1. We’re all in a frenzy to get our individual needs met—and that’s okay.
Depending on your personality type, you have specific basic needs and fundamental desires. If you want to lead a healthy, balanced life—and position yourself to be a loving partner—you have to do what it takes to ensure that your individual needs are met, and encourage your significant other to do the same. Structuring a relationship around the fulfillment of individual needs might sound counterintuitive or unromantic since we like to associate passion with great personal sacrifice, but we’re all better equipped to love when our needs are being met because we’re happier and healthier in general. One effective way to focus on your personal needs is to carve out enough time to exist in your natural flow state—whatever mindset is most comfortable to you—whether that means reading a book alone in the bathtub every night, or engaging in lively discussions with friends regularly. Without enough time in your flow sate, you’ll start to feel drained—starved of something abstract but as important as oxygen or water—and thus incapable of devoting the time, energy, and effort required to love your significant other properly.
2. Coupling up involves a constant, unconscious power struggle.
It’s likely that your basic needs and desires aren’t aligned with your partner’s. As an INFJ, for instance, I desire invulnerability, and I tend to construct barriers to prevent people from penetrating my inner world. I need time alone in my head every day, where I feel safest, to function at full capacity. Meanwhile, my ESTP boyfriend craves freedom. He’s an in-the-moment guy who thrives off of spontaneity. He needs to get out into the external world, where he’s most comfortable, regularly. As an introvert, socializing tends to exhaust me, even when I enjoy it, whereas my extraverted boyfriend is energized through interacting with others. His fuel is my kryptonite, and vice versa. There are only so many nights he can stay home and read a book alongside me before he actually starts to ache, and there are only so many last-minute excursions I can agree to before I want to bury my head in a pillow and weep. Trying to balance opposing needs within a relationship is a constant struggle, but if you don’t make the effort to, you’ll both end up unsatisfied and deeply resentful.
3. Compromise is the only way forward.
Since your individual needs most likely conflict with your significant other’s, you both have to compromise. You have to make some sacrifices in the name of accommodating your partner’s needs, and they must do the same. One way to do this is to establish a contract of sorts that addresses how you’ll lead your lives, keeping each party’s separate but equal needs in mind. For instance, agree to spend a certain number of nights at home, and a certain number of evenings out. Agree to give one person the space they need to think without interruption, or to ride away on the motorcycle they purchased on a whim because their sense of freedom is so important to them. If you can’t find balance in compromise, or if one person consistently breaks their contractual obligations once an agreement is reached, the relationship probably won’t survive.
4. Your ultimate individual desire is unrealistic, anyway.
The parameters of a romantic relationship don’t allow for either person to get what they want all the time. This is a simple but powerful notion. For example, building a life with someone requires making yourself vulnerable, so my INFJ dream of complete invulnerability became unattainable the second I committed to my boyfriend. In turn, my ESTP boyfriend’s deep-seated desire for absolute freedom is unreasonable as long as we’re a couple since relationships require abiding by a certain set of rules. You can’t expect to have all of your needs met 100 percent of the time in any partnership.
5. Entering into a relationship is a kind of gift exchange.
Sacrificing some of your personal needs to maintain harmony in a relationship is the greatest gift you can give someone. By letting my boyfriend penetrate my inner world, for instance, I have made myself vulnerable in spite of my biggest fear. On the other hand, he’s given up a precious percentage of his freedom to be with me. A generous move on both of our parts!
6. Conflict is inevitable.
Everything you do in the moment might make sense to you, but your partner won’t always comprehend your behavior or see things your way. The simplest misunderstandings and differences in opinion can make us feel defensive. And since we tend to stay where we’re comfortable—to rely on our cognitive strengths—when distressed and/or challenged, tensions tend to escalate quickly between people with different personality types. For instance, if you’re someone who thinks about the world in macro terms while your partner is more of a sensory based, micro thinker, you’re destined to butt heads in the heat of the moment. You will likely end up on a hamster wheel of non-communication, struggling to talk over each other, getting nowhere fast.
7. But conflict isn’t unmanageable—especially if you understand how your partner’s brain is wired.
By understanding how your partner’s brain is wired you can learn how to fight more effectively. For example, understanding that my partner tends to think in accurate, measurable terms is handy in the heat of an argument because I know not to waste time harping on the bigger picture. If I frame my point using metrics, which he responds to, instead of focusing on how his actions impact our future and how they make me feel, we’re likely to reach a resolution quicker. So instead of screaming “Your shockingly frivolous spending makes me feel exploited—like a fool for believing that you want to save up to buy a home together!” I might say, “Spending $1,000 on a random night out seems unreasonable in light of our agreed upon goal to save $25,000 by the end of summer.” It also helps to understand that my boyfriend needs to walk away to collect his thoughts when overwhelmed by emotion. When I hold space for him to get the breather he needs, he tends to return with a clearer mind, better positioned to provide me with the closure I covet. It pains me to wait for a resolution, but if he makes the effort to close the loop when he gets back, we both end up okay.
8. You have to be radically honest—with yourself, and your partner.
When you’re in the midst of a disagreement, the first step towards peace is to ask yourself how you really feel about the situation. What is your truth? Admit to yourself how you really feel independent of anyone else—not how your thoughts and actions might impact your significant other, not what you should think or feel about something, but how you actually feel regardless of how appropriate or unreasonable others might deem your viewpoint. Being truthful with yourself allows you to recognize the incongruities between the ways in which you and your partner are thinking about a given situation. If you can spot the incongruity between your authentic truths, you are far more likely to reestablish a peaceful mutual existence. Your goal shouldn’t be to convince your partner of your truth, necessarily, but to reach a comfortable middle ground that’s workable for both of you.
9. It’s critical to stay mindful of your emotional patterns.
Some of us tend to “stack” our emotions, while others “smuggle” them. No one wants to be the person who’s bothered by all the little things. We want to seem laid back, so we’d rather let something slide than address the issue outright. But when we let things go in the moment, they don’t evaporate. Over time, they stack higher and higher, until the accumulation of frustrations topples and the person harboring them explodes, a volcano of unaddressed vexations. Ultimately, it’s healthier to tell someone exactly how you feel in real time, no matter how tiny the problem may seem. It’s also helpful to look out for emotional smuggling. The smuggler tends to get mad about something unrelated to their actual pain to release the hurt they’ve been burying. The more you stay cognizant of your tendency to stack or smuggle, the more positive changes you can make to the way you approach the day to day struggles that have a way of becoming something more.
10. Just don’t weaponize your knowledge.
Knowledge is powerful, but as Antonia Dodge of Personality Hacker says, “it can be used to build a house, or bludgeon it.” When you point something out to your significant other—that you suspect they’re smuggling or stacking, for instance—your observation absolutely must be couched in love. If you use your knowledge of someone’s cognitive processes or personality type against them in an obnoxious manner, you’ll destroy your relationship. Better to put the weapon down than to wield it irresponsibly.