Have you ever been on a very long road trip during a family vacation? As much as you LOVE your family, the road trip part of the vacation was a little rough, am I right? “I’m bored.” “There is nothing to do.”
I remember a road trip from New Hampshire to Florida when I was a kid…four kids and two adults in a station wagon with only two 8-track tapes the whole way. No tablets, phones or devices…not even sure Mad Libs were invented yet. Just me and my family, on the way to Disney World, listening to Stevie Wonder and Peter Frampton all the way. Did I mention I’m super claustrophobic? OMG I’m so glad I could sleep in cars when I was 6 years old.
Social distancing, come on let’s call it what it really is, social isolation, feels just like that road trip. Don’t get me wrong, I love my family. And I’m extremely thankful that I can work at home so that we are able to do our part to protect others as well as ourselves. Everyday, I’m grateful. But there is no doubt that family tensions can mount when we don’t get a break from each other. Statistics show that divorce rates rise at a higher than normal pace during events like this. How can we better get along and communicate as a family and survive social distancing, for however long this will last?
Well this question is not a new one to me. In fact, this question came to my mind about two years ago. Just as in the first scenario, my husband, kids and I were on a road trip. It was a fairly short one, our vacation destination was only three hours away. That is nothing for me. My job entails quite a bit of driving. So I am used to traveling somewhere between two and four hours a day for work. I usually spend this time silent. The rest of my day is filled with talking. My job involves educating patients and following up with them to motivate them in maintaining good habits for their health. This involves a lot of my mental and emotional energy and strength. So, my drive time is my time to decompress, process it all, and wind down. I NEED this time so that I can continue to work in a job that requires constant giving. I LOVE to have a job that allows me to change people’s lives. But emotionally it’s hard work. I truly need downtime to nurture myself so I can continue to take care of others. If I didn’t, I’d burn out. (I’ve done this in the past, many times, and the recovery time is difficult.)
So, an hour into the trip, I realized that my husband had been talking for an entire hour. Two hours passed and he was still talking. At that point, I reluctantly and guiltily asked for some quiet time. From time to time, I would look over at him and it looked like it was almost physically painful for him to be quiet. He kept trying to restart a conversation and I would politely remind him that I needed some quiet. He looked so slighted and I felt bad. But if I didn’t have some quiet, I felt like I was going to have to jump out of a moving car on the interstate doing 70 mph.
I started to research why we were SO VERY DIFFERENT. Why did he feel the need to chat so much when all I really wanted was peace? Why does he want noise around him all day (tv or music), while all I want is quiet, nature and a good book? Why did he like to be the life of the party and I wanted to hide in a corner, or decline the social invitation altogether? Why did he have to process everything verbally, giving me a play-by-play of everything that was going on in his head, while I liked to process everything mentally, and NON VERBALLY? Why does he LOVE to chat on the phone and I do everything in my power to ignore a ringing phone, preferring a text instead? So many things began to cross mind as I reviewed nearly 20 years together.
So I began the research to get answers to my questions. I was also nearing the age of 50 and I just think when we get to big life milestones, we just begin to want to understand more about ourselves, or maybe it’s just me. One of the best suggestions I found was to take a Myers-Briggs personality test (You can take personality tests HERE and HERE. I have found both sites to be very well researched and reputable.) What I discovered, changed my life. I discovered that I am EXTREMELY (99%) introverted. I had no idea! I thought that introverts were shy and/or reclusive. I’m neither of those things. I had heard that introverts were anti-social. I’m not. (But I am “selectively” and “minimally “ social 😊). So what did it really mean to be an introvert? I used two websites in particular to help answer my questions about what the Myers-Briggs personality types really meant (links above). I fall almost smack dab into two personality types “INFJ” (the “advocate or counselor”) and “ISFJ” (the “defender or protector”). I think that is because as a young person, full of energy and ready to fight hard for what I believe in, I am deep down the INFJ. But as I’ve gotten older and no longer have as much fight in me*, and as I LIVE to be a mother and care for others, I tend to lean toward the ISFJ personality type. *(It reminds me of an old Billy Joel song I love so much… 🎹”I believe I’ve passed the age of consciousness and righteous rage, I find that just surviving is a noble fight. I once believed in causes too, had my pointless point of view, and life went on no matter who was wrong or right.” 🎹)
What I loved about learning about myself in this way, is that you can understand your strengths and weaknesses, what type of friends and relationships you are compatible in, what jobs would suit your type, and so on. It’s interesting that the cartoon image for the “defender” is a nurse, lol. It was almost scary as I read information that fit me “to a tee.” It was also comforting to know that there are other people like me. I always have felt just slightly out of place in my world. Now I understand that I am an introvert surrounded by extroverts in an extroverted world.
So now, as you can guess, I discovered that my spouse was extremely (95%) extroverted, ESTP (the “entrepreneur or dynamo.” Just the word dynamo exhausts me, lol). It was a big ah-ha moment! It now made so much sense in why our communication styles are so different. (Two articles that explain these differences HERE and HERE.)
So what does this all have to do with SOCIAL DISTANCING? I’ve had all of my family members take these tests as well and it has led to a greater understanding of each other. It has helped us honor our differences and respect each other’s boundaries. (We still have more work to do though.) For instance, my son is nearly as introverted as I am, and also shy. Him and I are extremely content to be alone and have quite time. My daughter, an ambivert (half introvert and half extrovert) enjoys quiet time, but requires more social time than I do. And my husband requires LOTS of external stimuli to be content. Alone time and silence can be depressing for him. Learning more about each other has helped us all to give and take a little more. I have planned more social time for my daughter even though hanging out with a bunch of young girls can be taxing for me. I have helped my husband to understand that there is a limit to the amount of chit chat that I am able to process at a time. And to tend to his need for social time, I have planned a “virtual” dinner with our family and his adult kids, who are spread out over three different states, this evening. We will have a group FaceTime a as we enjoy our dinner meal (only one rule: can’t talk about the Coronavirus). And for my son, we can spend quality time just sitting next to each other, side by side, reading a book, or just enjoying quiet time.
When we face a crisis, as a family, as a world, we can let it tear us apart, or we can let it give us an opportunity to shine. Having a way to learn to care for the needs of others while also honoring and tending to our own needs can help us maintain contentment during this crisis. Learning about my personality type and those of my family members has been such boost to the harmony of our family.
Working from home and being around an extrovert all day has been challenging. If I did not understand why we are so different, why I NEED quiet and why he NEEDS to talk, we would drive each other crazy. In fact, while I’m writing this article in quiet in my room, my husband walked in, grabbed his phone and said, “I’m going to plug my phone in now. It needs to be charged. Oh I got message! What are you doing? Still writing your article? Almost done? We are just hanging out in the living room. Do you want anything?” (Yes, quiet 😂)
Personality testing has allowed me to acknowledge my strengths, and for my weaknesses to be areas of focus for my own personal development. So, check it out. If for no other reason than for fun, or to have something to do while you are shut in. Many of the personality types will find this completely uninteresting. My husband did not find learning these things to be of much importance. But for me, it has been life altering.
Happy social distancing to all of you. Wishing your health and happiness!