Close Menu

    Sep 07, 2016    |   Aidan Millar

Oil and Water? Exploring Type and Relationships

heart-1088487_1280 (2) While the majority of my MBTI® sessions are designed to address organizational considerations and team challenges, I often – and quite unintentionally – end up talking about romantic relationships. You see, once individuals learn about type as a framework for understanding basic human differences, it’s quite natural for us to immediately begin applying this new framework to understanding a wide variety of others – our partners being no exception, and usually the first in our reflection cross-hairs. While we cannot necessarily pick our teammates or our bosses, we do tend pick our partners. And thus, it can become a fascinating case study for us to begin to explore the sources of both joy – and challenge – that comes with these choices, and the insights that surface as we attempt to create a life with someone else. Increasingly, people want to know whether type can explain why – or why not – their relationship is destined for success. This week, I received an email from a woman wanting to use type to communicate better with her partner. She was feeling frustrated, saying that often, arguments led to dismissing their partnership as akin to Oil and Water – never meant to mix, too incompatible in the long run, their differences insurmountable.
This got me thinking, and after two years of managing to avoid the topic, I have finally decided to use this week’s blog post to discuss what I’ve learned about type and relationships. Albeit not comprehensively, and admittedly as more of an expert in the former and not at all in the latter. (It’s been quite learning process for me, and it’s ongoing).
Nonetheless, Type – just like in an organizational context – can provide a great deal of value when understanding the needs of others, making constructive use of our differences, and flexing accordingly.
So here goes nothing.

Principle #1: There is no “Perfect Pairing”
The first thing that is important to know about Type and Relationships, is that there is no ‘Perfect Pairing’. Despite what we see, and what we compare ourselves to, no relationship is perfect, because the people in them never are. I encourage my clients to remember that although it can seem like everyone’s grass is greener, the truth is, green grass requires work. Relationships require cultivation and nurturing, regardless of how ‘similar or different’ people are. Rather than looking at the lawn on the other side, the best relationships seem to come from exploring ways to water our own lawn. Just as every couple faces challenges, every pairing can also bring about wonderful insights and joys that are as unique as the two people in them. Furthermore, in addition to our types, a partner wide variety of other factors influence who we are, how we behave, and how satisfied we are in our relationships (past memories and experiences, our own parents’ marriage, culture and heritage, age and maturity, gender, etc.)

Principle #2: Oil and Water
It is thought that relationships are easier for couples who are more similar in type, due to the ease of communication or similar ways of making decisions for example. However, just like we perpetuate when using the MBTI with teams, easier does not necessarily equate to better. While things may seem smoother, too many similarities can often equate to missing important perspectives that would otherwise bring us insight, and can also be frustrating as our weaknesses are continually reflected in another. For these reasons, the greatest opportunity for growth can actually come from loving someone different. We are all familiar with the adage that opposites attract. In fact, Type research may back this up as we know only about 10% of couples are alike on all four letters. On some level, we seem to be drawn to our partners precisely because of our differences. We may see things in them that we don’t have, inspiring awe and admiration when they do these things so naturally. They may also encourage us to try new things, and they may bring about unique perspectives that enrich our lives and help us develop maturity and open-mindedness over time. (Compliments abound!). So, while they may be more challenging and require more effort to achieve understanding, relationships with differing perspectives can be amongst the most satisfying. Rather than Oil and Water, I argue that differences amongst two partners is more akin to Salt and Pepper – sure they are different, but when used in unison, bring so much more flavour and substance out of life.

That said, consider these “joys” and “challenges” of being with someone who is similar. Ask yourself if these resonate. If you are the same as your partner, do you recognize these benefits? Can you do more to address these blindspots? If you are different – and are encountering frustration because of it – use these to help understand the value that actually comes from the diversity you two have. Is there something you can do to flex to their needs, rather than speaking only your language?

Extraverts with Extraverts
The Good: Big talkers and lots of discussion, active and busy, will be equally social, engaging with a variety of people.
The Bad: May not listen well or will listen only to respond; may interrupt each other and overextend themselves with outside commitments

Introverts with Introverts
The Good: Will listen well, are patient with depth of thought, and may respect each others’ need for privacy and quiet
The Bad: May lose touch with outer world, could see everything from only their own vantage point, and may avoid issues, problems and reactions

Sensors with Sensors
The Good: Share a practical and realistic view, are literal and linear in their communication and tend to be down-to-earth without pretense
The Bad: May not consider options and alternatives with big and small matters, may be overly skeptical of each others’ ideas and may be materialistic

Intuitives with Intuitives digital-art-420830_1280 (2)
The Good: Love to share ideas and talk about possibilities, share alternatives and plans for the future, appreciate each other’s uniqueness
The Bad: May overlook essential facts and realities, may become stressed by the tangible (ie finances), may be vague and abstract in their communication

Thinkers with Thinkers
The Good: Tend to be direct and honest, remain consistent and logical in their approach and preserve their principles at all costs
The Bad: May be critical blunt or insensitive, may not understand underlying emotional causes of conflicts, may not risk vulnerability or emotion sharing

Feelers with Feelers

The Good: Are eager to understand each other, are warm compassionate and expressive, and often eager to connect emotionally
The Bad: Take everything personally, are often sensitive to criticism, and tend to avoid conflict

Judgers with Judgers

dancers-33395_1280 (2)

The Good: Make for very organized partners, are decisive and goal-oriented and often share a desire for order and accomplishment
The Bad: Struggle for control, may be stubborn, and are often unwilling to adjust plans

Perceivers with Perceivers
The Good: Are easygoing and adventurous, playful and have fun together, and are curious and open to change
The Bad: Sometimes do not follow through or plan ahead, may be impulsive, and can miss opportunities due to procrastination

For more on Type and Relationships, check out “Just Your Type” by Tieger & Tieger











Filed under: Communication, Type Talk