I’ll post this just because.
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So I’m a big believer in the MBTI assessment. Four decades of life experience tells me that there’s an awful lot to it. I’m not so concerned with whether it’s biologically based, the amount of variability over time that it can encompass, and all of that other stuff. As a descriptive framework that is also predictive of habits of thought and patterns of interaction, I find it to be typically spot on.
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With that said, here’s another bit of wisdom that comes from two-plus decades of dating and relationships.
A lot is made of the I/E (introvert/extrovert) split and the difficulties that people have in getting along when on opposite poles in this spectrum. But I think there is a far larger split that for some reason isn’t talked about as much, though it should be.
NP and SJ types that try to enter into relationships with one another are asking for trouble. They’re always drawn to each other, and the sparks can be huge—the NP initially sees in the SJ someone with amazing clarity of purpose, pragmatism, and apparent stability and maturity, grounded and supremely competent. The SJ initially sees in the NP a kind of supernatural visionary, someone with the uncanny ability to see what isn’t visible yet, apparently predict the future, and somehow triumph with verve in intractable situations without so much as a plan. It starts out as Princess Leia and Han Solo. Each provides what the other most admires—that which is lacking in themselves.
But in the best of times, this means opposite ways of seeing the world—the SJ types live in a practical, clockwork, non-theoretical world of clearly defined realities and definite risks, while NP types live in a fluid, evolving world of concepts, unlimited possibilities and hidden opportunities. The SJs want to measure, to plan, and to judge, and the NPs want to flow, to adapt, and to embrace. As time passes, the SJs increasingly see the NPs as irresponsible, having their heads in the sand about life and being too lazy or too distracted to make a plan and stick to it; meanwhile, the NPs increasingly see the SJs as small-minded complainers and busybodies that can’t embrace life and its changing circumstances. And that’s during the good times.
Worse, under conditions of significant stress, the shadow functions of each turn the SJs into SPs and the NPs into NJs. Under stress, in other words, SJs become indecisive, hesitant, and cautious, but are even more determined to be guided by practicality and concrete facts alone. Meanwhile, under stress the NPs become decisive, willful, and extremely determined, but are more than ever guided by intuition, optimism, and subconscious inferences that are difficult to defend in empirical terms. The NPs will be unable in simple terms to explain themselves and what they now inflexibly see to be the absolutely necessary way forward, and will press on with initiative anyway—and this at the same moment that SJs most want clear explanation and deliberation, desperately needing moderation and tentativeness wrapped in a detailed, “just the facts, ma’am” outlook.
More concisely, when times are good, SJs come to see NPs as disengaged, layabout dreamers, while NPs come to roll their eyes at buttoned-down, apparently judgmental and needlessly conservative SJs. Then, when times get tough, SJs are furious and exasperated that NPs seem forceful, domineering, and overconfident about what appear to them to be unsupportable claims and decisions, while NPs feel that for all their practicality, SJs are ultimately helpless and frozen with panic in the crisis, unable to help themselves or to move forward.
In metaphorical terms, in good times an SJ-NP pair is like a Fortune 500 CEO pairing off with a So-Cal surfer. In bad times, it’s like putting a certified public accountant together with a nothing-to-lose pirate captain. It’s oil and water.
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And when heated conflicts between the two do appear—when the stress is relationship stress, rather than external stress—SJs see the conflict in simple terms, and as having simple solutions (often amounting to a change in the the way the NP functions in the world), while NPs see the conflict in complex terms, and as having complex solutions (often involving changes in circumstances, dynamics, and a multiplicity of other factors) that infuriate the SJ in their apparent abstractness and indirectness.
The SJ says, “This would go better if you pulled your head out of your ass for a change and looked at this list, right now, like a grown-up,” and the NP responds with, “I’m not going to look at it right now because the circumstances aren’t conducive to a productive resolution. This would go better if we had the discussion in the afternoon on a weekend, rather than in the morning on a weekday, with each of us saying what we think without the need for a list at first, over drinks, and with fun a movie to follow, thus diffusing the tension and giving our subconscious minds time to reflect on things in the process. After that, we can write some ideas on a napkin and go back and forth about them in a collaborative way.”
At which point the SJ breaks their pencil in half and storms out in disbelief, and the NP sits quietly, reflects, and makes a bunch of extended notes about life, the universe, and everything.
The initial spark of excitement and respect gives way to a recipe for endless conflict and loss of respect. Twenty years of experience tells me (a) that SJs and NPs are drawn to each other, and (b) that it’s damned, damned hard to make it work in the long run. These types simply experience the world in radically different ways, and solve problems in radically different ways—and unlike some of the other kinds of differences, each is different in ways that ultimately make the other feel at risk.
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Experience suggests to me that it is far better if a couple shares at least one of these two types.
If both are P or both are J, then they will at least be decisive/hard/invulnerable or cautious/soft/vulnerable at the same times, under the same circumstances, even if their methods for understanding the situation and coming to decisions differ.
Even better, if both are S then they can agree together that the world is a place of simple, agreed-upon, observable facts, or if both are N then they can agree together that the world is a place of complex, difficult-to-measure, often hidden and changing circumstances. It seems to me that this agreeing about the nature of the world is a far more powerful way to be in sync; once you agree on the nature of the world and the situation(s) you’re in, it matters far less whether anyone is feeling clear and decisive or not at any particular moment, and it might even be complimentary to have an NJ and an NP together so that whatever the circumstances, both agree on the basics and at least one is always ready to lead in a way that the other is comfortable with.
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For the record, I am exactly on the boundary between INFP/INTP, and I have a history of being in relationships with ESFJs.