INTP vs. INTJ: Expressing emotions

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?

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3 thoughts on “INTP vs. INTJ: Expressing emotions”

  1. As an INTJ myself, I usually find I am much more capable if I’m in a polymourous relationship with another introvert and a extrovert at least. When I’m in a single monogamous relationship, things are…extremely hard. Unless I’m with another INTJ, monogamy will definitely not work. When there is 3 or more, we can bounce our emotions and attitudes off of each other and there is usually a neutral party to help understand things.
    I’m not sure where I was going with this but…yeah. I can do feelings, but not all the time. I care all the time, but I just can’t be with people all the time, so it makes it hard. Plus, most people really dislike long discussions and devil’s advocating, which is a thing most INTJs I’ve met, and myself, enjoy thoroughly. As you said, it comes off as trolling, even if it isn’t our intent to anger (my intent at least is to see all sides and situations of things).
    I hope you develop into a method that works really well for yourself and your partner! You seem like a pretty nice person and I’m sure a INTP/INTJ relationship can work out, in the right way.
    As for dealing with stress in a monogamous relationship, I find it…hard. I’ve found the best way with dealing with my stress is to shut down and ignore it until i am in the right mindset to deal with it, but when you are with someone who can get stressed onto of your own stress, my mind becomes completely overwhelmed. When I can’t express my emotions properly my body goes into overdrive; I become extremely upset and angry. My mind knows I cannot be violent, as it is counter productive, so I get more stressed out and upset and I end up fuming, unintelligible and I even break into anger tears. This is my default reaction at being overwhelmed. I’ve learnt over the years that the only right way not to get into that situation is to just leave whenever I am stressed or angry. I have no other choice but to shut down. Shutting down might stress my partner out, but it’s nothing compared to how freaked out they’ll be if I explode at them when I’m overwhelmed. You can always make up for ignoring someone a bit, but you can’t fix scaring someone and making them think you are irrational.
    I really wish I could help someone out when we’re both stressed, but I either shut down and seem cold and robotic, or I get angry and, in extreme cases (usually with ES, I’ve found) I can ever get so near violence I end up hating myself for awhile after, and then I really shut down, and I can’t even talk to anybody.
    Usually shutting down for me is going into automatic. I can still do things, but my emotional part has been smothered into silence by my coping system.
    When someone else is stressed and I’m ok, I try and approach them the best way I know. I have an Extroverted friend who wants to be combative when he’s stressed, so the best thing to do is oppose him while reassuring him his views are also valid, in a ”Yes, but…” fashion. Eventually he reaches a point where he’s out of steam and then I’d have to act in a neutral way, and speak about what stressed him in a calm manner. I have a family member who is an ISFJ and when he’s stressed he needs someone to side with him (the opposite of what my Extroverted friend needed) against whatever stressed him. Any opposition to his view at that stressful moment will cause him to reject whatever means of help you offer, and only stress and isolate him more. He usually calms down after about an hour or two, and then he’s sunshine again. I have an INTJ friend who is much more introverted and judging than me, but les intuitive and thinking than me, she needs rational argument, it doesn’t need to be on her side or against it, as long as everything gets rationalized, weather tab that time she is sad or mad or just freaking out because of tests or whatever. If she is especially shut down, she only needs to be reassured, but not in a it’s-ok way, more in a it’s-definately-not-your-fault way. Making her see her rationalizations are valid is key to getting her back to her natural state of mind. Of course, trying to hard causes the opposite effect. Generally with her I suggest saying something neutral-positive and just hanging out in silence, ready to listen if a sudden rush of thoughts get sent at you, which if they are ready to unload, they will be.

    I hope any of this helps out? Just a few thoughts and experiences I thought I’d share. I suppose anyone can get their own conclusions.

    1. @ragarwo

      To an INTJ, losing control and being perceived as irrational is the worst thing that can happen in a relationship emotionally. To me, the worst thing that can happen is being emotionally alienated from your partner because they refuse to share their true feelings with you or aren’t there for you during a time of need. My husband and I have dealt with this a lot and it requires a lot of compromise (as do all relationships). But it’s totally worth it to share your life with someone and really understand each other.

      Being I’s we both need time to ourselves, but that’s something that needs to be compromised on as well. When we have needs that are in conflict (one person needs to talk about something, the other person needs to be alone) we have to quickly figure out whose needs are greater at that particular moment. Usually one of us will concede to the other in that case, but there’s pleasure in sacrificing for someone you love and seeing them happier, even if it drains your own batteries.

      My husband also loves long debates and devil’s advocating, so it’s funny you mentioned that. It’s one of the things I love about him, but sometimes it drives me crazy because I get emotionally invested in debates. Sometimes it gets to the point where I’m on the verge of tears and thinking we have an insurmountable philosophical difference, and then he’s like “Just kidding, I actually agree with you, I was just being devil’s advocate.” I love debating but now I just ask him to let me know when he’s playing devil’s advocate before the debate crosses from fun to upsetting.

      1. Glad to see another INTP admitting this behavior in debates with close INTJs who are being devil’s advocate. I also have this happen when we discuss things of various natures. Always resolved in much the same way as well. It’s great to find someone who is similar cognitively working well with someone similar cognitively to the person I am with. It’s not directly proof of future wellness, but then again, nothing is, and it still reassures me somewhat that things will continue to go well/resolve when crises arrive.

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