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The Politics of Relating - should you pair up with similar or opposite MBTI types?

Today's blog post is based on a question received from H.C.:

“Should we pair with someone who’s similar to our type, or the polar opposite?”

That’s a very good question, and certainly a question people ask a lot. Even if they don’t ask this question directly, they might wonder about it, “Oh, I wonder if I should be with somebody who is similar to me, or should I be with somebody who is different to me?”

Most of us do fall into this trap of thinking that type has a massive impact, or is a massive indicator of compatibility in relationships. While there are benefits to being similarly wired, for sure, there are also differences that can bring a lot of benefit to ourselves as people, and to our relationship as an entity.

Full disclosure- I am an INFJ myself, and I’m in a relationship with an INFP. Some of you already know that, and some of you already know my partner. I’m not with my partner because we’re both Intuitive Introverted Feelers, that’s not why I’m with this person. I’m with this particular person because they see me as who I am. They see the person that I am, we share very similar values, and our level of commitment to our relationship and to personal growth is very similar. There’s a match there.

So today we’re looking at the benefits of being in a relationship with somebody who is similar to us, and the challenges of being with somebody who is similar to us, as well as the benefits and challenges of being with someone who’s different to us. Finally I’ll mention how I can help you if you want to work on this more.

There are certain benefits to being with people who are similar to yourself, and I think the main benefit is a sense of resonance. When we meet a person who is very similar to us there’s a natural sense of resonance that kind of catches up off guard and makes us feel at ease straightaway. We may feel like we have known them for a long time even though you’ve just met them. That’s certainly a benefit you have being with a person who is similar to yourself in type.

Beyond the 4 letter code, such as INFJ or INFP, we share a lot of similarities in how we show up in the world. Even though the cognitive functionalities are different, how life show up for us INFJs and INFPs is very similar. I’ve written courses specifically for INFJs and INFPs, as a combined group of people, because the life experiences are similar. In terms of the 4 letter code, obviously if you’re both Introverted, or both Extraverted, or both Intuitives or Sensors, that already gives that sense of resonance that a lot of us can feel we need in order to feel like we really belong.

There are challenges to being similar as well. It’s not just fun and games! One of the main things I think that happens when we are similar to the people that we’re with is we assume a lot. We forget that the person in front of us is a person, and because there’s a sense of ease or resonance that is there naturally, we assume that we share the same values, or the same ways in which we want to operate. Of course, everybody is a completely different person. So, it’s not so much that the resonance immediately shows us that we’re the same, not at all! Our past experiences and our personal experiences shape our lives more, and how we see those experiences is more dependent on how we’re wired. And so, whilst the experience might be similar and you might have similarities in experiences, the details of those experiences may be very different. It can be so easy to think that we know, and forget to ask questions. So that is a challenge with being with somebody who is similar.

Another challenge is that we can get stuck in our cognitive biases and shut out the world that embraces ways that are different from how we are. That can stop our personal growth and it can certainly stop our professional growth, as well as our growth out there in the world. When we only hang out with people who are similar to us we lose out on the richness that life has to offer us. I want to be really clear here: if you feel activated by what I’ve just said that might mean that your self-establishment is not quite there yet. In which case you need to establish yourself, you need to be with people who embrace you, and you need to have that sense of belonging. So if you’re in a healing phase of your own personal journey you may feel like you’ve been marginalised for all of your life for being exactly who you are, and so you want to be with people who are like you. And that’s totally cool! You should absolutely do that. I’m not in any way suggesting that you should be different than how you are. You be exactly how you are! That’s perfect. So, don’t let anybody tell you what you should be, but today we’re talking about the benefits and challenges around differences and similarities between types.

Absolutely take your journey the way that you need to take it, and don’t let anybody else tell you what you should or shouldn’t be doing.

There are also some benefits to being in relationships with people who are different than you are. When we’re in relationships with people who are completely different, how we are attracted to those in the first place is very interesting. It’s very different to being attracted to people who are similar to us. With the similarity there is a resonance. With very different types we get attracted to the wonder of that person. Who is that person? Why do they operate that way? And it gives us that sense of wonder and wanting to know more about that person. That can be very attractive to us at different stages of life as well.

What happens when we get involved with people who are different to ourselves is that it opens us up to a whole new way of seeing life. For me personally, as an Outward Feeler, being with an Inward Feeler has really taught me how to embrace my own authenticity and not to just be out there meeting other people’s needs, but actually prioritising my own needs. It’s given me the permission to do that, which has been life-transforming.

Another thing that happens is that we learn about our shadow side, so we start strengthening our shadow side. The functionalities that we don’t have in our 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th functionalities we have on the flip-side, in our 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th functionalities. So we start being able to work on those and we find much more depth in life. For a really long time I thought I knew how it all worked because I was very familiar with the first 4 functionalities of my particular personality type - INFJ. Then I found this whole other realm and that was very interesting to me! I’ve been working with that for the last several years.

So, we’re able to strengthen that shadow side and we are able to show up as a more rounded person with a lot more tools for our own healing and development journeys.

Something that happens when we are with people who are dissimilar to ourselves is that our level of integration in our lives becomes exaggerated. We keep evolving and integrating at a much faster pace than we would normally. Now, I’m not saying that this is what everybody should try in order to integrate as fast as they can. That’s not the point at all! The point is that those opportunities are there, if we are in a space to do that. Sometimes we’re in a healing space and we need to slow things down, and sometimes we’re in a growth space where we need to speed things up. If we are with people who are similar to ourselves, so we’ve self-established, and if we are with people who are different to us, that gives us an opportunity to grow faster. It’s incredible that we have that choice. We’re not just at the mercy of the world, so to speak.

Now, of course there are challenges in being with people who are different from us, this is no surprise to anyone! One of the challenges can be that we feel misunderstood or lonely when there isn’t that sense of resonance. “This person doesn’t understand me at all! What am I going to do with this now?” That is completely understandable.

Another thing that becomes challenging when we’re in relationships with people who are different to ourselves is that if we are in an immature space ourselves and we enter into a relationship, after the ‘honeymoon phase’ we enter into the ‘power struggle period’. In that power struggle, you and your partner, or you and your friend, business partner, or whoever, you have a struggle for power because you both are very different and you both feel that how you are is being marginalised. So you'll try to impose that on the other person to see where you sit within that relationship hierarchy. And this is a completely natural occurrence. Ideally, we wouldn’t have a very long power struggle so we can establish the boundaries quickly, and with grace and respect for each other’s needs. That would be ideal, but the challenge is if that we are immature or we’re not aware, or if we’re in a relationship with somebody who’s at a different, say, Spiral Dynamics level than we are, we might enter into a power struggle that doesn’t grow the relationship, but instead tries to establish who’s way is the ‘right’ way of being. And, of course, there is no right way of being!

Those are a few of the challenges that come up around being with someone who is naturally different to us. I’m not saying that we don't enter into power struggles with people who are similar to us, because we absolutely do, it’s a natural part of every relationship after the ‘honeymoon period’. What I am saying is that the likelihood of feeling marginalised and misunderstood, and thus entering into, or perpetuating, the power struggle within the relationship can be higher. So, there is that.

To bring this all together, what I want to say to you is I’ve been in relationships with many different types of people- friendships, business partnerships, intimate relationships, and so on. As a relationship expert, and particularly as a certified MBTI practitioner using this tool for creating more harmony in relationships, I’ve seen from working with thousands of people over the years that what actually makes or breaks a relationship has nothing to do with your MBTI type.

Obsessing about the MBTI type in a relationship is like buying a car based solely on it’s colour, rather than how suitable the car is for you, or whether it fits your budget.

We don’t want to focus on the type as much as we want to focus on 3 other particular aspects of the relationship.

  1. Level of maturity: Your maturity level and the maturity level of your partner, or the person you’re considering entering into a relationship with. Are the maturity levels a match? Are you at a same or similar level of the Graves model, also known as the Spiral Dynamics model? Is one of you at the Red level, defining boundaries currently, and really working with that war-lording? Is the other person perhaps at the 6th level, or Green level, where they want everyone to do well? That might not be a match. I’m not saying that any Spiral Dynamics level is better than any other, not at all. If you study the model it’s clear that that’s not the point of the model whatsoever. But is there a match on the level of maturity? You may have different levels of maturity around finances, or when it comes to relating with one another. Are those a match? Are you willing to learn where the other person is coming from? Are they willing to learn where you’re coming from in these different matters?

  2. Shared Values: Do you share values? Are the same things important to you both? Let’s say that I’m with a partner- and this is my perception of our relationship and I’m in no way speaking on my partners behalf- and my observation is that we both feel very strongly about social justice. As another example, let's say I was with a partner, and I was out in the world everyday trying to create equity and really being passionate about that, and I have a partner who is wondering why do I care so much about how other people are doing, and thinks I should just focus on my own stuff. That’s not going to be a match for me! So what are your top 5 values? Do you have shared values with that person? That’s much, much more important than what type you are. Imagine being with a person who’s a similar type to you and you have shared values. Together you can really drive that social justice forward. Or, if you're with a person who is completely different to you but has the same values, now you can bring differences to the table and really drive it from that space. So the 2nd aspect to look for is shared values.

  3. The 3rd part that I look into when making any kind of predictions about any relationships working out is how are the practicalities of the relationship matching up? What are the hidden facets within you that you might not be aware of? They might be aware of them! And what are the hidden facets of the person you are partnering up with that they may, or may not, be aware of? Can you bring those facets to light, embrace them, and make the most of them? How does that work with the practicalities of your life? Just say that you’re an emergent person. ‘Emergent’ is one of the Judging/Perceiving facet pairs in the Myers-Briggs system. So you are an emergent personality and your partner is not. They want everything to be pre-planned and pre-decided. The practicalities of your relationship can be different. Let’s say that you live out in the country and you’re in lock-down, and you need to go shopping. The person who’s emergent wants to go to the shop and find out what they might feel like eating at that time, and they might expect you to be exactly the same. Whereas you might be a person who is very organised, who likes to be prepared, who’s going to go to do one shop , get it done with a plan, and get out, all done for the week and menus decided. If that a point of contention between you there is going to be a challenge, and if you’re not willing to see it from the other person's perspective that’s going to be a challenge, and a much bigger one than what MBTI type you are. If the practicalities of the relationship don’t work, for example, you bought a sports car but you live off-grid and you need 4 wheel drive to your house, that’s not a match. You’re not going to get a sports car over the creek! So you need to understand what the practicalities of your situation are and what day-to-day life actually looks like.

Those 3 aspects of the relationship are much more important in my opinion. And honestly, who cares what I think, because, of course, I’m not the author of everything. What I will say though, is these are the indicators of the likelihood of successful relationships.

  • Are your maturity levels a match?

  • Do your values match up?

  • Do the practical aspects of your Inner wiring match up, or can you make those differences work?

That’s what I will say to a person who is asking “should I be with a person who is similar to me, or should I be with a person who is different to me.” You don’t actually know. Do they share your values? Are the practicalities workable? Do you share a level of maturity?

If you want to know more about these points in relation to you- discovering your own values, looking at the hidden facets, as well as getting to know your own level of maturity and how to match that- if you want to work on yourself in relationship to others, or if you’re not in a relationship right now but you keep having similar experiences where you attract similar partners and relationships which don’t work out, if you want to work on that and change that pattern, I really encourage you to enjoy this journey of self-discovery and join us on our Personality Decoding process. It will show you your relationship strengths as well as your blind-spots and what is causing you to be in this space that you’re in right now.

Thank you so much H.C. for asking the question, and everyone else for sharing this space with me. Thank you for being a part of this vision of ours which is to create more compassionate and effective individuals and leadership in the world. It’s such a pleasure to do this work.

I would love to hear your own stories and experiences with relating to types similar and different to yours. Please leave comment below, or share this blog post with your friends to start a conversation with them. I hope you’ll have a day full of wonder and have wonderful relationships. I hope you embrace your relationships today!

I’m Merja Sumiloff. I’m the Personality Decoder and I show my clients and people who come to me how to heal and grow your relationships without massive disruption to your day-to-day life.



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