This is the second post in an ongoing series on the differences between INTJs and INTPs, as observed in my husband and myself. If you’re not familiar with them, you should first read this primer on Myers-Briggs and cognitive functions.
Both INTJs and INTPs are often perceived to be cold, unfeeling, and emotionally distant. We are not as skilled as other types at displaying and communicating emotion, but we do experience emotions very deeply and have a strong need for emotional intimacy—albeit with very few people.
This has to do with our cognitive functions. Because the Feeling function is low on the hierarchy for both types, it is less developed and our emotional ability is less mature than our other functions. For INTPs the Feeling function is extraverted (denoted as Fe) and is the inferior function (fourth in the dominance hierarchy), whereas for INTJs the Feeling function is introverted (denoted as Fi) and is the tertiary function.
As an INTP I express emotions outwardly, and I have a hard time controlling them. My expressions tend to be exaggerated, whether I’m angry or happy, causing my emotions to appear outwardly more extreme than I actually feel. My mood can change suddenly without warning. If I’m having a serious conversation with someone but remember something funny that happened to me last month, I will start laughing uncontrollably without being able to moderate my response.
My husband KJ’s feelings are directed inward because of his Fi, and he has a hard time expressing them outwardly. I’ve learned how to read his emotions by very subtle clues like the shape of the minute crinkle on the corner of his mouth and the tiny lines around his eyes. Whether positive or negative, it’s hard to coax strong reactions out of him. He talks about his emotions with great difficulty because he has to spend time thinking about the exact right words to use. He doesn’t talk about anything emotional with anyone but me, and even I have to ask him leading questions and give him plenty of time to process them.
These traits govern how we react to stress, and this is probably the one thing that has caused the most arguments and misunderstandings in our marriage. I react to extreme stress by crying, and I have to vent, rant, and talk things out in order to feel better. My husband reacts to stress by distancing himself and turning inward to process things alone. (Being an introvert I am generally the same way with others. But I consider KJ an emotional extension of myself, and I have to share my feelings with him in order to feel better.)
To make matters worse, KJ gets very distressed when I cry, and I get very distressed when he withdraws emotionally. It makes things difficult when we’re both stressed out at the same time, and because we’re both immature Feelers, we’re not the best at handling it.
Last year we wrote out an action plan for reconciling our incompatible stress management methods. Here are some of our resolutions:
- I will cry whenever I need to instead of trying to hold it in, which inevitably makes it worse. It’s easier for KJ to deal with crying in several short bursts than one long jag. I will let him know as soon as I feel like I might cry, so it doesn’t catch him by surprise.
- When he’s stressed out, he will talk about it with me before processing it in a solitary fashion, so I know what’s going on.
- We will talk about things that stress us out as soon as they arise, instead of letting it build up and becoming grumpy towards each other.
- Once a week, we will sit down and have an emotional check-in where we both talk in-depth about our feelings over the past week.
Our lives are extremely stressful right now, and the weekly check-ins are really crucial. They help us connect and share our experiences over the week with each other, because we’re apart most of the week while KJ works in a different town. They also help us identify potential problems so we can try to head them off.
How do you express emotions and stress? How do you deal with a partner who reacts to stress differently?