Entries Tagged as "Relationships"

Going with the Flow and Over the Cliff

My son’s girlfriend, Amy, is an ISFP. One night last summer, my son made a fire in our fire pit and we were all sitting around admiring it. “There’s a trick to making a good fire,” said my son. Amy jumped up and said, “Show me.” Pretty soon she was helping him move logs around the fire and collect sticks from the woods.

That struck me. It’s rare that people show that much interest in other people’s activities. Even if we think it would be nice to know the trick to a good fire, most of us would probably just ask. Getting up from a comfortable chair to actually participate in fire-making, well that’s something very few of us would do.

You might think it’s because she’s in love, but I see her do it with everyone. With my daughter – a real foodie – Amy has long, animated conversations about good restaurants. Even with our family on New Year’s Day, Amy seemed to really enjoy listening to us read out the family memories of the year that I have been recording each month, and asked me questions about how I keep the records.

Amy reminds me of two of my friends who are also SFPs.  Over the years, I have always been impressed with how “present” they are. When they are with me, they seem to be completely with me. The attentive, happy look on their faces makes me feel like there is nowhere else they’d rather be, and they are just having a marvelous time.

If I suggest an outing or a get together, they are always up for it. Whatever is going on in the moment is the most interesting thing in the world to them.

They are both mothers, and when I used to watch them with their kids, I’d think, “It must be nice to grow up with someone who looks like she just loves being with you, and would not want to change a thing about you,” because that is just the vibe they sent to their children. My SFP friends send that vibe to me as well. When they leave, I always feel as if I am perfect just the way I am.

I wish I could return that vibe. Unfortunately, there is one thing that I would really like to change about them.

That sensing and perceiving ability to enjoy the present moment, to go with the flow, to adapt to what is in front of you, can be a real handicap when the flow is going in a bad direction. Over the years, I often heard my SFP friends complain about the way they felt in their marriages. I can’t count how many times I said to them, “Did you tell him? Does he know?”

They never did tell them though, and over time things built up to a point where it became intolerable for them, and they suddenly walked out. Their spouses were completely shocked. The children were too, and took sides with their dads, and my friends are now, for the most part, alone.

I could never understand why they never said to their husbands, “This is the way I’m feeling when I’m with you,” or “This is what I need and am not getting.” I also didn’t understand why they never confided their feelings to their children. But I realize now that talking about negative feelings is a lot easier for me than for them.

We both share the feeling types’ dread of confrontation, but being an intuitive, I’m more comfortable with language and discussions about anything. The secret to initiating a difficult conversation is finding words that aren’t going to bring retaliation on your head, and even though I tried to give my friends examples of things they could say to their spouses, like, “When you said that, I felt unwanted,” they didn’t seem to trust words or expressing vulnerability. It was more natural for them to express their feelings in sudden and dramatic action.

Part of the reason they didn’t trust words may have been that they both had a history of getting “out-talked” by their husbands and being confused and silenced by them, whereas no one has ever been able to leave me at a loss for words, at least not for long.

Also, being a judging type, I’m more comfortable with directing the action than going with the flow. I believe that bad things just keep getting worse unless you do something to stop them, whereas my friends seemed to believe that if they just waited long enough, things would sort themselves out on their own.

Thank goodness that Amy, my son’s girlfriend, doesn’t remind me of my friends in that way. When my son has done something thoughtless and bone-headed, she tells him soon afterwards, in a nice way, that the action hurt her, and they talk it out. Amy only reminds me of the things I love about my SFP friends - that it’s wonderful to be with someone who thoroughly enjoys you and whatever you are doing.


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Easy People

We just got back from visiting four National Parks in Utah. I was amazed by the spectacular sights we saw, like the towering rock walls in Zion, and the strange looking  “hoodoo” rocks in Bryce Canyon.

I was even more amazed, however, that we could spend eight days traveling with another couple, and at the end of the trip, be even fonder of them than when we began.     

I proposed a toast to the other couple at the end of our Utah trip, and I gave them the highest compliment I can give someone. I told them they were “easy” people.

We spend a lot of time talking about difficult people, and they are obviously on our minds more than easy people. This time, however, it was easy people who were on my mind. What makes a person easy, I wondered?

It’s not their types. The man we were traveling with is an ISFJ, and his wife is an ESTJ. ISFJs can be over-sensitive and anxious in new situations. He was not. ESTJs can be controlling and critical. She was not. In fact, if I had not known their types from years ago, I would have had a very hard time figuring them out. They were clearly mature people who had learned to control the negative tendencies of their types in consideration for others.

We had a lot of time in the car and at dinner to talk. We all told anecdotes about our work, relationships, and past vacations, but our friends made sure that everyone got equal talking time. They had traveled extensively, so their stories were interesting, but if they had talked for a while, they would ask questions to get stories from us. When it came time to listen, they showed interest, and let us know that we’d been heard.

They made no demands on us, like keeping us waiting, being inflexible or making us listen to bickering between spouses. They looked after our needs, making sure there was a Diet Coke in the backpack for me every day, for instance, and that our hikes were easy enough not to hurt my husband’s knees. If there were plans to make, they made sure we were involved in the decision-making. When we did something for them, we were heartily thanked. They remained calm and good-natured even when circumstances got trying, like standing in the sun waiting for a bus to the rental car center, or when we couldn’t buy a package of Tums because the local Mormons don’t open their shops on Sunday. They smiled and laughed often, bringing sunshine to our group, and to the taxi drivers and other tourists we met.

Social scientists have found that one of the key ingredients to our success as a species is our ability to cooperate, and we’re able to cooperate because we have an instinctive desire to reciprocate, to return “tit for tat.” Think about how hard it is not to return a smile with a smile, or a frown with a frown.

On our Utah trip, it was all kindness being volleyed back and forth. Our friends were thoughtful and respectful in their words and deeds, and it was easy to send that back to them. That’s what we mean by “easy” people, I guess. They are skilled at keeping the cooperative ball in play.  

On this trip, I was amazed by how beautiful nature can be, but also by how beautiful people can be. We all have them in our lives - people who are easy to be with - and every once in awhile, we should probably spend some time thinking about them, learning from them, and thanking them. After all, it’s not easy to be an easy person, it takes practice, and they deserve something extra in return for the extra they give - tit for tat.  



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These past few months have been full of reunions. For me as an ESTJ, one of the nice things about reunions is that they are planned, and I can schedule them well in advance.  As a “Planful J” on the MBTI® Step II™ assessment, planning leisure activities is a joy for me. 

First, there was the reunion with the JMK Club (Jean, Mary, Kay), three of us who grew up in the same neighborhood in the 1950s.  The ENFJ, Mary, organized and hosted it on Sanibel Island, Florida, a place we had spent several Christmas holidays together as children.  That was the time when you had to take a ferry to get to the island; all the island merchants donated gifts so that each child there at the holidays got a present.

Mary had rented a house for six weeks and scheduled in multiple groups. She knew the best times to go out to eat and to see local events.  She was an incredible hostess as extraverted Feeling types usually are! 

My sister, the INTJ, was grateful for Mary’s understanding of her need to have alone time.  We two Extraverts often went off on our own, biking to different spots on the island.  We struck up conversations with people wherever we were that led us to new places to explore. 

Next was a college reunion in Grinnell, Iowa.  Given that I’m an “Intimate Extravert,” I had chosen to stay in a B&B with another college friend, away from the larger group of classmates.  We had time for quiet talks. 

Then I had a reunion with the group I met in Australia celebrating my Aussie friend Judy’s 60th birthday (see my Gifts Differing blog post on that one).  We live in five different countries and have since met in France, the Netherlands, England, and this summer in North America.

Yes, everyone had taken the MBTI instrument and that was quite helpful in planning.  All were Extraverts with the exception of one, so we made sure there was lots to do. And all were Judging types with the exception of the ESFP, who went along with anything.  I had the schedule posted on a large piece of flipchart paper at the front door with both open times and scheduled events. 

Next up was the MBTI User’s Conference in England, which served as a sort of reunion, because I saw many of my MBTI friends from years past when I used to do trainings in England.  Like many MBTI conferences, there were lots of Intuitives present, so it was interesting to see what’s new on that side of the Atlantic. (Check out OPP’s blog for postings on my keynote there.)

Then there was my partner’s family reunion at the Lake Mansfield Trout Club in Vermont.  It was fun seeing a new set of family traditions in a place steeped with traditions of its own (like a conch shell being blown three times in three directions to announce meals – perhaps this doesn’t scare the fish!)  

Tired yet?  Next was a reunion with several high school friends in Galena, Illinois.  They are all Feeling types, and we shared family stories and what it means to be our ages in our stages of life (see my recent blog post Caregiving). Then I visited my 100 year old father, an INTJ (see My INTJ Father), and had the experience of watching him being filmed for a Korean TV show on nutrition.

It was on to Dublin, Ireland from there for an annual summer institute based on the theories of psychiatrist Alfred Adler (see my blog post on The Crucial C’s). At that one, those who attend who do know the MBTI usually have NF preferences.  There were lots of activities, possibilities, insights, etc.

Next was a reunion in southwestern Kansas for my Mother’s side of family (see the Synchronicity and Kemp Ridley Turtles post for a story of one uncle).  Yes, at one family reunion years ago, everyone took the MBTI assessment with a mix of types. 

Several aunts (Ruth, ISFJ and Verna, INFJ) had died in the past year and were remembered fondly in memorial services by their children.  Aunt Verna had figured out a way to lure family back to the farm in (a rather desolate part of) Kansas—just put in a swimming pool and float big tractor tire inner tubes to keep us visitors entertained. We swam again in the pool and retold stories.

I feel blessed to have so many connections with so many people; knowing their types adds to that blessing. And note too that this post became a reunion of blog posts! 

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I am at the age where many of us are struggling with caring for our parents, either from long distance or from up close and personal.  Recently the mother of one of my long-time friends (of 50+ years) suffered a health crisis.  Other friends have chimed in offering long distance support. 

Here’s one of the emails she got (with names removed) from our friend Elizabeth, an ESFJ. Elizabeth, who has a Master’s degree in audiology, was her parents’ primary caregiver for 18 years.  I have Elizabeth’s permission to print it.

“...thanks for keeping us in the loop...I'm glad your mom is home and I can only imagine how hard that was for your dad and your mom to be apart that long [first time in 67 years]. I guess it is a testimony to something...no matter how cranky our parents can get with each other (and mine certainly did get that way at times) they are anchors for each other.

I'm sure your mom is facing a lot. I know there were plenty of times I didn't understand my mother's lack of enthusiasm or even interest in doing things that might have made her life "better" ...I think at some point I finally got a glimpse that she had lost so much of her life as SHE wanted it that "improvements" weren't her focus.

I would sometimes have to tell her that if she didn't have the strength to help get out of her wheel chair that I would no longer be able to care for her at home...it was true and sometimes motivating to her.

In the end, I had to accept the fact that Mama wasn't really working to get better or to make it easier for me. She was on her own path and not one that I always loved even though I always loved her.

I remember clearly the day I called my brother in California in tears and told him I couldn't do it any longer...Mama had spit out her daily pills....I was so frustrated at what I saw as her non-compliance. The truth was that she was done and I just wasn't programmed to get that message because of my own plan for her.

I think it is hard for us in our good health and relative youth to imagine what life might look like from their perspectives...I think Mama was so depressed with all she couldn't do that she didn't see the glimmer of what might be possible. It is a hard place for them and hard for us caregivers.

I totally get the frustration and the difficult part you and [your sisters] are sharing. I literally spent the first five years of my caregiving being mad...mad at my sister for not helping and mad that I couldn't reshape my parents into the people I needed them to be.

I didn't like the realities of the caregiving....I fought how hard it was. It wasn't until year 6 that I regrouped and figured out that caregiving was what I was doing and once I really embraced that it was easier....and even though it seems like it will go on forever, it won't….”

I am blessed with these friends who live their empathy, who are willing to readjust their thinking, and who provide love to those around them.



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I never talk about politics outside of my family, but during election years people often let their views get into the conversation. Then I’m stuck with hard knots in my stomach concerning friends and relatives that I usually get along with. There are so many good reasons to be annoyed at people, why do we have to add silly reasons, choosing sides in the game of politics and wishing the worst on each other for nothing that we have actually done or ever will do. I wish I could move to another place during election years, and just come back when it’s all over.

I don’t know how it is for people of other types, but for an NF, who wants to feel in harmony with the human race, politics can cause a very painful disconnect from half of humanity. I have been trying my whole life to find some way to keep the good feelings toward my friends and relatives going through election years.

There is one thing that has helped a lot in recent years. It’s an insight I heard from Craig Rider, CEO of the consulting firm, the Rider Group, and an ENFP. I was interviewing him for an issue of The Type Reporter with the theme, “Our Favorite Type Breakthroughs.” I loved his insight so much that I made it the last paragraph of the last issue of The Type Reporter

Once, we asked people to get into type-alike groups and start writing down how they would describe their ideal community. The Fs came up with things like “inclusion,” “beauty” and “diversity.” The Ts came up with things like “good infrastructure,” “solid financial situation” and “low crime rates.”

I noticed however, that after awhile, the Fs started writing down Thinking-related things, and the Ts started writing down Feeling-related things. You could draw a line at the point where they started to switch over to the other side.

I had a big breakthrough that day. I realized that most of our conversations take place above the line, where we’re talking about our priorities, and that’s why we start digging trenches and getting into arguments. If you let people go for about five minutes more however, it becomes clear that they all want the same list of things; they just differ on what is most important. If we could remember that, it would make it a lot easier to keep listening to each other, and problems would get solved a lot faster.

When I showed this to my husband, John, he loved it too because he’s often experienced it in his consulting work. “We tell people they are in ‘violent agreement,’” John said. “They really agree, but they can’t let themselves see that because they’re passionate about their own priorities. They need a facilitator to put their ideas on the board and point out how they are both important to the organization’s goals, and to focus the group on how they can do both.

“What it boils down to is that people need to acknowledge each other’s points of view. It’s as simple as that. If people could just preface their opinions with something like, ‘I agree that what you are saying is important because….’ the other person would feel that they were heard, and be more able to listen to other ideas.”

I don’t use Rider’s insight to calm a group, but I use it to calm myself. When I feel myself reacting like Pavlov’s dog to political differences, I try to remind myself that we all have the same items on our list for an Ideal America, but different things on the top half. The people from the “other” party, so angry and certain that the world is going to hell, are protecting things I also want to preserve, but I am not inspired to take care of myself. If I can get past the nastiness, I can see through to a natural order, very much like the type theory, where all of the work is divided and all of the work is taken care of. It’s a much better place to spend an election year.  


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