Why INFPs, INTPs, & ISPs Struggle with Communication in Relationships
A.J. / NOVEMBER 11, 2011
INFPs and INTPs excel when it comes to preserving external peace. They are masters of outer adaptation and can readily blend and mesh with others. Despite their knack for maintaining external harmony, many INFPs and INTPs unwittingly fail to develop intimate and effective communication in their relationships.
To understand why INFPs and INTPs struggle with communication in their relationships, it helps to understand the structure of their functional stack. For all IP types, their extraverted judging function (Fe or Te) is in the inferior position. This means that it is the most childlike, least used, and least developed of their functions.
Extraverted Feeling (Fe) and Extraverted Thinking (Te) are the functions that allow us to verbally express our convictions or judgments. They also grant a sense of interpersonal control and confidence. Unlike Judging types, for whom Fe/Te is either dominant or auxiliary, IPs feel relatively powerless when it comes to influencing others’ behavior. Especially early in their development, it feels unnatural for them to direct or manage others. IPs can also find it difficult to verbally express themselves in a confident and coherent fashion.
INFPs and INTPs also prefer to avoid direct conflict if at all possible. Direct conflict with another person person requires IPs to confront their own inferior function, including its attendant fears and insecurities. For IPs, fear of conflict with others and fear of their own self is often one and the same. This is why many IPs test as Enneagram Sixes (6), Nines (9), or even Threes (3), types which are notorious for avoiding genuine introspection because of the shame or anxiety that may emerge. Instead of authentically confronting others or taking an honest look at themselves, many IPs work hard to distract themselves from their inner fears while also striving to avoid conflict in the outer world. Avoidance/distraction may take the form of procrastination or neglecting certain responsibilities. Rather than meeting their obligations, IPs may burn time watching television, surfing the Internet, or playing video games as a means of distraction. Such behaviors serve to soothe or stave off feelings of anxiety associated with directly facing and participating in life.
Action Rather than Words & Passive-Aggressiveness
When INFPs and INTPs feel compelled to express themselves, they often do so through action rather than words. Since their Sensing function, which can be broadly conceived as representing action, comes prior to Fe/Te in their functional stack, it feels easier for IPs to express themselves through action rather than words. So rather than expressing their love or apologies verbally, IPs will often do so by way of action.
A less healthy form of action that is common to all IP types is passive-aggressive behavior. Rather than directly confronting a perceived problem, passive-aggressiveness (P-A) involves the expression of frustration in indirect and underhanded ways. For instance, rather than directly dealing with a relational grievance, IPs may intentionally stay late at the office as an act of rebellion against their partner. Since IPs feel they cannot directly control or change their partner by way of extraverted judgment, they use P-A antics to exercise their inner will and independence. By staying late at the office, for instance, they may be effectively saying, “I’m tired of you trying to control me. I want you to know you can’t control me. I am stronger than you think I am.” IPs who otherwise feel helpless or powerless may see P-A behavior as the only way they can preserve their sense of independence and personal control.
Harmony versus Intimacy: A Point of Confusion for Perceivers
It is all too easy for INFPs, INTPs, and ISPs to equate relational harmony with relational health. While external harmony is often part of a healthy relationship, it really has little to do with genuine intimacy or effective communication. Developing genuine intimacy can be quite painful and difficult, requiring frequent confrontations with one’s own and one’s partner’s fears, insecurities, and ego issues. When couples are working through these issues, moments of disharmony are all but inevitable.
This represents a potential trouble point for relationships involving two Perceiving types. If both partners are merely adapting or compromising, rather than insisting that their concerns be voiced and addressed, they will fail to develop true intimacy, effective communication, and relational satisfaction. It is easy for Perceivers to slip into relational complacency, and once these patterns are in place, it can be a long and arduous road to real intimacy. Moreover, since Perceivers are prone to codependency, they may be too afraid to sever an unhealthy relationship. Ending a relationship requires a hefty measure of extraverted judgment, which, as we’ve seen, can be extremely difficult for IPs to muster.
Because it is unusual for IPs to develop their Fe or Te prior to their late twenties, I cannot help but question whether these types should consent to marriage at younger ages. This is borne out by research that shows that couples who marry prior to the age of twenty five are far more likely to end up in divorce. Holding off on marriage seems especially wise for IPs considering the great difficulty they have in ending unhealthy relationships, let alone the legally and publically endorsed institution of marriage. The fact that INFPs and INTPs rarely know what they want to do career-wise before age thirty can only serve to exacerbate relational difficulties.
In order to meet the tall challenge of communication in their love relationships, INTPs and INFPs need to choose their partners wisely. INTPs, in particular, should seek a partner who is open enough to understand and even appreciate their subversive or off-the-wall ideas. Typically this involves pairing with another Intuitive type. Pairing with another Intuitive can help INPs trust that their partner is being genuine and not merely feigning interest in their ideas. Choosing a partner who has relatively few ego-defense issues, or at least is eager to work on overcoming them, is equally important.
IPs will also benefit from analyzing their past relationships to see where they have failed to be forthright in their communication. They need to develop a sensitivity to and awareness of when their own ego is trying to protect itself or assert its independence by excluding their partner from their internal processing. INPs need to use their Extraverted Intuition to process ideas with their partners rather than relying exclusively on their introverted functions.
For introverts to feel whole, they must be willing to extravert their thoughts, feelings and judgments. Self-actualization for IPs involves reconciling their dominant Ti/Fi with their inferior Fe/Te. This requires relinquishing some of their independence (I) and learning to be vulnerable, open, and forthright with others (E).