I’m not typically in the business of doling out unsolicited relationship advice here on the blog. I just write about my life…and yeah, through that, I probably end up waxing poetic (or actually, let’s be honest–probably not so poetic) about how we’ve made things work in our relationship. And through that, I get a lot of “What do you think about my situation?” emails from different folks (especially women in relationships with Saudis). But aside from a post of advice here or there, with guidance mostly gleaned from my own mistakes, I try to stay away from marketing myself as some sort of relationship expert. Because (and I’m laughing as I type this) I am so not that. But over the past few weeks, I’ve had some experiences that have led me to believe that this one suggestion will be tremendously helpful to anyone in any relationship.
Take the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test.
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is a questionnaire that helps you sort yourself into one of 16 personality types, based on combinations of four different personality traits. (I won’t go into a lot of detail in describing them; folks have already done that elsewhere on the Internet in much more detail than I can provide here. So you can read about them, and then you can find your own personality type, if you wish.) Business types use the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator a lot, and so do educators. And it just seems to be getting more and more popular. I’m guessing that in the next few years, our Facebook newsfeeds will be filled with trendy listicle thinkpieces that dispense advice on how to deal with certain personality types, much the same way we currently see constant discussion about introverts and how to deal with them (or, you know, us…I’m an introvert. Interestingly, introversion/extroversion is one of the four Myers-Briggs personality traits that go into making a personality type). And maybe in 50 years or so, we’ll all see the Myers-Briggs craze as nothing more than pseudoscientific pop psychology, like the way a lot of people feel about psychoanalysis now. But even if that’s the case, I gotta say that so far, I’m totally aboard this hokey train.
I’ve known my Myers-Briggs personality type for several years now. I think the first time I had to take the type indicator test was for a class in college. I didn’t give it much thought back then, but now that I’ve taken the time to really research my type, I value that knowledge a lot. I’m an INFJ.
Meanwhile, Mr. Mostafa hadn’t taken the Myers-Briggs type Indicator until he went to Berlin a little over a week ago for a five-day training with his company. On one of those days, he sent me a Whatsapp message after he’d finished the test–“I’m an ESTJ. Does that sound like me?”
I looked it up and read about it. “Oh, my God, it is totally you!” I texted back, somewhat in awe. “Except for the extroversion thing. You’re not really an extrovert, I don’t think. You spend most of your free time at home with me. You never seem to need to spend a whole lot of time hanging out with a big group of friends.”
“But I think it’s right, because I like to talk my ideas out,” he said. “You don’t do that.”
“Hmmm…that’s true,” I wrote back.
Oh, the prophecy in that conversation.
Right after he got back from Berlin, he noticed my old, dead iPad sitting on a shelf. This iPad won’t charge or power up at all, and the last time it worked, the battery wouldn’t hold a charge for more than about 20 minutes. So I’m pretty sure it needs a new battery, and I know I could probably just get a new (or a new-used) iPad for what it would cost to fix it, but I have pictures and such on it that I don’t want to lose if I can help it. I’ve been figuring that one of these days I’ll get around to having it repaired.
Anyway, when Saleh saw the iPad, he said, “Hey, I think we should get that fixed for Lavender.”
“That’s a great idea,” I agreed enthusiastically. Lavender’s iPod has gone missing (we are hoping it will show up in a random place around the apartment one of these days, but we’re not holding our breath…especially since we’ve caught her a few times putting things in the trash that should not go in the trash, and thus we suspect–although we so hope we’re wrong–that her iPod is somewhere in a Riyadh landfill), so it would be nice to have another device that we could take along when we go to restaurants and such where a lot of waiting is necessary, and so she can have her apps back.
So in the days after that, whenever he would ask me what I wanted to do, I would say, “Why don’t we take the iPad to get fixed?” Because in my mind, it was done. We’d made the decision to fix it.
He would say, “Eh, not today. I don’t feel like driving all the way down there.” Which I understood. The electronics marketplace can be a pain to get to, with the traffic and its distance from our house. But I knew we’d have to do it eventually, if we were going to go through with our plan. So, yesterday, when he asked me what I wanted to do this weekend, I said, “Let’s take the iPad to get fixed.”
“No, I don’t want to drive all the way down there,” he repeated. But then he continued, “I think it’s a bad idea to do it here in Riyadh. We’ve had that iPad repaired twice here and it always goes bad again. I think we need to wait to take it to an actual Apple store to get fixed. Let’s not do it now.”
I. Was. Pissed. For over a week now, I’d been planning to get this iPad repaired and up and running again instead of sitting and gathering dust on a shelf, and now he was flaking out on me. Again. Because it felt like he always flaked out on me. He would agree that things were a good idea, or he would suggest something and I would be totally on board with it, and then he would change his mind later and he would decide he didn’t want to do it. And as I always did before, I exploded at him this time. I was sick of it, and we argued.
He said I got too emotional about things. I said there was nothing wrong with getting emotional about things; it’s not bad to be emotional. It’s just a different way of thinking. And any reasonable person is going to get emotional when their life partner repeatedly flakes on plans. He said we never actually made a plan to get the iPad fixed–it was just an idea, and now he’d changed his mind and decided that it wasn’t a good plan.
All of the discussion about emotional vs. logical thinking–which we’d known for years was a major component to our relationship and heavily influenced the way we see the world, well before we started seeing each other in terms of Myers-Briggs personality types–made me see Myers-Briggs alphabet soup in my head. Suddenly, it hit me–this is what made him an extrovert. This is what he meant when he said that he likes to talk out ideas.
It was one of those classic lightbulb moments. Except it was accompanied by a chorus singing in my brain, because this was huge. If the two of us had understood this earlier about each other, so many explosive arguments could have been saved. This was an enormous difference between us–one which, I now observed in startling retrospect, had caused a lot of fights over the years.
As an introvert, when I make a suggestion out loud, I’ve already gone through a major internal thought process and have decided that it’s the way to go. When I vocalize a plan to Saleh (or anyone else, for that matter, but he’s the one I talk to the most), I’m just saying something in order to confirm the plan with him and make sure he’s on board. I usually don’t talk out ideas or plans with people, unless I get stuck and need some clarity from someone else to continue the process. By the time something comes out of my mouth, I’ve been thinking about it for a good long while.
As an extrovert, however, Mr. Mostafa likes to talk out every plan he makes. When he says we should do something next weekend or maybe we should buy this thing or that, he hasn’t yet decided that it’s a good idea. He’s literally thinking out loud. Ideas pop into his head, and they come out his mouth. Talking is how he works out his ideas. He may completely change his mind about something later, as he talks about it more and decides it’s not a good idea.
So…when I vocalize a plan and he agrees to it, to him, I’m just making a completely malleable suggestion that I could totally change my mind about later, so it’s not a big deal whether he says yes or no. Except I don’t see it that way; for me, it’s a confirmation. And it’s the same thing when he vocalizes a plan and I agree to it; in my mind, it’s a done deal, and when he changes his mind later, I see him as an undependable flake who never keeps his word. And when I get upset about that, he sees me as overly emotional and completely inflexible and stubborn.
He had been thinking out loud when he said that we should get the iPad fixed. He hadn’t even gone through his thought process yet. An idea came into his head, and he said it. And when he later decided it wasn’t a good idea, I got mad and expressed that in a way that surely seemed spoiled and childish because yet again, it felt like my plans were being thwarted.
We fought. And fights have the potential to do, it grew, and pretty soon we were arguing about things beyond the stupid iPad. But eventually, we worked our way back around to the matter at hand, and we started breaking the disagreement down in terms of personality traits. I explained what I had realized, about how this fight stemmed from his extroversion and my introversion. He was pretty impressed at how Myers-Briggs had illuminated the reason for this fight (not to mention numerous others).
“You need to not talk your thoughts out with me,” I said. “Sit in the car and talk to yourself or something.”
“But that’s not how I work. And you’re my wife,” he said, looking somewhat like a kicked puppy. “I like talking to you. You’re the person I always want to talk things out with.”
Well, I couldn’t argue with that.
“Okay, yeah, I get that,” I said. “But maybe you could say something like, ‘Now I’m just thinking out loud…’ You know, so I’m reminded that this isn’t an actual plan. This is you trying to decide what to do. I know this is how you think, and you can’t help it. But I also can’t help it if I don’t think that way.”
“Okay,” he agreed. “And about the iPad…we’ll get it fixed here if you really want to. But I think it’s a bad idea, especially if you want to keep the stuff on it. Better to take it to an actual Apple store, so they won’t screw it up.” He paused. “This is why I’m terrible at planning romantic surprises,” he continued. “I have to talk everything out with someone, and it doesn’t work if the person you want to surprise is the one you always want to talk things out with.”
“Well, you did a great job when you proposed,” I said. “That was an awesome romantic surprise.”
“I talked it out with your mom,” he laughed.