unequally yanked

For my birthday I got a humidifier and a de-humidifier… I put them in the same room and let them fight it out.  –Comedian Stephen Wright

Sometimes introverts marry extroverts.  When they do, a tug-of-war develops: the question of how to recharge becomes a back and forth conflict.  Not every marriage, of course, is comprised of one pure introvert and one pure extrovert.  But in every marriage, one spouse is a little more introverted or extroverted than the other so the tension seems to emerge in most relationships.  The styles pull in different directions and thus, the couple is “unequally yanked.”

So, how does this play out?  Some scenarios:

One spouse is standing—coat on and keys out—by the door at a party, while the other has dropped back onto the couch with their friend, saying, “Now, didn’t your mother just have surgery?”

One spouse is laughing and showing the other all the new pictures on Facebook, while the other is reading and re-reading the same paragraph in their book.

One spouse is looking forward to a special connection on a weekend getaway and the other gets up early to eat breakfast alone and journal.

Events like these can pull couples apart.  Each feels misunderstood and like they can’t be themselves.  “What I want is actually a good thing,” they try to explain, but their version of a good thing sounds odd, even unhealthy, to the other.  Over time, they start saying things like, “Do you have to fill up EVERY hour on the calendar?” Or, conversely, “You never want to do ANYTHING!”  Neither accusation is quite true.  But they feel true, and a terrible cycle begins: the extrovert tries to come up with something that the introvert will like (if they would just try it!), while the introvert tries to find excuses to delay the activity or sneak in time alone.

What will help?  If you want to work this out together, here are four things you need to understand:

  1. It’s not personal; it’s just different.

You’ve heard this one before, but take another look.  The other “vert” is acting out their nature, not intentionally trying to overwhelm or deprive you.  The extrovert recognizes the fun and energy that engagement can bring.  They know the feeling of contagious liveliness and they yearn to experience this with their spouse.  The introvert, on the other hand, recognizes the value of quiet reflection, of being at peace within yourself.  They also hunger for this for themselves and their spouse.

  1. The more you yank, the worse it gets.

When you are in this cycle, you feel that the other person is just being stubborn and doesn’t know what’s good for them.  So you “suggest” what you think will help.  When the extrovert isn’t excited about a quiet evening at home, the introvert decides to “bless them” with a weekend to a silent retreat.  When the introvert doesn’t initiate social outings, the extrovert arranges a surprise karaoke-themed birthday party with sixty of your best friends.  Once the “I’ll show ‘em what they’re missing” cycle begins, it’s hard to stop.  The coercion produces resentment, which in turn produces reciprocal coercion and the tug-of-war intensifies.

  1. It’s possible to acquire a taste for the opposite “vert-nicity.”

This is counterintuitive, I know, but if you try it you might actually like it.  At least some of it, as long as you try it voluntarily.  If you find something to like in the other version of “vertness,” then you have not only gained a healthy habit, but you’ve also found a new way to love your spouse.  Let’s say the introvert husband decides to plan a double date.  He can certainly tilt the odds in his favor and pick a couple that he enjoys being with.  If it works for both of them, then he has discovered a new forum for expressing his love.  Who knows?  Maybe she will recognize the giving spirit and reciprocate with planning some down time.  Then a different cycle has begun, a healthy cycle.

  1. Every difference is an occasion for love.

I’ll end with the most important understanding of all.  Differences in your marriage are occasions for love.  They are clues to the mystery of that other person.  Rather than try to change your spouse’s true nature, use it as a guide for how to care for them.  Read the differences as if they were a care manual.

Yes, it will require some sacrifice on your part, but the sacrifice will likely take less time and effort than the yanking back and forth does.  You might even gain time and energy instead.

If that healthy cycle can get going, then that is the remedy for the yanking cycle.  Instead of pushing against each other, you start pulling with each other.  This the gospel solution:  giving as opposed to taking.

Equal yoking is the gospel-remedy for unequal yanking.





Roger Edwards joined The Barnabas Center in 1991. He works with both with individuals and couples, helping people confess their need and embrace their available choices to lead healthier lives. Roger also teaches and leads discussion groups and retreats applying the Gospel to everyday life. He is a licensed professional counselor (LPC), holds a master’s degree in biblical counseling from Grace Theological Seminary in Indiana and earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He is married to Jean and they have seven children and nine grandchildren.

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