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Mixed-Type Relationships and Resistance to Family Time

By Karen Austin

Photo by shareski via Creative Commons

Trying to promote family unity often feels like I’m a drum major, gleefully leading the marching band down a parade route, only to turn around and find that the other members of my family have dispersed among the crowd.

You see, I live with introverts who crave alone time and prefer one-person projects.

They have to leave the house for jobs, school, and volunteer work. Consequently, when they get home, they retreat into various corners of the house. Their need for family time might at best reach 10 minutes per day. And they don’t co-ordinate; all of us are rarely together during the same 10 minutes of each person’s “family interaction” time.

Yes, I do respect introverts. I admire them. I’m even drawn to them.

I admire their power of observation, their depth and complexity. I’ve learned to give them space. I often go places without my family members because I crave more social interaction than they do.

After reading Carl Jung’s theories on archetypes in the late 1980s and studying the theory behind the MBTI, I finally stopped trying to get introverts to come out of their shells. I have accepted that introversion is a valid way of being in the world and not a sign of insecurity.

I’ve refined my “book learning” understanding of introverts by recently finishing Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking.  This affirms much of what I have intuited by living with introverts: they have strong responses to external stimuli, so they need time to process and decompress.

However, when it comes to family life, I want to be more than housemates with my spouse and children. The four of us need to actually do things together from time to time, even if it’s just sharing a meal. Bribing them with food (if their schedules and energy levels allow) is the most effective carrot to dangle before them.  However, I often have to beg in order to get the others to play a game, go to a movie, or even go visit extended family. I’ve started going on vacation alone because introverts get prickly after just a couple of hours sharing a car ride, a plane ride, or a hotel room.

Even if the others want to “do their own thing,” I like to have a line of communication.

From time to time, I call a meeting for family scheduling. The moans, groans, and even the eye rolls are audible. I try to be fast and efficient so that my introverted family members can crawl back into their laptops, books, and musical instruments. One family member counters: “Do we have to interact? Can’t we all just be alone together?”  The two most introverted family members actually ask me to relay messages back and forth with each other, even if they are both home at the same time. I’ve started texting information about family matters (from the next room) in order to reduce the tension I feel when I talk to them face to face.

I think that introverts haven’t considered this side effect of our mixed-type relationships. Because I am the one who almost always initiates calls, texts, emails and the one who pitches ideas for getting together, I am the one who risks the rejection.

I’m fatigued. Over the last year, I have actually for the more part stopped taking initiative in communication with friends.

If I don’t call some of my introverted friends, it might be a year later when they hype themselves up to contact me. Some have even scolded me: “Why haven’t you contacted me?”  Again, I don’t think they recognize that they are subcontracting risk, vulnerability, and rejection.

I’m not saying that introverts have to accept my every invitation. But I am saying that if I have 40 introverted friends, family members (immediate and extended), coworkers, and ward members who reject my overtures for communicating or socializing 3 out of 4 times, then that level of rejection starts to sting. Intellectually, I understand. Emotionally, sometimes it’s hard to give myself pep talks again and again. “Karen, don’t take personally all these active or passive messages of ‘leave me alone.’”

Actually, I have starting telling myself, “Well, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”  I’m spending more time alone.

But seeking more alone time isn’t entirely new for me. I was an introvert from birth until the last couple of years of high school. I played alone at recess in elementary school. I wrote poems and stories. I had imaginary friends. I lunch time in the library reading books. Of late, I’m tempted to return to my old self. There is an ease to entering my own little corner of the house.

I might trim back time with gal pals, ward members, and coworkers now that I’ve hit the wall in extending myself. However, if I don’t promote family time, I will merely be housemates with my family members.

About Karen Austin

After living in UT, HI, CA, VA, DC, WI, WV & KS, Karen now lives in Newburgh, IN with her husband and two children. She's been a BYU writing tutor, an English teacher, technical writer, director of academic support services, and aging studies adjunct. She's reinventing herself--again. New role still pending, but mature athlete, thrift store fashionista, and court jester are strong candidates. She maintains the blog The Generation Above Me.

8 thoughts on “Mixed-Type Relationships and Resistance to Family Time”

  1. This is a very interesting post. Here is a person who wants more interaction with others. Although I certainly have no mad skills to fix your problem, I do have a few questions and suggestions to pose.
    1. How in the world did you find 40 introverted people to deal with? Haven't you found any extroverts who feel more like you do about interacting?
    2. What if you stopped doing so much for your family and started expecting them (one on one with you) to do some of the tasks that you have taken on by yourself…like cooking. Give everyone one day a week to cook with you (to include planning the meals, shopping with you, etc.) so it is not up to you to coax them out of their rooms to eat.
    3. Could each one of your family have a choice to plan an activity or even a vacation on a rotation basis? Even if the activity is everyone go to the backyard on a big blanket and read together, at least you would be together doing something.
    4. Maybe you have already tried all the above and meet refusal at every turn. Then, if you feel your life is not being fulfilled, it is time to get out and help others who appreciate you more for who you are. So many, many ways to volunteer if you are in a position to do so. All I can say is give of yourself to those that will appreciate it, not because you have to have appreciation but because people need help and you sound as if you have plenty to give.

    You do not need to change who you are. You just need to find some people who enjoy being with someone like you. I wish you were around here because I think you sound like you would make a wonderful friend! Best wishes!

  2. JP: I don't have the luxury of playing with variables. Both of my kids launch this August, and everyone is booked with travel, work, and other events between now and then. And everyone has their own car, their own phone, their own jobs, their own friends, and their own extracurricular projects with deadlines. The catalyst for this post is actually based on the closing of my in-house parenting era and the frustration of trying to get four people to be at home, awake, and willing to connect in the same time and place. GAH! I think it will happen all of six days this summer.

    And I actually prefer socializing with and living with introverts. I didn't get married until I was 34, and over the years, I had dozens of roommates. (And even more coworkers and ward members.) I connected more meaningfully with the introverts. Extroverts wear me out. (Irony much). I do socialize with extroverts, but that tends to happen casually at work parties and ward parties and not by design.

    I purposefully maintain a deep roster of introverted friends so that I can space out my interaction with them to once a month or even greater than that. I've lived in 9 different states, so I have a lot of former wards, neighborhoods, and places of employment from which to draw. It's convenient that currently I work part time at two universities. Those places are filled with introverts. If I talk with academics about their highly niched research interests, they are more willing to connect. I like to read nonfiction from an array of academic fields, so that's a quick venue for meeting more introverts.

    But you are very kind to intuit my distress and offer suggestions. What you have written will probably serve people with younger children. All my best to you and yours.

  3. Oh, I see…you are changing phases in life. That makes a big difference, not to mention the fact that your kids are ready to leave home. You are correct…somehow, from your post, I imagined you with younger kids. This sort of thing happened to me with teenagers.

    I have a feeling that once you get your feet on the ground again (that is, you settle into your new phase) you will be A Okay. "Reinventing" ones self (as you have written) can be exhausting, but when the dust settles, I hope you find yourself happier then ever. Best wishes!

  4. My experience: They start to do this disconnect before launch and for them it’s preparation for their departure. Frustrating to the mama (me) because for me it was the big “last time together”. I was anticipating loss…they were preparing for a journey into increased independence and life with “housemates”. Those two mindsets don’t synch very well.

    The good news, at least as far as our family went, is that after the awkward college years of semi-independence and semi-dependence that require a huge shift in expectations after that first full-time away (“Welcome to adulthood! you are now an adult member of the family and we have the same expectations of you that we have for each other..here’s what that entails….) which are fully articulated for all involved, and after the realization that coming home for the summer is no longer a requirement, and after they establish themselves in employment or child raising, and feel more confident in that, they start to be less resistant, and even eventually rather interested in time with you and time together, each in their own particular way.

    So yes, in my experience, it’s a big, big transition and it’s hard for the mom who is longing for time together when they are doing emotional detachment work. Hang in there. It really does get better several years down the road.

  5. I appreciated your post, but could you give some reasons why you feel the introverts need to, for lack of a better phrase, "extrovert" with you?

    As i read your post, I kept wanting to switch sides:
    "Emotionally, sometimes it’s hard to give myself pep talks again and again. “[aacga], don’t take personally all these active or passive messages of ‘[get over here and interact with me in an extroverted way, or we won't be friends anymore].’ ”

    I’m not saying that [ex]troverts have to accept my every [rejection]. But I am saying that if I have 40 [ex]troverted friends, family members (immediate and extended), coworkers, and ward members who reject my [reasons] for communicating or socializing [differently than they do] 3 out of 4 times, then that level of rejection starts to sting. "

    I do get your point about family members. But for an introvert, the subtle small interactions with a family member that respect their introversion are still strongly felt and emotionally satisfying. There is nothing more frustrating to an introvert than hearing that the relationships they have are meaningless to an extrovert, if the introvert doesn't regularly engage in extroverted activities. Now THAT is rejection.

  6. I can't talk about this any more. I have 21 days for my family to be together after my son returns from his 24 month mission and my daughter leaves for college. (And then my son leaves the state 9 days after that, on a one-way ticket, to work full-time in Utah. Both kids tell me they don't want to come home, not even for summers or Christmas. THE FUN NEVER ENDS!)

    And various family members are scheduling to go out of town or canceling on extended family gatherings and choosing to socialize with friends over family in that 21-day window of time (including numerous additional requests to absent themselves since I posted this: maybe we will have one meal together in those 21 days?!).

    I can no longer process the situation. It's a painful end to my years of parenting. I have to redefine "family," and that looks easier on paper than in the heart. And I've also experienced some rejections and pointed criticisms at work, by gal pals, and in the ward. I'm falling apart. And I'm well aware that I am probably the problem in all of these relationships. Peace out.

  7. Actually, I don’t believe that anyone is “the problem” in a relationship. That label completely exonerates the non-labeled person of responsibility and piles total blame on the recipient of that label. That is a totally illogical way to view the vast majority of relationships.

    The fact is that every one of those relationships has at least two crucial players in it and each of us, in each relationship we have, is just one of those players. And no player is free from any responsibility for how the relationship goes. And we each have control over just one player’s responses and actions: ours. We have very little, if any, control at all over the responses and actions of the others.

    Each relationship involves distinctly different people with different strengths, understandings, weaknesses, preferences, habits, language etc etc. And not only that, both they and we are (hopefully) constantly growing and changing, so what worked five years ago in a relationship may not seem to work at all right now.

    Knowing the above can change the problem of frustrating relationships into, instead, an opportunity: an opportunity for openhearted analysis and creativity in response, with full knowledge that the only tool we have is the power to change and elevate our own responses and actions and vision, and no one else’s.

    Recognizing that opportunity, and creatively engaging in analysis of the needs and the ongoing changes and development of others, and then indulging in some creative problem solving within those new parameters, and making changes in the only part you have control over: yourself and your responses or vision, can turn that process into a very interesting and instructive, and ultimately insight producing, series of thoughtful experiments.

    It’s the creativity that makes it fun. And since, by your writing, I can tell that you are a creative person, I think you will manage this. So I will just say, “Enjoy the creativity and the opportunity.”

  8. Love and hugs to you, Karen. You've got a lot on your plate and so, so much to coordinate. The mental load of launching kids is rough, and so is the tension between letting go and holding on. Be so kind to yourself right now. You can do this.


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