On more than one occasion I’ve been asked how I’ve managed to stay married for as long as I have. “Y’all are SO different,” my southern friends will exclaim, stretching the “so” into five syllables. And, we are exactly that – quite different. The last time we took a personality test together our data analyst winced. “You two are – married?" he asked in a confused tone, part disbelief, part pity. “Oh, my.”

Oh, my, indeed. They say opposites attract and that was definitely the case in our situation, but I’m happy to report opposites can attract and still live happily ever after, despite quantum differences in personality.

I should know. For better (and worse) than twenty years, my beloved and I have shared zip codes and domiciles, but very little else, because, as fate would have it, I fell for a card-carrying ISTJ. Me? Well, I’m the poster-child for the ENFP personality. The only thing our letters have in common is the alphabet. Still, we’ve navigated our multitude of differences and lived to tell everyone about it.

Studies suggest falling for your opposite isn’t at all uncommon. We do find our counterparts intriguing, and intrigue often gives way to love. But, after the new wears off and the rush of romance has faded, you may find those differences annoying, grating or downright frustrating.

When you are in a relationship with your polar opposite you can either be at each other’s throats 24/7 or find a way to live in harmony. Since mariticide is illegal, we decided to find a way to work around our differences without killing one another, and we did – several of them. Here are our tips for creating a happily-ever-after even if your mate is your opposite:

Know Your Partner

If I ruled the world (or at least the marriage license bureau) matrimony would be contingent on completion of the Myers Briggs personality test – just so all parties are fully aware of what they’re getting into. Not that it would stop anyone because as we all know, the heart wants what the heart wants. Still, knowing what makes your partner tick is invaluable and has certainly preserved our relationship.

Learning that my beloved is a hard-wired thinker helped me realize he wasn’t cold/unfeeling/insensitive. I recognize he’s not being obstinate, contrary or purposely setting out to hurt my feelings when he approaches everything mechanically and logically.

Once you understand how extraverts and introverts roll, it resolves a lot of areas of potential friction and disagreement. I know that solitude is what energizes my spouse, while he understands that I get amped up by being around others. It’s how we’re wired.

You don’t have to get a master’s degree in psychology, just look up your partner’s profile and see how they view the world. I fell for a logic seeking, fact-oriented, judging introvert. When we visit family and friends, he’s the one that will make sure the car is gassed up and road-worthy. He’ll have calculated the time, distance and created an algorithm for speed, trajectory and wind conditions. I, however, will be looking at cool spots for lunch and ensuring we brought snacks and music for the journey.

Accept Your Differences

Once you know your partner's personality and what drives them, you have to practice accepting the good and the not so pretty. Many times I have to remind myself, “It’s not personal.” My husband can be very direct and abrupt. He makes pronouncements. He doesn’t naturally sugarcoat anything. Meanwhile, I’m doing double back-flips to spare his feelings. He can’t make me care less and I can’t make touchy-feely his go-to style. I’ve learned to accept that he wants to come home from a vacation just ten minutes into arriving at our destination and he accepts that I never want to leave. If I find myself getting aggravated over some fundamental difference in personality, I mutter to myself the acronym I use to remind me, TINNI – This Is Not New Information.

Appreciate Your Strengths

While there are moments of teeth-gritting and acceptance, perhaps the greatest strategy for living happily with your personality opposite is to appreciate and embrace your differences. My expression is, “Someone’s got to put together the vacuum cleaner.” That comes from experience. When our vacuum went kaput, I immediately jumped in the car and went to the nearest mega-supermart and plunked down $69 on the first machine I saw that I could lift, afford, and had an “allergy filter” That was 12 years ago and I think my mate is still researching consumer reports to determine the best model to buy.

I brought the unit home and immediately put it together. It took five minutes. I was pretty proud of myself until I plugged it in. It wouldn’t run and the handle fell off.

About that time, my husband came home to find the vacuum cleaner surrounded by an array of bolts, screws and thingamajigs.

“You bought a vacuum,” he observed.

“I did,” I admitted. “But it doesn’t work.”

“Where are the instructions?”

“They’re probably still in the box…”

If it weren’t for his patience and deliberate approach, we’d never get anything assembled and I might not remember to get the oil changed in my car (although I could probably tell you how Mike the mechanic feels about the upcoming school board elections.) We try to segregate responsibilities, not by gender or role, but by who is better at doing it. I know there are things I excel at, entertaining, nurturing friendships, remembering birthdays, and things that are in his wheel house. We focus more on what the other party brings to the table and less on what they do not.

Avoid Criticism

As much as possible, we try (emphasis on the word 'try') not to criticize one another. We don’t always succeed, but we try. Early on, my mate watched me rehearse a speech I was giving for a large audience later that day. He felt compelled to share with me his honest evaluation, which was that I was too animated, my voice was too loud, and I flailed my arms.

I delivered my remarks just as I had practiced, and my husband admitted my approach had worked “after all,” even though it wasn’t how he would have done it. He just didn’t want me to embarrass myself. Which leads us to our next tip:

Different Strokes Work Just Fine

His way is not my way. We’ve learned that we can collaborate, but maybe not at the same time. We’ve learned that we don’t always share the same vision for a project, and that’s okay. He and I just finished painting our fence and gate at the entry to our place. We’d both agreed that it needed to be redone. To me, that meant installing something bold, ornate and wrought iron, preferably with a romantic sounding name soldered into the arch, like “Tara” or “Lambert’s Landing.” He, on the other hand, just meant slapping a coat of whitewash on the existing wood.

After artfully and meticulously finishing the six-inch swatch I was crafting, I turned around to see my mate had already finished the entire fence on the entire opposite side.

“It’s not the Sistine Chapel,’ he said.

Despite the fact we took entirely different approaches to the project, it turned out perfectly fine. From the street? You can’t tell he spent five minutes and I spent 50. I like to say, “All roads go to Rome.” It's my way of reminding myself that there are multiple ways to get a good result. Even his.

Compromise Some, Concede A lot

Compromise is overrated. Usually compromise means you both end up not getting your way. Instead, we try to trade concessions. When we were looking for our current home I really wanted a condo on the water, while he really wanted a ranch with cows. So what did we do? We found a ranch with a lake on it.

I think because I am a feeler and he’s the thinker I tend to concede more than he does. He strives to ensure we always arrive at the best practical solution and I try to make him happy. Sometimes that means going it alone.

I am happiest in the messy middle of anything. Give me a group, a party, or a chance to socialize, and I’m like a cocker spaniel racing to get into the car. My spouse on the other hand would rather see a stack of overdue notices in the mail than an invitation to a wedding. He’s perfectly happy to send me on alone and I go. We don’t deny each other the chance to do what we enjoy. For him that’s a quiet night alone, while I’m out visiting friends.

Find Areas of Commonality and Let the Rest Go

Just because you partner with your polar opposite doesn’t mean you have nothing in common. My mate and I share the same core values, even though we're polar-opposite ENFP and ISTJ personalities. We may disagree on every topic from how to hang toilet paper to scrambling an egg, but on the biggies – religion, politics, charitable endeavors – we are in lockstep.

Decide – and it is a decision – that you will let the minor issues of disagreement go. If you let them, your differences can drive you apart. By the same token, if you will let them, those same differences are exactly what will keep you fascinated – and that’s the real secret to happily ever after.

Ellen Lambert
Ellen Lambert studied at California State University Fullerton and the University of California Santa Barbara, earning an MA in interpersonal communication. A motivational speaker and writer focusing on health, well- being, and self-improvement, she is a card-carrying ENFP, and also serves as a BHQC, (bad habit quitting coach). She is committed to helping others free themselves from the habits that hold them back from living the lives they can enjoy. She lives with her ISTJ husband Charles and their INTP German Pincher, Rex Luther in Buffalo, Texas.