Opposites Attract: The True Story of an ENFP Married (Happily!) to an ISTJ

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 psychological assessment 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 the other’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. We may disagree on every other 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.

Comments

Guest (not verified) says...

Love this! I am also an ENFP happily married to an ISTJ... we have been together almost 10 years now!

Ellen Lambert says...

Congratulations on your first decade. They get better by the year! Thanks for your comment!

GuestPaul (not verified) says...

Hello,I loved reading your story.Opposites do attract no doubt.I was married to my polar opposite for 40 years till she passed.We were together for 42 and I have no doubt if she were still here we would still be together.Good luck and many more happy years to you.Trying to find myself and soulmate number two but at my age its not an easy task.Paul

Ellen Lambert says...

Sounds to me Paul that you have found the perfect recipe for marriage -- romance. I'm confident you'll find another loving companion before too long. Best wishes in that regard!

GuestLayla (not verified) says...

Thanks for this. It feels good to know that this test doesn't have to take a strong hold of our lives and relationships around us. Although it is extremely fun to explore physiology!

Ellen Lambert says...

Layla, thanks for your comment. And while personality does not dictate happiness -- it sure is great to know how to make ours and others work for us.

Guest (not verified) says...

I am an ENFP and so so happy in a relationship with an ESTJ. (well he's I and E are so close). Our relationship really flows wonderfully and we so so value each others differences. I appreciate his strength and stability and he loves my creativity, spontinanity and how I love people. We work to understand each other but differences are such a compliment!

Ellen Lambert says...

Hey, Guest, Thanks for commenting! I have to say, there's a part of me that's really envious of your E-sharing relationship. And I appreciate your pointing out that not all Es are alike -- we all fall somewhere on the continuum -- some of us are off the E scale and others are much closer to I. That said, the secret likes in the words you chose to describe how you two interact. You used the words "Appreciate," "Value", and the phrase, "We work to understand..." With that attitude and approach you'd get along with any personality type. I'm happy you've found such a simpatico blending. Carry on, it gets better by the year!

Ju (not verified) says...

This article is a breath of fresh air in my relationship. I'm a melodramatic ENFP while my boyfriend is a cold-blooded ISTJ. We're on for more than a year now and I'm always on the verge of throwing in the towel. I've been asking myself how much more am I willing to give to endure our personality differences. I love him dearly but when disagreements start to kick in, love seems to fly out of the window.

Ellen Lambert says...

Thanks so much for reading and commenting, JU. Wow! Your feedback resonated with me. The earliest years were the toughest, to be sure. Time in the relationship is a blessing and so is knowing your own personality type and that of your beloved. Once I REALLY got it through my head that the way my husband viewed the world was due to how he was hard-wired (and stopped thinking he was deliberately bent on driving me crazy) I had a lot more patience and tolerance for our differences. It kind of took the air (and heat) out of our disagreements. We are much better now at prefacing our remarks with, "well, from where I stand, it looks like the best solution is..." Even better, this far into the relationship, I can actually admit, "You know, this is something your much better at than I am, what do you recommend?" Or even, "Yikes, this takes a left-brain/analytical/patient guy, it's all yours!" Similarly, he'll cede social, travel and recreational activities to me. Differences (I think) keep a relationship interesting. What matters most, those fundamental values like faith, family, work ethic, those we have very much in common. He helps that we're both in the same political party, too! Thanks for writing JU, don't give up just yet! It gets better by the year!

Guest (not verified) says...

Im an INFP. My boyfriend is ISTJ. 7 years in a relationship. i broke up with him due to idealism.

Ellen Lambert says...

Thanks for commenting, "Guest" -- Seven years is a long time to invest in a relationship. I'm not sure what your differences were or what "idealism" means, but it sounds like a fairly core value. No doubt you learned a lot about yourself and others from such a long-standing friendship. Your future relationships will benefit from that knowledge and experience.

BKelly (not verified) says...

Wow, what a neat article. I am an ENFJ. My wife is an ISTJ. I was a legal assistant to pay my way though grad school and seminary. She is a senior paralegal at her firm. I am a Pastor who is back in school studying classical voice and opera. My wife is a budding author and has published two historical fiction novels. We are both musical. She plays the flute, I play the piano and sing. We both love to cook. We both love and value family and friends and are loyal to them. We are both Christians and raised in church growing up. She is factual, organized and efficient. I am artsy/creative, a little less organized, and a little slower paced. I am way more outgoing that she is but I realize she needs quiet home time just like she knows I need people and going out time. For us, it all boils down to our mutual faith in the Lord and absolute love and commitment to each other and our marriage. Though we are different in some ways, we have more in common because of life experience. We were married a little older in life, I was 28 she was 27 so we knew ourselves better and sorta knew the type of person that would be a good fit and God brought us together at the right time. We have been happily married for 18 years and still very much in love because we learned to be a loving companion and compliment to the other and put the other first and walk together with the Lord. That makes the difference.

Guest (not verified) says...

There is a big difference in duality and conflict. When you share only the last letter, it is duality, and that is the easiest of all type relationships. VERY different from the others.

This explains it http://www.socionics.com/rel/rel.htm

Ellen Lambert says...

It sounds to me that you two brought all the right equipment to your marriage and I have no doubt, with your faith, commitment and positive attitudes, you would have had successful relationships no matter what personality types you had! Learning "to be a loving companion and compliment the other" that's key! And, might I add, a process. One of the benefits of sticking with a relationship is you get more experience in how to love your partner. That means we stand a great chance of getting pretty darned good at it. Congratulations on 18 years, I wish you many, many more. Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

YOUNGLADY (not verified) says...

Hi Ellen,

Thank you so much for posting this blog. Please could we exchange details and perhaps have a conversation about this topic in more detail? I am an ENFP who is currently in a relationship with an ISTJ. It has been a roller coaster ride to say the least. I really need your advice offline if possible?

Many thanks.

Karey (not verified) says...

I'm a female ISTJ, married to an ENFP, so we encounter many of these same issues. We also deal with our strengths lying outside of the traditional gender roles, which basically leaves me with the responsibility for everything, both things that come naturally to me and things that don't, but are traditionally female. He's grown a lot over the years and now helps quite a bit around the house, but I know that I will probably always have to ask him to help with the dishes, mow the lawn, comfort a crying child, or remember so and so's birthday. I used to resent this quite a bit (and still do occasionally), but I'm working on appreciating him for who he is.

Ellen Lambert says...

"...but I'm working on appreciating him for who he is." Such wisdom, Karey. And, really, isn't that what we all want? I yam what I yam, as Popeye liked to say. To be appreciated for your strengths is pretty cool. When I figured that out, and started focusing on all my husband brings to the table, my resentments diminished and my respect and admiration grew. As they say, what we feed grows. Thanks for reading and commenting, Ellen

Arianna (not verified) says...

I am an ENFP who was married happily to an ISTJ for 15 years. The first 5 were the hardest, and I had to concede to almost everything my mate wanted, but I really loved him very much and I did adjust. He passed away suddenly over a year ago. I believe we would have continued married for a good long time if he wouldn't have died, we both have the same values. Now that he is gone and I've had some time to decompress and grieve I know I would like to marry again, but definitely not an ISTJ. I would like to be happy at the same time as my partner, and share the joy of new experiences. I am learning to do some of the things he was so good at that I never really tried before. It was a relief not to do the things that didn't come naturally, but now I feel like I was deprived of some growth opportunities that I am getting now. I would caution anyone that is wondering about these big differences when you are dating that this is the best it will ever get. You may end up sacrificing yourself and your friends if you do not listen to your gut about the challenges of your relationship.

Ellen Lambert says...

Thanks for such a candid and authentic post, Arianna. And, please accept my condolences for your loss. You made a couple of powerful points. That opposites can cohabit happily but it takes adjustment. I felt I made all concessions too -- socially most of all. I'm sure were you to ask him he'd say he did all the conceding. The diva and the hermit crab -- an odd combo.

While it's been challenging, I am so glad we made it through those adjustments because we have gotten to see and explore both sides of the psychological planet which has enriched both our lives.

You brought me up short with your last paragraph. I would hate ours to be cautionary tales. That said, it is a good reminder to anyone still in the dating game -- we are what we are. Or, as someone very wise said: "When someone shows you who they are, believe them."

Blessings, Arianna. Thank you for reading and commenting.

Guest (not verified) says...

I always hate it when people make comments like "your married? wow!!!" I'm an INTJ and I've dated an ESTP and we get along fine.

Ellen Lambert says...

Hi, Guest -- we heard that for years. Not so much anymore. I think we've evolved. Before we were like discordant notes that stood out, the contrasts evident. Now, we're more harmonious. Our psychological voices blend. Thanks for reading and commenting.

Guest (not verified) says...

I greatly enjoyed reading this post. I am an ISTJ female married to an ENFP male. We've been happily married for two years and together for five. While my husband and I have secondary personality traits that differ very much from each other, we have very similar fundamental values and beliefs, such as religion, politics, gender roles and parenting style. I tend to be more rational and practical, in a sense that I like to dissect a problem into manageable pieces and analyze the best options before I tackle it, while he trusts his gut feeling. We balance each very well in that aspect because though I'm Judging and he's Perceiving, we help each other understand and accept other ways of thinking, through the love and respect we share, which in turn also helps me be more accepting of other people's views and opinions. I would have to say though, communication and mutual respect are definitely the major key factors that contribute to our successful relationship. We both think respect for each is sacred and once you lose it there's no turning back, so we're both thoughtful of our words even when we're disagreeing.

Guest (not verified) says...

I am so glad I found your post. I am a ENFP married to an ISTJ also! The only other article I found said they ended up divorced and she was happy about it. So, thank you so much for posting this more positive side to opposites marrying. We have been together almost 16 years and I think we are at our absolute worst. It seems the more I concede the less he does. I feel like he resents me on a deep level and criticism is constant. One of us is always defending ourselves. I'm honestly so exhausted and worn out that I don't even care sometimes what happens with it. But, I know I should care more. We have 2 kids under 6 years old. We married very young. I sometimes have no idea what we were thinking and feel like I am serving a life sentence. Oh, to have someone just automatically and intuitively understand me! What is that even like? I will probably never know! I hope it gets better for us - I suggested counseling so hoping it helps take the edge off! I also hope we can forgive each other because I know I feel extremely unloved and under valued and am a shell of my former self. I used to laugh and have fun and now I just sit in my house and hope I don't see anyone. It's just weird! We are moving soon to be close to family and I really hope that helps me get back to my old self. Anyway, after another bad fight that lasted all day, I found your article comforting. :)

Tim G (not verified) says...

When my wife and I took our premarital counselling, the first thing the priest did was to give us the Myers-Briggs. I have always scored a hard ISTJ and she a hard ENFP. The priest walked into the room and said, "I'm not telling you not to get married, but you guys are going to have some real challenges." The problems we deal with 33 happily-married years later are the same ones he pointed out to us. Years later I attended a workshop that talked about marriage compatibility and Myers-Briggs. With "long term" being defined as more than three years, our types had the least success in staying married long term. Well, it hasn't always been easy--no one promised me it would be--but it has certainly been worth it, and here we are, looking ahead to another 33 years at least!

Guest25 (not verified) says...

Hi,

I am also an ENFP happily married to an ISTJ.

I thought we were opposites as well but actually if you take Myers Briggs back to the original theory you come at the four letter code through cognitive functions and when you do that the ENFP and ISTJ share all the same cognitive functions they just have them in completely the opposite order.

I think this explains why my husband and I are so different but also we are very similar in our values.

For more info google "Heidi Priebe If You’re Confused About Your Myers-Briggs Personality Type, Read This: An Intro To Cognitive Functions"

Thanks

Guest (not verified) says...

I'm an ENFP female interested in an ISTJ. We have hanged out in groups and had an official one on one time yesterday . But he hasn't followed up . I asked him the first time . Do I wait ? Or try one more time ?

Waiting (not verified) says...

Hey there! My boyfriend's also an ISTJ. We've been together for 2 years now. For some reason, he's not quite as cold as a lot of people make ISTJs to be. He loves going out as long as it's a small group of friends or going to a local bar where he really respects the bartender's opinions and admires his craft. It's just completely sweet the way he melts and gets all maternal whenever he's got a kitten in his hands. I'm also not as Extroverted as many ENFPs and I tend to value the quality of the people I'm talking to more than the quantity. I think both of us not being strictly ISTJs/ENFPs helps our relationship a lot.

However, I sometimes can't stand the way he can't tell me how he's feeling. He can show me and he shows it very well, but it's hard to understand from a gesture if someone loves you or they just care a lot about you. When I tried asking, he just said, "You bring fun and spontaneity into my life." It's funny to make fun of it now, but at the time I cried so hard it made him cry too (And then like a typical ENFP I cried for making him cry). Still haven't heard the words, but I can definitely tell I'm not just another girl to him.

What about you? Did it take a long time for him to say he loves you? Did you feel like you somehow knew he loved you and you were just waiting for him to figure it out?

GuestENFP (not verified) says...

Salutations! First, I'd like to say THANK YOU for this article; it's so beautifully written & made me smile/laugh on more than one occasion! It literally makes my day!!!

I'm an ENFP almost thru & thru, but I just don't like the outdoors as much due to my arachnophobia & being a home bug. My boyfriend ( ^~^ ) is obviously an ISTJ. & this is in fact, our first romantic relationship (for either of us). So... challenge accepted!

We've known each other for almost 3 years now (& we never went: "oh we are OFFICIALLY dating now", it just melted naturally) & we have been in a long distance relationship now for a year & a half on Skype (thank God for Skype!!).

The thing is I'll be moving back & I'm stumped on projects/things we could do together. He's more chess, card games that require strategy, video games, t.v. marathons, etc. I'm video games, t.v. marathons, something creative like creative writing, Pinterest, etc.
So marathoning is a given already. & I'll mainly watch him play certain v. games.

I've been reading articles on dates for ENFPs & INTJs & one was like, "Oh cooking & cleaning house together!" (I snorted for he is not one to do either) So any date ideas? I know movie dates, but that's tricky cause all of our friends are introverts so they are automatically tagging along...
But as an E, I feel like I'm kind of failing to spice things up.

Part of me is almost impatient to want a deep conversation with him, but he opens up with his feelings around me a lot (this he said, scared him, so I think he's as open as possible), & that is part of our flow: we just feel calm & content by just being in the same room together (so wait for the right moment on deep topics?).

So I'm (trying?) to be patient & I AM enjoying where our relationship is now, but I think I may be itching to get back ASAP so I can hug him.

(sorry, all over the place/very long!)
Advice? Please & thank you!

ENFP FEE (not verified) says...

This article is great! I am an ENFP and my partner is an ISTJ. We are currently in our 7 year itch. Reading this describes so many things that we face and it's great to see that it can work. With a little hard work and acceptance. We are lucky in that we both have patience for each other and we both try to come from a place of understanding. I appreciate so much, our differences, because it means that all aspects of a certain situation will be covered. For instance in your road trip example, that is very much how we are, all the bases covered. How to get there and what we're eating. It's so nice to see that this really can work. I agree it can be very frustrating sometimes but that's when you have to look at it with appreciation and acceptance for the other person's view. Thank you for sharing!

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