3 Ways to Keep the Peace While Living with an Opposite Personality During COVID-19
Today my walk in the woods left me feeling energized and refreshed. There was the unexpected sight of a bald eagle sitting majestically in a tree, white head gleaming in the morning sunshine. Blossoms and the fresh lime green of new growth surrounded me as I breathed in the fresh spring air of the forest. I managed to maintain a safe distance from other walkers on the trails and I felt a sense of lightness and peace. Life was good!
Then I opened the front door.
My mood plummeted. There he was. My husband was still sitting in the same big chair, still checking out the news on his laptop, still not getting a start on the day. How could he be so lazy? Doesn’t the news just keep repeating? Why can’t he see how his behaviour irritates me? Does he not realize that he is spoiling my day by being so inactive and slow to get moving?
I open my mouth to complain and criticize. Something stops me. I take a deep breath and go off to wash my hands. As I rub my hands together the 20 seconds seem to go on forever. I struggled to regain my calm and upbeat energy. Under my frustration was the recognition of the research I had been doing about the impact on people with different Personality Types as they cope with COVID-19.
As I prepare my morning protein shake, I am struck by the differences between my husband and me. We are both retired and have adjusted to living in a small space for the past several years. However, my husband is not golfing these days and I am not able to go to a coffee shop to write or meet a friend for lunch. We are spending more time together now than ever before, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore actions that I do not understand or even like. Even after almost 47 years of marriage, I still get triggered and am perplexed by his approach to life.
The isolation and physical distancing mandated because of COVID-19 offers an unprecedented opportunity to see the unique ways my husband and I relate to this new reality. It is almost impossible to avoid each other and ignore the actions and moods of the other. I especially notice this as I observe the ways he and I spend our time at home.
As an extrovert I feel restless and edgy. It has been over three weeks since I have been with my friends in person or have been out shopping. My energy is often low, and I feel unmotivated to do much at all. I am used to the rush of excitement I feel after a stimulating coffee conversation or the deep connection of a heart to heart talk with a friend as we walk together.
My husband, on the other hand, is happy to be on his own. He envisions new woodworking projects and imagines how to craft the intricate angles of the windowsill he is finishing. He is content to do jigsaw puzzles and watch numerous episodes on Netflix. He is calm and happy to be at home with his own schedule and activities.
Then there is the News.
This is where the two of us are miles apart in our actions as we relate to the ever-present updates and endless repetition. My husband is intrigued by the hourly reports and the details that are happening in the moment. He seems to be able to distance himself from the painful news stories and upsetting trends that are so prevalent, and he does not lie awake at night after watching the late evening news. I just do not understand how he can watch the news for hours on end.
My experience is entirely different! During this time of COVID-19 I struggle with watching the news. I find the statistics and projections overwhelming and I shut down. I may read the headlines and focus on what this all means for the future, however, my heart breaks as I hear the stories of people dying, jobs lost, and the examples of desperate loneliness. I empathize with the sorrow and pain, and I become burdened with the collective sadness and grief. It is challenging for me to be objective about the news reports, as I strive to protect my own heart.
There is another area where I see differences in how my husband, and I approach life. This is in the arena of how we deal with our schedules and commitments.
I prefer to live in a planned, orderly way, thriving on structure and deriving pleasure from having things settled. I am energized by getting things done and moving on to the next project or task. These days I struggle with no real schedule. I want to know what the day will bring, and how best to prepare myself to ‘get it done’. With the uncertainty surrounding us, I struggle with the lack of control about the future.
My husband, on the other hand, likes to be flexible, and wants to experience life, rather than control it. He stays open to new information, enjoys spontaneity, and is energized by last minute deadlines. He dreams out loud about things he wants to do. He may or may not get to them for several days and he is just fine with that. When the time is right for him, it will happen.
WHAT AM I TO DO?
As I reflect on the differences between my husband and me during this stressful time, I stop and listen to my inner wisdom. I sense the love that I have for my husband. He is my rock, my support, and the only person I can hug right now! Even when he drives me crazy doing things I just do not understand, I recognize the importance of negotiating how I relate to him.
Here are three ideas I have found helpful as I face the challenges of ‘Living with an Opposite Personality’ during the time of COVID-19.
1. Comparison Can be Hurtful: It is not right or wrong, just different
This phrase could be the summary for this entire conversation about personality types and how to thrive during this time of COVID-19. With the isolation, and stresses that arise, each of us has our natural way of responding to life’s challenges. As we accept ourselves and those around us, we will be able to learn from each other and see the good in each others’ preferences.
I think about the difference between extraverts and introverts, and how my husband and I are experiencing isolation and time at home. This is an opportunity for us to check in with each other and see how we can live together peacefully with such different energies. I tell him when I feel lonely and restless, and he will stop what he is doing in order to listen to me. He will suggest a drive in the country or perhaps a walk together in the woods. He gives me space to have a Zoom call with a friend or will play a game of Tile Rummy with me. I am learning to ask for what I want, and to receive his loving attention graciously. I am also giving him space to enjoy his time alone without critiquing what I might see as ‘wasting time’. He is caring for himself and doing so in a way that honours his personality type.
2. Curiosity instead of Criticism
This could be the mantra I place on my bathroom mirror or to use as a fridge magnet. I may not understand my husband and his way of being. However, I have the choice as to how I view him, talk to him, and think about him. I can be open to exploring ways of living life that are different from my way.
Take the subject of how my husband and I view the News. I have started looking at written news reports and focus mainly on the headlines. I also know that I will hear the latest from my husband, so I am not completely uninformed. I am letting go of my criticism of how many hours he watches the news. It is his way of staying up to date, and he is not doing it to bug me. In fact, he says that knowing the facts helps him deal with all the uncertainty and gives him an understanding of what is going on.
It is important to pay attention to my natural tendency to feel things deeply. I am practicing stepping back at times. I am saying no to things that are not in my best interest. I limit my time on Social Media and ask my husband to refrain from debriefing the news with me late at night. Together we are accepting each other in our different ways of handling the news reports.
3. Compassion for Others and Compassion for Myself
The world is in a situation that is new for all of us. We are all suffering and being impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Knowledge about personality type is important. However, if it is not accompanied by compassion, it may cause more problems than ever, leading to shame and discouragement about the way we are dealing with these stressful times. I encourage you to be kind to yourself. Self-awareness must be supported by self-compassion. Be gentle with yourself. And, show love and care for others.
I am invited to practice this as I struggle with accepting what I see as my husband’s ‘lack of follow through’ on his stated plans. I have learned that when he talks about a possible project, this does not mean he will get right to it. It is not my job to tell him when to get a job done, and when I let go of my need to control the outcome, our relationship is much happier. Instead of keeping an eye on him, I focus on my goals and enjoy the pleasure of a job well done. I accept my way of being in the world and allow him to be himself. I show love to him for his unique gifts. I shower love upon myself for who I am. Viewing each other through the eyes of compassion and appreciation creates a loving atmosphere in our home.
There are as many ways of being in this world as there are people. Everyone has a preferred strategy for coping with life. Stress brings out unexpected behaviours and can add even more tension to a relationship. I trust that these stories about my husband and me will normalize what you may be going through. It may spark a conversation between you and your loved ones. I encourage you to experiment with accepting each others’ differences, being curious rather than critical and practicing compassion for each other and yourself.
My book, ‘Saying Yes to Life: Embracing the Magic and Messiness of the Journey’ has some relevant stories and ideas that may be of help to you as you choose to thrive, and not just survive. I invite you to check it out, and I would be honoured to hear how you are navigating life at home with a mix of personality types.
Thoughtful wishes and warm hearts!