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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.

General Recommendations

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).
 

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Holding off on marriage seems especially wise for IPs considering the great difficulty they have in ending unhealthy relationships...
Boy, do I know what that's like. I sincerely hope that I can look at any future relationships more sensibly.
 

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Holding off on marriage seems especially wise for IPs considering the great difficulty they have in ending unhealthy relationships...
This. And the not knowing which career before 30 thing....So true.

In past relationships, I've been accused of not being forthcoming enough with my feelings or holding back. It's not that I don't want to tell them, I just don't know how and need more time than most people.
 

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Not to deviate but the aversion of all conflict falls more into the INFP's than INTP's.

We INTP's almost seek out conflict when it is something related to our internal values and we tend to try to correct people when they get a fact wrong. we do not like conflict of trivial things, but if a mistake in fact or logic is made, or one of our core values are challenged we take up our sword of words.

often time i find myself seeking out conflict on key issues if only to have the debate.

Just a little perspective from an INTP.
 

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Well, this would explain why I identify with INFPs so much in terms of procrastination and avoidance...

... And some other relationship-related stuff.
 

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He takes an e9-heavy view of INFPs. Some of this applies, but not certain chunks which are
A fair amount of INTPs are 5 & fair amount of INFPs are 4, both which are rather heavy on introspection, although tending to block certain processes still (ie. intellectualizing emotions to dismiss them or amplifying certain emotions to avoid action).
 

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Wow, this was spot on! The communication expressed thru actions, P-A and the hard-to-know-what-to-do. I'm totally in the middle of that right now and it felt soothing to read it well-written. Thanks!

To me, one difficulty comes from discerning between what I really want and what I say I want because I'm eager to comply and/or want to reach an inner peace, even if it's at the cost of compromising longer term principles, which I will regret. I tend to be easily blinded in the short term and it takes time to land in my own process.

What do you mean by "ego-defense issues"? Can you exemplify?
 

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Wow, now having hit my late 20's I have gotten a handle on expressing myself a lot more decisively--- where was this ability 5 years ago?? Argh. I didn't even know why I was to a large extent. Welp, I do now--- a lot better than I did, anyway. Do-overs, anyone?? :dry:
 
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Incredible post.
All of my relationship failings have been laid out before me. Thank you.
I was in a long term relationship with an INTP of about two years. Everything seemed HARMONIOUS, but we had difficulty connecting on a more INTIMATE level. And the relationship really was drawn out much longer than it should have been. We were too wrapped up in one another's world's and didn't have the courage (or perhaps what seemed to a valid reason to) part ways and move on with our lives.
Madness...
 

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We are still both friends, although we definitely do not spend as much time with each other as we once did. We still share an extended friend group and many fond memories.

I feel guilty for the scenario and the drawn out nature of the relationship. In our last conversation, (which was about two months ago) I apologized for a book of his I thought I lost. (It's a principle of mine to make sure I return something that I've borrowed from someone.) He reassured me. The book was not lost, but rather completely returned. I had left it there the last time I had visited. The book was now on his desk... (and he continued in a distant voice) next to my mix cd's, an anime I lent him, comic books, and other knick-knacks/thoughtful items that I had given him throughout the years.
I'm afraid he was very invested in the relationship. Partially the fault was mine for being such a closed book about some of my innermost feelings and struggles I was dealing with. I deal with hardships by shutting down and escaping into a mental world. If I had opened up and shared my worries, perhaps we could have been brought closer. I didn't want to let these negative aspects in my life negatively influence the relationship, which is what I thought could happen.
Turns out, that is not the case.
Live and learn I guess.
 
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He takes an e9-heavy view of INFPs. Some of this applies, but not certain chunks which are
A fair amount of INTPs are 5 & fair amount of INFPs are 4, both which are rather heavy on introspection, although tending to block certain processes still (ie. intellectualizing emotions to dismiss them or amplifying certain emotions to avoid action).
I either didn't finish my sentence or forgot to edit the ending when I decided to make the point another way....how bizarre.

------

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.

I can be cantankerous & arumentative with those I am close to. But I can be accomodating & to forgiving also. In my mind, it's extending the flexibility & forgiving nature I'd like to receive from others. I don't want to nitpick or get stuck on my way, and somehow I think being patient will lead to someone eventually appreciating me in return.

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.

Yes, this is true. I'm definitely informative or suggesting when I "direct" and like to allow room for people to do it their way (often believing there are many acceptable ways to do something). Sometimes this may be unclear to others or seem like it can be ignored.

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.

If I fear conflict, it's more fear of myself, but my own "force", which I know can be fiery & aggressive & dominant. But unlike 9s, I am not out of touch with my anger. If I avoid conflict, it's more that I cannot stand to let someone get the better of me & know my anger can be "too much". I'm not scared of the other person, rather I don't want to damage things permanently by losing control.

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.

Many IPs do not test as 3 (what...?) and 6 is not that common for INFPs. 4 is very common & 5 not uncommon for INFP males, and both tend towards heavy introspection. My problem is almost being too comfortable with shame & anxiety - embracing it almost, like an identity, instead of just letting it pass as an emotion.

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.

I do procrastinate to avoid certain tasks, but it's fear of not being able to meet objective standards (inferior Te) not fear of taking an honest look at myself or fear of confrontatios. Procrastination is not a big issue for me with people & confrontation so much as tasks, ones which take skill or patience I don't feel up to meeting. I suspect some poor Si here also - I don't have the patience to build expertise via repetition & can feel overwhelmed with tasks with which I cannot throw myself into & improvise easily.

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.

Yes true. And I tend to express hurt via withdrawal, unless I "blow" or "leak" with snappiness. I'll just have a bad mood hanging about me rather than communicating negative feelings directly. Part of this is because I am not sure my feelings are valid "outside my head". It's like my own inferior Te invalidates me as "too sensitive" and I try to "let it go" but the feeling does't go.
I don't know what this had to do with Sensing, as I think Si would choose customary forms of expression, and I tend to be confusing to people.

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.

I am guilty of "antics". These can be more aggressive than passive when compared to my ISFP e9 step-dad, and that may be my 4ishness. I've read about 9s dragging their feet in response to orders they don't like (instead of saying "no"). I am more likely to self-sabotage to try & bring attention to my needs, I suppose, instead of directly stating them. But I will also more openly say "no" and defy someone's order if I feel it's too controlling.

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 sounds 9ish, even 5ish (not wanting to be overwhelmed emotionally).... But as a 4, I know this truth, and I have no issue with it, but feel/fear others will be scared off. I hold peopele at arm's length because I don't think THEY can handle it, and my inferiority complex is they're not willing to go through it for ME, but perhaps for someone else (who is "better" or "less hassle"), or that they even prefer the surface relationship to something deeper.

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.

Don't relate to this. At worst, I think I "act out" or "disappear" to force someone's hand to break up with me. I don't really stick around or tolerate things, once they cross a line.

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.

This I agree with, but for most people.

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).

I agree with the advice, although I think openness to off-the-wall ideas & philosophies is needed in a partner by INFPs too, as well as someone willing to make the effort to grasp difficult to articulate feelings, as opposed to dismissing it as emotion or confusing it with a more common, known feeling many other people possess.
 

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I just realised that I AM P-A with my ENTP SO. Instead of explaining why he makes me upset sometimes (sometimes for REALLY silly shit), I shut off and explain to him that I am not going to hang out with him because I am busy, even thought I will end up sulking alone at home.

I think I will start to vocalise more of my ideas and feelings towards him. That might help him and me. Thou he says everything is okay and I overreact severely to really simple problems sometimes.

I am kind of getting emotionally invested more and more into this relationship.
 

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Most of it is true to me, and some things are not true. Definitely agree on the relationship thing, because I told that myself I should marry before I am 'completely' myself. As I do not have processed everything from my childhood and previous relationships. Although some things I cannot grasp right now, maybe not the time for that yet.
 
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