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Are We Compatible? Using the MBTI Personality Assessment with Couples

Deborah-Mackin-2013-NewDirectionsOne of the fascinating things about couples is how frequently they are attracted to their opposites.  In so many ways, it’s as if they are trying to complete the whole picture between two people. Yet, it’s also what creates the tension and disagreements as the couple works out the relationship details.

We have a couple – Kara and Jack – who met at a mutual friend’s social event.  Jack was standing against the wall looking uncomfortable, so Kara thought she’d go over and say hi.  Kara loves to socialize and was afraid that Jack might be feeling left out.  Jack on the other hand finds social events like this one very stressful and often is at a complete loss as to how to talk with other people.  Everything seems so superficial and contrived.  He was really grateful when Kara came over and broke the ice.  They had a nice chat and Kara suggested getting together for coffee the next day; Jack agreed.

Advance the relationship six months ahead and let’s take a look now at how things are going.  Kara has a large extended family and she just loves getting together with them to celebrate the holidays.  She and Jack have been seeing each other, granted at her prompting, and she decides to invite him to the family shindig.  He agrees without a lot of enthusiasm.  When they arrive at the family gathering, Kara is a social butterfly, meeting and greeting everyone.  She looks over at Jack, who is standing against the wall, and becomes frustrated that he isn’t making any effort to connect with her family.  She goes over to him and suggests that he could be trying a lot harder to connect and mentions that several family members have commented about his lack of friendliness.  When Jack looks at her but doesn’t respond, she throws her hands in the air, turns her back on him and walks away.

MBTI-Couples-ImageWill this relationship work?  How can this couple come to respect and understand their differences better?  

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) provides couples with an excellent and impartial way to examine their similarities and differences.  Utilizing the 8 dichotomies (extravert/introvert; sensing/intuiting; thinking/feeling; and judging/perceiving), the MBTI provides a lens through which a couple can examine their individual uniqueness without suggesting that one is right and the other is wrong.  MBTI is clear that both are right.  In addition, within each dichotomy, the MBTI can examine 5 facets that either show someone to be “in preference,” at a “mid-zone” or “out of preference.”  These help us discern how two people with the same MBTI Type can act quite differently.  Let’s take a look at this in more detail.

Gathering Energy
The Extravert/Introvert dichotomy explores the way we gather energy for ourselves.  Some people gather energy by mixing and mingling with people, loving group activities and brainstorming with others similar to Kara.  The Introvert, like Jack on the other hand, prefers exchanges with one or two people, thinking things through internally before sharing with others, and finds socializing and large groups exhausting.  Not surprisingly, Kara loves to have friends dropping in to her apartment, while Jack prefers to lock the doors and be alone, or with just a friend or two, in his home environment.  If Jack and Kara have only a slight difference in preference, both can easily accommodate the other because neither will take it to an extreme, but if the preferences are “very clear” (meaning the individual very clearly chooses one preference), then these differences can be a source of tension for the couple.  Within the Extravert/Introvert dichotomy there are five opposite facets and our couple can have preferences that mix within these facets:

           Extravert                   Introvert


–          Initiating                                      vs.                          Receiving

–          Expressive                                  vs.                          Contained

–          Gregarious                                  vs.                          Intimate

–          Active                                           vs.                          Reflective

–          Enthusiastic                               vs.                          Quiet

So, even if Kara and Jack are both extraverts, or both introverts, they might have sub-facets that will be quite different and cause some tension in the relationship based on the extent of the difference in preference.

The Second Dichotomy
When Kara comes over to Jack to complain about him not engaging with her family and then starts detailing how many people have tried to speak to him and how few words he has said back to others, she is demonstrating a “sensing” preference for information sharing (the second dichotomy).  Jack, on the other hand, is a big picture thinker who tends to drift off into his own world and doesn’t even see that others are giving him sideways glances.  He might be thinking about a project he’s excited about for the future, or a new way to fix something at work, or how he’s going to escape this event.  Here again, our sub-facet preferences will play out in their relationship:

           Sensing                   Intuiting


–          Concrete                                     vs.                          Abstract

–          Realistic                                        vs.                          Imaginative

–          Practical                                       vs.                          Conceptual

–          Experiential                                 vs.                         Theoretical

–          Traditional                                   vs.                          Original

Obviously when it comes to decision making, couples can experience lots of tensions.  Our third dichotomy is the Thinking/Feeling preferences.  The partner with a “Thinking” preference will emphasize the logic of a decision, stepping out of the situation and taking a cold, hard look at the decision based on facts and data.  While the “Thinking” Type may take people and values into consideration, they are simply facts to be considered.  Conversely, the “Feeling” Type will emphasize the impact of the decision on people, harmony, values and relationships.  This person “steps into” the situation and experiences the decision from a feeling perspective.

Facts and Logic vs. Feeling
So at this point Kara says to Jack, “Do you want to leave or what?”  As an Introvert, Jack does his thinking internally and appears to have a non-response to Kara’s question.  Kara interprets Jack’s non-response as a “he-doesn’t-care-about-me” attitude.  Jack has a thinking preference which means that he focuses on facts and logic, and the fact to him right now is that he isn’t engaged because he doesn’t know people.  Kara, on the other hand, has a “feeling” preference and she believes Jack should make the effort to meet her family and make them comfortable with him.  How do you think they scored on their preferences in the five facets that make up the decision-making type?

           Thinking                   Feeling


–          Logical                                           vs.                          Empathetic

–          Reasonable                                  vs.                          Compassionate

–          Questioning                                vs.                          Accommodating

–          Critical                                           vs.                          Accepting

–          Tough                                           vs.                          Tender


Putting Order to Your Life
Kara and Jack have one other dichotomy in which they show some difference as well, the Judging and Perceiving preference.  This dichotomy focuses on how people like to order their lives.  Judging Types are influenced by their decision making preference and therefore prefer a life that is orderly, planned, predictable and controlled.  Kara greatly prefers the Judging Type, often feeling frustrated when people are not on time or don’t follow her lists.  Jack is the opposite, the Perceiving Type, whose preference is for information gathering and enjoying spontaneity, exploring new things, and often finishing at the last minute.  Jack is known for his messy office and home and can appear absent-minded and forgetful.  The facets for each of these preferences will illustrate additional points of preference or difference based on their individual scores.

           Judging                  Perceiving


–          Systematic                                  vs.                          Casual

–          Planful                                          vs.                          Open-ended

–          Early starting                              vs.                          Pressure-prompted

–          Scheduled                                   vs.                          Spontaneous

–          Methodical                                 vs.                          Emergent

Now, if Jack and Kara keep wanting the other person to be something he/she is not, they are doomed in their relationship; it will only be a matter of time for the initial excitement to wear off and then all they will see is how the relationship isn’t working.  So, are we doomed to that ending, or is there another solution?

Exploring Similarities and Differences
MBTI for Couples provides an opportunity for the couple to explore their similarities and differences in great depth (based on the 20 facets in the Step II MBTI profile) and to learn how to value these differences, rather than trying to change the other partner.  For example, knowing that Jack is an introvert, Kara can offer to spend some time prepping for the family visit, by sharing pictures and some facts about each relative and how Jack might strike up a conversation with a few key family members.  Conversely, Jack might help Kara tone it down with some of his introverted family members who may find her gregarious behavior exhausting.

40% of Conflict comes from Judging vs. Perceiving preferences
The Judging/Perceiving dichotomy is responsible, according to experts, for about 40% of our conflicts in relationships.  Much of this is the difference between the “early-starter” and the “pressure-prompted” preferences.  Jack can learn to see Kara’s lists and plans as strategies to help him avoid fire-fighting and the last minute rush, while Kara can learn from Jack how to relax and not schedule when time permits more spontaneity.

Every relationship is going to have points of difference, to greater or lesser degrees.  It is our awareness and ability to temper our preferences that will build a strong relationship as a couple.  If we harp on our differences and expect that the other person will change, we will be sorely disappointed – as preference is in-born from birth.  However, if we acknowledge our differences and work to see ways each of our differences can complement each other, then we are on the pathway to a much stronger relationship.

Interested in having the MBTI assessment and debrief performed for you and your signficant other?  Check out our MBTI catalogue of offerings.

Interested in understanding personality more? Download our Personality at Work guidebook:
Your Personality At Work New Directions

One Response to “Are We Compatible? Using the MBTI Personality Assessment with Couples” Leave a reply ›

  • Hi there,

    I found this article so insightful as it really offers a practical understanding of the different dichotomies. I was wondering what conflicts would arise if a couple shared the same dichotomies..

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