Many people have heard of the MBTI, the psychological test called the Myers Briggs type indicator. It has widespread use as a personality tool in the workplace and in coaching and counselling. My question is can it help us to understand and improve romantic relationships? This is not an easy question to answer because the test itself is very general as it measures our pre-disposition or tendency to behave in certain ways, rather than define fixed personality traits.
Further, there are many ways in which people are attracted to each other, and the MBTI cannot, by definition, be used to predict success in mate selection as there are many factors which can influence our partner choice and are indicative of longevity in relationships.
The MBTI simply identifies our psychological preferences/types in the general way that we like to think and act. It measures four areas where people can be fundamentally different. The first concerns the way we like to become energised, the second is concerned with how we like to handle information, the third looks at our preferred way of making decisions and the fourth is about how we like to organise our activities. Our psychological types are determined by our scores on each of the 4 pairs of dichotomous (either/or) preferences. For example, my preferences tend to be scored as INFJ.
Below gives a brief outline of the types which I’m sure many of you are already familiar with.
MBTI Either/Or Preference Pairs
How do you prefer to recharge your batteries?
- (E) – Extraversion Preference for being involved in the external world of action and people
- (I) – Introversion Preference for the inner world of thoughts, feelings and reflection.
How do you prefer to understand and interpret new information?
- (S) – Sensing Preference for gathering and trusting information that is concrete and tangible
- (N) – Intuition Preference for gathering and trusting information that is more abstract, associated with meaning and recognisable patterns
What is your preferred decision making method?
- (T) – Thinking Preference for logical, rational and detached method
- (F) – Feeling Considers the impact of decisions on others, evaluates pros and cons
How do you prefer to relate to the outside world?
- (J) – Judging Preference for planning, and being organised in the external world
- (P) – Perceiving Preference for a spontaneous, adventurous and flexible approach in the outside world
So how might identifying these preferences be used to enhance our relationship with others?
- We might find that we obtain a deeper understanding of ourselves and each other by identifying our preferences. For example if one partner is identified as having a preference for an introverted (I) focus, whilst the other is identified as having an extravert (E) preference, understanding this difference may inform both parties of the potential need for tolerance, as these two facets of personality are very different in terms of way that energy is gained. Further, those with an (I) preference like to think first and then speak, whereas a (E) preference tend to speak as they think. Without awareness partnerships, where each individual has one of these two different styles, can be quite tricky.
- Awareness of preferences might serve to ease friction within relationships as couples might find that they each have a different decision making preference. For example people who show a ‘thinking’ (T) preference, make decisions primarily on logic whereas people with a ‘feeling’ (F) preference, make decisions based on how the people involved will be affected. Understanding these differences might help to ease any tension that might be present between couples when joint decisions have to be made.
- Understanding communication styles - It is important to recognise that some people like to communicate by emphasising matters of fact and details (S), whereas others prefer to communicate the bigger picture, connecting different pieces of information from different sources (N). If one person in the couple is (S) and the other is (N), awareness of the difference can help mitigate the potential for misunderstanding.
- Making plans – Individuals with a (P) preference have a tendency to avoid making plans and instead have a more spontaneous approach; (J) individuals, on the other hand, enjoy making plans. Again, with an awareness of these differences, individuals each with different preference type may find it much easier to understand the others’ unique approach.
Perhaps you should try an MBTI test, there are a number of internet sites that freely allow you to do so, and see what you and your partner’s preferences are. Use it as a forum for discussion and understanding; a way to deepen your connection with your significant other.
And…even if you are a sceptic of the scientific basis of the MBTI, you will find that just placing a focus and spending some time learning how each other prefers to think and act will help you both to raise your awareness of the similarities and differences between you. The similarities will bond you and any differences can be viewed in a more benign and loving way.