Temperaments in Your Relationship

What is Psychological Temperament?
Let's start first by defining what we mean by the word "temperament."

Generally speaking, psychological temperament refers to aspects of personality that are considered to be innate as opposed to being learned.  An example of contrasting temperaments would be introversion and extroversion.

Extroverts generally tend to be outgoing, gregarious, talkative and prefer being around others as opposed to being alone.  If they spend too much time alone, they often become bored.

An Example of Temperament: Extroverts

Introverts tend to be more interested in their inner emotional world.  They are often more emotionally reserved than extroverts.  They might enjoy being at social gatherings, but they can get overstimulated in certain group environments.

An Example of Temperament: Introvert

These examples of temperament are generalizations, of course, and there are many variations.

Let's take a look at the vignette below, which is a composite of many different couples, to see how conflicting temperaments in a relationship can create problems:

Ann and Jerry:
When Ann met Jerry, she liked that he was sensitive to her feelings and that he had a calming effect on her.  She also liked that Jerry, who was a writer, was much more emotionally aware than most men that she dated in the past.  They would talk for hours about topics that Ann hardly talked about with other men, including psychology, literature, and music.  She loved Jerry's writing and admired that he was so disciplined in his work.

Ann Liked Jerry's Sensitivity and Jerry Liked Ann's Gregariousness

When they first met, Jerry liked Ann's gregariousness.  He admired how she comfortable she felt among strangers at a party, and he felt that being around her helped him to be more outgoing than he normally would be on his own.  He also liked that Ann, who was a marketing rep., tended to be a "go-getter," a trait he wished he had to promote his work.  He had never dated anyone as lively and charming as Ann.

After dating for a year, Ann and Jerry moved in together.  Jerry didn't really care about how the apartment was furnished or if they had a house warming party, so he left that for Ann to handle, who loved decorating and organizing social gatherings.  She also organized their social activities with friends.

During the first year that they lived together, they were both very happy.  Jerry enjoyed hearing about Ann's interactions in the business world, and Ann loved reading Jerry's magazine articles.  She was also thrilled that he had just received an advance to write a book, and she was very encouraging with regard to his writing.

But by the second year, tension developed between Jerry and Ann.  Jerry was spending a lot of time at home working on his deadline for the book, which left little time for social activities.  Ann continued to be supportive of Jerry's writing, but she missed going out to parties and seeing her friends more.

Ann was beginning to feel stifled by her relationship with Jerry.  Even though she would see her friends when Jerry was too busy with his writing, she wanted him to come along.  Her other friends' husbands came out with her friends, and she felt awkward being the only one who went to social gatherings on her own.

At first, she tried not to complain to Jerry because she knew that it was important for him to meet his publisher's deadline.  But, even though she didn't tell him directly that she was feeling annoyed that she was going out without him, her resentment came out in other ways.  She found herself snapping at Jerry for petty things, like when he forgot to call the superintendent to fix a leaky faucet.

Jerry, who was immersed in his work, felt guilty that he wasn't accompanying Ann to the social gatherings that she normally enjoyed going to with him.  But he felt he had no choice.  He had to meet the publisher's deadline, and he wouldn't enjoy spending time at a party knowing that he was at risk of not meeting the deadline.  He also didn't like or understand why Ann was snapping at him for petty issues.  He felt she was being inconsiderate when she knew how much pressure he was under.

Then, one day, when Ann came home to discover that Jerry forgot, once again, to call the superintendent to fix the leaky faucet, she felt upset and exploded at Jerry:  He was at home all day.  Couldn't he take a minute to call the superintendent?  How many times did she have to remind him to do this?  She was busy at work all day. She didn't have the time to do it.  And so on.

Coping With Conflicting Temperaments: Ann Felt Upset

Jerry, who was already anxious because he was falling behind where he wanted to be in terms of meeting the publisher's deadline, became exasperated:  Did Ann think that she was the only one working because she went to an office?  Wasn't his work important too?   She knows that he has been under a lot of pressure.  Why is she making it worse by stressing him out about a leaky faucet?  How could she be so inconsiderate.  And so on.

Their argument escalated to the point where Ann told Jerry that she felt bored in their relationship.  She wanted to go out more and be around people.  She wanted to go to parties, skiing and snow boarding with friends.  She didn't want to just sit around the apartment and watch him write.  She felt like she was suffocating.

Jerry responded by telling her that he didn't mind going to parties sometimes, but he would feel irritated after a while by the loud music and people trying to shout over the music to be heard.  He couldn't understand why Ann found this enjoyable.  And while many of her friends were "nice," he thought some of them were "vapid," like teenagers who never grew up.

Coping With Conflicting Temperaments in Your Relationship

Ann took offense to Jerry calling her friends "vapid" and asked him if he thought she was "vapid" too because she wasn't as intelligent as he is.  As Jerry was gathering his thoughts to respond, Ann interpreted this as meaning that he did think she was "vapid," and he didn't want to say it out loud, so she shot back, "Well, I think you're boring and we might have made a mistake moving in together."

After that, Jerry retreated into the den to cool off and reflect on what just happened.  Ann, who felt abandoned when Jerry walked away, texted a friend to meet her at a local bar to talk.

During the next few weeks, their relationship was strained.  They each felt hurt and angry, and neither of them knew what to do.

Conflicting Temperaments in a Relationship
As you probably realize, in the vignette above, generally speaking, Jerry is an introvert and Ann is an extrovert.

Each of them was drawn to the other, in part, for the qualities that they felt was missing within him and herself.  But, after the initial stage of their relationship, conflicts arose when each of them, based on their different temperaments, felt that their needs weren't being met by the other.  The very personality traits that they each liked in each other at the beginning of the relationship now annoyed each of them.

In a situation like this, the relationship can quickly unravel when neither person knows how to negotiate these issues or if they don't get help from a licensed mental health professional who works with couples and who knows how to help couples develop the relationship skills required to negotiate conflicts based on conflicting temperaments.

In my next article, I'll focus on how couples who have conflicting temperaments can negotiate their relationship so that these type of conflicts don't destroy the relationship.

Getting Help in Couples Therapy
If you and your partner are having problems in your relationship because of conflicting temperaments, you owe it to yourself to get help from a couples therapist who has expertise in this area.  It could make the difference between salvaging your relationship or breaking up.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individuals and couples.

I have helped many couples to have more fulfilling relationships.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.