I’ll never forget the day Donald Miller spoke for introverts around the world. In an article titled How to Get Along with an Introvert, Miller pointed out what has since been affirmed in this article in Psychology Today. “Since our culture celebrates extraversion much of the time, extol the virtues of introversion as well.”
A few days later Ordell and I were discussing the article and he asked if I’d learned anything new or interesting about introverts. My response was, “Well, not really, I mean, it doesn’t really apply to you, but Miller said something about introverts that stood out.”
Donald Miller explained that one of the best ways to get along with introverts is to give them space when they enter their homes. He said, “They want to transition and get comfortable and then engage. When an introvert comes home and is charged with some social responsibility immediately, it’s tough.”
As I read the quote Ordell burst into laughter. I looked up in shock and began to protest.
“But every marriage book says I’m supposed to greet you at the door! I go out of my way to try to do this, and feel guilty when I don’t! You always greet us so warmly when you walk in the house!”
In the middle of the laughter, Ordell caught his breath long enough to respond and explain, “Because I’m supposed to greet you happily!”
And there it was. After 13 and a half years of marriage, we finally figured out the authors of marriage books aren’t writing advice for introverts. This news offered us so much freedom! I always felt this unspoken pressure to stop everything I was doing and greet Ordell with some sort of celebration as he arrived home. It didn’t matter if I was cooking, cleaning, changing a diaper, or sitting down for the first time all day.
According to many marriage books, when your spouse walks through the door you are supposed to greet them warmly. And for a lot of spouses, this is important. But not for introverts!
Ever since that conversation I have felt the freedom to continue with whatever project I’m in the middle of when my husband walks in the door without guilt. I don’t ignore him, but I understand he’s exhausted and needs a few moments to collect himself. I’m happy to give him space to decompress.
I’m relieved to continue with my tasks for the day since I’m usually working or cooking and I don’t want to lose my train of thought. I’m not saying everyone should take the advice that works best for our marriage.
The Most Important Piece of Marriage Advice
My advice to you is to actually ask your husband or wife if the advice in the marriage books is applicable for their preferences.
If the sentiment behind the question isn’t harmful I’m likely to accept the premise as accurate. And in this case, the advice in the marriage books to greet your spouse as they enter the home is accurate for extroverts.
Ordell is an introvert who had a job that requires him to speak to people all day long. He teaches classes, and then leads meetings, practices, attends committee meetings, meets with coaches, and then arrives home exhausted.
It’s not a surprise that he’s all out of words when walks in the door. Part of his transition from work to home includes the need to decompress alone. Introverts prefer to transition their physical location and then engage.
Introverts Communicate Differently than Extroverts
Author E. Wagele also suggests “Look for nonverbal signs of affection. Introverts are sometimes more comfortable expressing their feelings in writing or by their actions than through speaking.” This is another thing marriage books often caution against; writing to communicate is something you aren’t supposed to do for effective marriage communication, however, when it’s the preferred method of communication for clarity it doesn’t really matter what the cautions are; some communication is better than no communication.
If you’re married to an introvert I hope you’ll take my one piece of marriage advice. Any advice that comes your way, ask your spouse if they prefer the suggestion or if they would rather move forward a different way.
Buy Lessons from the Sidelines Today!
As the wife of a football coach, Beth Walker encourages women whose families are in the public eye to pursue their own callings even as they support their husbands’ careers and ministries. Through her personal stories as well as interviews with other women who are also living just outside their husbands’ limelight, Beth shows it’s possible to do both.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on February 26, 2015, and has been updated in February 2021 for freshness, accuracy, and completeness.