How to cope with social distancing when you’re an introvert living with an extrovert

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Ally Sinyard
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How to self-isolate with your extrovert housemate

Whether you’re in a houseshare or living with a partner, the coronavirus pandemic has us all living a little more on top of one another. If you’re an introvert self-isolating with an extrovert and feeling like you need some space, here are three tips to help manage those personality differences.

One of you prefers a Big Night Out while the other enjoys staying in for some Friday Night Dinner. One of you jumps whenever the phone rings while the other prefers to talk everything out in person. When you first moved in together, you and your housemate or partner navigated your contrasting introvert and extrovert personalities perfectly fine. One sent strongly worded emails to the landlord while the other was always better at taking things back to the shop.

But now we’re living in the coronavirus pandemic, where social distancing and working from home are part of our new day-to-day lives. While self-isolating might be light work for introverts, the struggle for extroverts is very, very real.

Although this might be being made light of on social media, being asked to avoid unnecessary travel, stay indoors and stop non-essential contact is a new, painful reality for extroverts.

“Introverts and extroverts recharge and draw energy from fundamentally opposite places,” mental health advocate Jo Love tells us. “Extroverts need to be around people and external sources, so for them complete self-isolation will be tough. Meanwhile introverts crave quiet alone time in order to recharge. During self-isolation, this mismatch could prove tricky if you cohabit with people with opposite personality types.”

Couple living together
While self-isolating might be light work for introverts, the struggle for extroverts is very, very real.

If you live with an extrovert, be it a partner or housemate, you might already find that they are climbing the walls. While you’re happily squirrelled away in your home office, they’re pacing around the house, chatting to friends on HouseParty and offering you a sixth cup of tea before midday.

We asked Jo for her top tips for managing the introvert/extrovert relationship while social distancing.

1. Spot the difference

“Recognising and acknowledging your different personality types is the first crucial step in tackling this,” says Jo. “Sometimes this is easier said than done, since not all introverts are shy and neither are all extroverts the life and soul of the party.”

Once we recognise that we operate in different ways, it’s much easier to put this into practice, which many of us have already done with our working from home set-ups.

Carly, an introvert, is already used to working alone at home as a freelancer, but her extroverted husband usually works in London. “It’s definitely been more of a challenge,” she says, “as he likes music and takes a lot more calls, so I find the additional noise distracting.”

“We’re trying to distance ourselves when working to give each other space, so I can have quiet but so he can continue to work how he likes to work. This has seen him take over my home office downstairs while I work from the bedroom with the door closed.”

Meanwhile for Mary, her extrovert boyfriend has set up a more unusual home office while she works from the sofa: “He’s working from the bathtub. He’s a big fan of it. There’s a socket close to the tub so he can stay there for hours. He uses a parquet board as a table for the laptop and coffee.”

Mary's boyfriend's working from home bath setup
Mary’s boyfriend’s working from home bath setup.

2. Talk it out

Now is really not the time to fall out with each other. If you want to avoid big clashes, good old-fashion communication is key.

“Ask (and then listen!) to each other about what you each need and what might help you both adjust to this new and frankly completely unprecedented way of life,” says Jo. “Introverts will likely need to be very clear about needing some solitude, and extroverts try not to be too insulted – it’s nothing personal!”

3. Take time out

Jo recommends setting time each day when you shut the bedroom door to escape, or simply agree between yourselves you won’t be disturbed as you read a book or listen to a podcast for an hour or so.

Mary is already finding this helpful with her boyfriend. “Extroverts can take it personally if you don’t verbally communicate that you just want to keep quiet for a moment,” she says. “My boyfriend will literally ask, “but for how long?” So we agree on a time, like one hour per day to read a book, work, answer emails, etc. Then we can do something together again.”

Above all else, be patient, kind and understanding with one another. We might not know what is coming next, but we’ll get through it working together.

Images: Getty, Unsplash


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Ally Sinyard

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