Marriage Counsel

We were at dinner the other night with some friends. They were telling us that their INFP son is very unhappy in his marriage to an ESTJ woman. They said that their son feels disrespected and not listened to, while his wife thinks he is over-emotional and depressive. They said their son had talked to his wife numerous times about it but nothing was changing. Our friends asked me for some advice based on their types.  

I suggested that they advise their son to “talk ESTJ,” and I explained what that means…

  • Be direct and concrete. Instead of trying to change her feelings toward you, identify one or two behaviors that are causing you the most pain, and ask her if she would be willing to modify them. 
  • Let her know the tangible consequence of her behaviors, for example, the energy it drains from your work, partnering and parenting.   
  • To avoid defensive reactions, say you don’t want to hear her response just now, but set a date when you will talk about it again after she’s had time to process it.
  • Let her know that she can ask you to change one or two behaviors as well.
  • If she makes an effort to accommodate you, let her know when she’s being successful. She needs tangible proof of her accomplishments.
  • If this doesn’t work, look for a marriage counselor with a good reputation. ESTJs respect accredited authorities.

I was grateful to the type theory for allowing me to give suggestions to my friends, but on the way home, I had the feeling that my suggestions would not help. I’m not sure why - maybe it was the anxious look on my friends’ faces, but it didn’t sound like a marriage where changing a few behaviors would make much of a difference. It wasn’t just that they were opposite types, because those marriages can be happy and enriching. Rather, this sounded like a marriage where neither partner feels valued for their essential being… the qualities they love most about themselves. It sounded like the husband really resents her practical, take-charge personality and the wife can’t see the point of his harmony-seeking, reflective personality. 

I wished I could have given this couple the best advice I could offer, the advice that I didn’t get from books, but from hard-won experience. The advice I would have liked to give both the husband and wife is: if you find that your efforts to make things better aren’t making any difference, try to remember that life is abundant. It is full of people who will really enjoy your ST-ness or your NF-ness. When you do find someone like that, you will thrive like you never thought possible. You will probably have to go on a difficult journey first, to break off the old and find the new, but you can trust in life and its abundance. In the end you will look back and say, “Thank God (or thank life) that I did.” 

I’ve been in similar relationships, where in spite of our best efforts, we just didn’t “get” each other. I know how much it takes out of you. I also know how much it adds to your life when you find a partner that really loves you, not exactly the way you are, because we all have to adapt to others, but the way you most are.


Editor's note: CAPT offers a Type for Life guide for two people: Building Better Relationships. It includes a description of reported type preferences—for both of you, and an overview of how people of your types might relate to one another and live together.


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Arugula and Communication

I was talking with a colleague, Vic, recently just after I had completed facilitating the MBTI® Step II™ module for a community leadership program we both work in. 

An activity on Concrete-Abstract (a Step II facet of Sensing-Intuition) went particularly well – you know the one…show the abstract picture and listen to what the groups talk about. 

The Concrete types saw trees, vines, pillars, or an arrow. Or was it a weathervane – they strove to get the facts right. 

The Abstract types saw dread, decay, destruction, etc.  Same picture…different conversations.  Such is life!  The challenge is how to have these conversations make sense between groups!!  Both want to build healthy, vibrant communities.

Vic then talked about communication with his wife of 45 years and how they still get off kilter at times. I asked for an example.

“The other night at dinner we were eating arugula.  I remarked to Kathy, ‘I’d like to grow arugula all year long.’  She said, ‘Why would you do that? You don’t even garden.  And besides the grocery store is just down the block and it stocks it every day.’  What I meant, of course, was how much I enjoyed eating arugula, but I didn’t say that directly.”

My colleague is INFJ and his spouse, ISTJ.  He speaks in generalities and possibilities, and she speaks in specifics and practicalities.  Communicating well is a passion of his (as it is for many INFJs). 

But there is more to this than just those S-N differences. 

When an ISTJ (or an ESTJ) hears a statement such as the one above, he/she immediately thinks of how to fulfill the desire, complete the task, or dispense with the issue.  It is a call for action and the responsible thing to do.  It is often interpreted as “hmmm, how would I make that happen.”  Or there is a move to judgment with the thought (sometimes even said out loud in my case), “That’s a really stupid request; let me show (my spouse) how impractical that is.”  

For me, as an ESTJ, I feel the need to decide something, to make a judgment, about nearly every statement I’ve heard, and then to do something about each one.  It is as if you waved a red flag in front of a bull – I feel compelled to act! 

Part of the learning for me is to just listen.  Not every statement requires an action. I don’t always have to act like an ESTJ, just because I am one!


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Downton Abbey

The most entertaining relationship in the PBS series, Downton Abbey, has to be the one between the two strong-willed matriarchs: Countess Lady Grantham and Mrs. Crawley. They seem to have differing views on every subject under the sun, and watching them go at each other provides most of the comic relief in the show.

The women speak for the two worlds that clashed after World War I – the old world of status fixed by birth and the new the new world of status based on merit. Lady Grantham is the spokesperson for the old world and Mrs. Crawley for the new. The friction starts the minute they meet, when Mrs. Crawley says in a friendly manner, “What should we call each other?” and Lady Grantham answers in a huffy tone, “What about Countess Lady Grantham and Mrs. Crawley?”
But to me, a type-watcher, the women represent two worlds that have been clashing long before the 1920’s. They represent worlds that have been clashing since people began, the worlds of sensing and intuition. To me, Lady Grantham is the voice of sensing. She focuses on the past and present because she prefers the reality that can be seen, heard and touched. Mrs. Crawley, on the other hand, is the voice of intuition. She focuses on the future because she prefers the reality that can be imagined.

Lady Grantham always takes the point of view that things should stay the way they are, or go back to the way they used to be. Mrs. Crawley always takes the point of view that things should change. Their drawing room debates could be overlaid onto a million conversations taking place every minute between Ss and Ns.

Lady Grantham is the champion of preserving the class system, which was successful for a long time in giving people clearly defined roles and ranks, so that all the work got done and everyone, to a degree, thrived in a stable society. But World War I threw everyone into roles and ranks they’d never been in before. When it was over, the old order started to feel constrictive and past its usefulness. Mrs. Crawley is the champion of replacing the class system with a more fluid meritocracy. 

You see it especially in the places where they push themselves forward to intervene. Most of the time, Lady Grantham’s role is to sit at family dinners and pass acid judgments on anything unconventional, but when she does actively intervene I’ve noticed that it is always to help the family. The family, of course, are the people you see, hear and touch every day, the people who fill your present and past, and they are the most stabilizing force in your life – a natural point of interest for this sensing woman.

In the first season, she boldly intervenes to try and help her oldest granddaughter, Mary, get back her inheritance. She shocks Mathew Crawley when she shows up at his law office and asks him if he can find a loophole in the law, even though he’s the one who will inherit if Mary doesn’t.

Years later, she shocks Mathew again with a visit to his bedroom, where she tells him that even though he’s engaged to another woman, Mary still loves him.

When her youngest granddaughter dies in childbirth, the mother blames her husband for not listening to the advice of their family doctor. Lady Grantham sees that her son and his wife cannot get over their grief if they are estranged from each other, and intervenes again. She gets the family doctor to admit to them that there was only an infinitesimal chance that their daughter would live, even if they had followed his advice.

Mrs. Crawley, on the other hand, is usually intervening in the lives of people who are suffering because of unfair circumstances and customs, even when it has nothing to do with her family. Her first clash with Lady Grantham is over the flower show. Mrs. Crawley admires the roses of one of the local farmers, who comments that there is no chance he will win. Mrs. Crawley finds out later that Lady Grantham wins every year because the judges are predisposed to favor her. She finds this unfair and shames Lady Grantham into giving up her prize to the farmer.

During the season that takes place during World War I, Lady Grantham tries to get two employees at Downton exempted from active duty, but Mrs. Crawley objects because it’s unfair to the many men who do not have lords and ladies to intervene on their behalf. When the youngest granddaughter expresses frustration that she isn’t doing enough to help the war effort, Mrs. Crawley encourages her to become a nurse, an unusual job for a member of the nobility.

When one of the former maids at Downton is forced to become a prostitute to support her illegitimate son, Mrs. Crawley intervenes to the point of employing her as a cook and facing the disapproval of the Grantham family and the whole community. After Lady Grantham realizes that Mrs. Crawley isn’t going to be talked out of this decision, she intervenes to find the maid a position in another household, where she will be closer to her son, not because it’s what’s best for the maid, but because it’s what’s best for the reputation of the Grantham family.

In this most current season, Lady Grantham is intervening again to help her family, this time her granddaughter, Edith, who gave birth to an illegitimate child, while Mrs. Crawley is intervening again to help someone outside the family, a village boy who is the sole support of his family.

From our point of view in the future, we tend to root for Mrs. Crawley as she tries to throw out the old and bring in the new. But whenever I see people clashing over the status quo vs. change, I remember something the late Gordon Lawrence (ENTP) told me for an issue of The Type Reporter

"It isn’t that people just want to hold onto the status quo. It’s bigger than that. For sensing types, the present has a solidity that intuitives can never understand. And as I grew older, I came to understand that that’s not a bad thing. My favorite philosopher, John Dewey, pointed out that things keep operating as they are until there’s an absolute necessity for change. Most of the time we are in equilibrium, playing out habitual patterns.

"It’s essential to listen seriously to the reasons things should
not be changed, and to listen to those reasons not just because they’re there, but because they may be sound. Then try to find a common ground, a place where whatever tinkering you do with the way things are is worth the disturbance.

"Just as nature intended intuitives to keep pushing for change, nature intended sensing types to keep holding onto stability. Sensing and intuition are not just neat ways of understanding different mindsets, they are two forces pulling in opposite directions yet bound together for the good of the whole."

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The Olympics and Judging

The Winter Olympics are upon us, and this has me thinking about all the events we are seeing and how the winners are being determined. That means making “judgments.”  However, I am not talking here simply about Judging in the type sense of the word, but about judging in terms of its uses in “contests.”  Of course that usage does include making decisions (or judgments) so in a roundabout way we are still on the topic of type.

I was privileged to attend the Beijing Summer Olympics in 2008 and watch nearly all of the track and field finals as well as synchronized swimming.  Track and field people, by the way, are purists in terms of what they believe are true Olympic events.  They believe events should only be included where there is no human factor in the judging.  That means whoever is fastest, or jumps the highest or longest, or throws the farthest is the winner. 

In these sports there is no room for judges to make scoring verdicts.  Without this type of judging there would be no gymnastics, no diving, no synchronized swimming, etc. And in the Winter Olympics, that would mean no figure skating, a favorite of mine.

Track and field (a.k.a. athletics) has been plagued by athletes taking drugs to enhance their performances, so I find it interesting that they are calling themselves “purists.”  When some of us left an athletics banquet to attend the synchronized swimming finals, the joke there was that anyone attending the latter event should be “drug tested.”  Truly, watching the synchronized swimming finals was almost intoxicating! 

Now, who decides which drug is “performance enhancing” and which is not? The decision is likely based on a Thinking judgment, since there are logical standards used.  But what about the Feeling component of how people accused of using drugs are treated and how we create harmony (or not) in our relationships when the test comes back “positive?”

Of course, many winter event athletes might also be tempted to take drugs to enhance their performances.  I wonder if some of those ski jumpers and snowboarders might want something additional to calm their nerves and enhance their bravado before taking off, let alone something to make them go higher (perhaps a pun is intended here)!  Is that a Thinking decision or a Feeling one?  I can see that decision being made either way!!

In the U.S., the commercial networks usually limit our Olympic coverage.  But in some European countries, there is a pledge to cover every event’s gold medal performance, no matter how esoteric the sport and no matter which country’s athlete wins. 

It seems that the decision here on TV coverage is made both from a Thinking perspective (which sports will bring the most viewership and thus more commercials watched) as well as from a Feeling perspective (which sports have a “human interest” component and will make people feel good in watching them).  However, that still leaves some events out.  

When I watch the Olympics, I admit I’ll be making lots of judgments, such as those about the beauty and the grace of the figure skating routines as well as how crazy those snowboarders’ jumps look to me. I think too about the sacrifices each athlete and his/her family made to get there, and also the joy of that process.  Here are people doing what they love - what could be more wonderful!!

I truly don’t care who wins.  I just hope a good time is had by all and that somehow the international spirit of the Olympics helps create lasting bonds of friendship, or at least of understanding.  After all, the latter is what type is about, too.


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Tough Love

We had a friend over during the holidays, and she was telling us about her problems with her 11 year-old stepdaughter. “We have rules,” she was telling us proudly, “and if she breaks them, there are consequences.” Then we listened to stories of the stepdaughter breaking the rules: not cleaning her room, using her smart phone too much, and hitting her stepmother in anger when she tried to impose the “consequences,” which included taking away her new cell phone, not taking her on a cruise with them, and not having her join them at Thanksgiving. 

I was cringing at these stories, but they were being told with incredible self-righteousness, as if giving a kid orders and harsh punishments when they don’t obey them is universally understood to be the only sane way to raise a child. 

I don’t like to hear about parents telling kids what to do, simply because I have never wanted to be told what to do. My father tried telling me, “As long as you’re living in my house, you’ll do things my way,” and as a result, we fought for most of my teenage years. Finally, one night he sat on my bed and cried, and said he was sorry, but he just didn’t know how to be a good father to me. That was the first time he asked for my help instead of telling me what to do, and he never had a problem with me again. 

Even in a work setting you couldn’t tell me what to do. An employer once asked me to do something a certain way, and I said that wouldn’t work. He said, “Maybe you should just do it because I said so.” I laughed. I thought he was kidding. 

I try not to tell people what to do, because I don’t like to be told what to do. So I wonder, is our friend behaving in an authoritative way with her child because that’s the way she, herself, wants to be treated? Are there some people who actually like to be told, “Do this because I said so,” and are they a certain type?

I don’t think it’s intuitives, because I’m an intuitive and I will strongly resist any threat to my autonomy. It’s not SPs either, because for them, rules are just something to cleverly dodge. Can it be SJs? Our friend is an ESFJ who was raised in a very relaxed household. Is she reaching for rules because that’s what she intrinsically needed as a child, and didn’t get?

Then I remembered that I raised two SJ’s, and I can’t recall having a single rule in our house. Except for a few time-outs when my son was little, I also don’t think we meted out a single punishment or reward. We had good habits and predictable routines, but we never formally said, “You must do this or you will be punished.” We wanted to be connected to each other, and we quickly learned to avoid the behaviors that broke that connection. When we had more serious issues, we talked about it one-on-one. After those talks, I noticed that without even being aware of it, we both changed our behavior a bit to accommodate each other. What else do you need, especially in a family?

When I hear people talk so reverently about rules and consequences, I wonder, did I do my kids a disservice by not having rules for them? Is a parenting style that is authoritative, with formal rules and tangible rewards and punishments, the best way to raise an SJ child?

So I decided to ask my kids, who are in their mid-20’s, “Would you have liked more rules when you were growing up?”

“God no,” said my ISFJ daughter. “I hate that stuff. I don’t even like it that I have to be at work at a certain time. I like to be in control of my own life and rules just make me feel like I don’t have control. Here’s an example: I just took an online course and I loved it because I could work on it when I wanted to. I finished it three weeks early and was sorry it was over so soon.”

“I’m not going to break rules if they’re there, but I wouldn’t say I like them,” said my ESFJ son. “Right now, I’m coaching a team of 8-year old boys in basketball and they are very active and talkative. I know some of the parents want me to be stricter and lay out rules and discipline them, but that’s not really my style. I’d rather find exercises that keep them engaged than give them a penalty for not paying attention.”

So if there is no type that needs to be raised with absolute authority, why do people still brag about keeping their kids in line with a strong, unyielding will?

It might be that they just can’t think of another way. It’s a scary business when children do something that makes you feel like you don’t have control, like disobey you or put themselves in danger. We all race around looking for relief from that feeling. Unfortunately, the first thing that comes to mind is to take back our control with a show of strength to scare kids into submission. 

I think what all parents need are some options, some way to feel in control without taking all control away from their child. A book that always helped me feel in control again was the type-and-parenting book, Nurture by Nature. The authors, Paul Tieger and Barbara Barron-Tieger, describe the strengths and challenges of each type of child in such an appreciative and forgiving way that after you read your child’s profile, you feel ready to approach them with love and calm. For example, when my ISFJ daughter was 11, I was about to storm into her room and put my foot down about her pickiness and how annoying it was. Instead, I got out the book and read about how difficult it is for an ISFJ to compromise on tastes, smells and textures. Later, I was able to tell her my concerns in a nice way, and listen with understanding as she told her side of it. How do you thank someone for that?

I think I might send a copy of Nurture by Nature to my friend, with a note saying, “This helped me a lot when my kids were teens. Let me know what you think of it.”


Editor's note: There is a personality type assessment for kids. The MMTIC® type indicator for children measures type in students from grades 2 through 12. Learn more.