#SexColumn: Personality differences can make or break a relationship

Sharon Gordon shares advice on personality difference, and all of the tricks and tips needed on how to navigate that when you’re in a relationship. Picture: Jamie Davies /Unsplash

Sharon Gordon shares advice on personality difference, and all of the tricks and tips needed on how to navigate that when you’re in a relationship. Picture: Jamie Davies /Unsplash

Published Feb 16, 2024


By Sharon Gordon

My partner and I have been together for a long time, and I sometimes wonder how we’ve managed because we are so different.

I am an early-to-bed, early-to-rise kind of gal, and he is a night owl. He loves science fiction, and I don’t. He is a foodie, me not so much. I’m spontaneous and he definitely isn’t, he needs at least 48 hours’ notice if I’ve planned an outing or dinner with friends.

He is passive-aggressive, I’m full on aggressive and yet we make it work.

Being an early riser is not a choice, it’s neither better nor worse than being a night owl. It’s morally neutral. What it does do, however, is affect bedtime and waking routines.

Light and noise levels can be an issue. I like to work very early in the morning, I’m actually writing this at 3h30. I’ve had to leave the room because blue light affects his sleep patterns.

I can sleep through anything, so he can work, watch TV or read next to me without too much disturbance. He does have to wear headphones because I can’t do the noise.

Our energy levels are out of sync. I’m often onto my third coffee before he even stirs, so finding the ideal time for intimacy can be challenging, but it can be negotiated.

It can also be difficult to find the right time to have those conversations that require emotional energy. Our biggest arguments happen when one of us has been mentally absent from a conversation, just because our energy levels peak and wane at different times.

It can be difficult to navigate unless you recognise and explicitly discuss how different noise and light levels affect your sleep patterns. It’s easier to set the boundaries before it blows up and ruins the relationship.

I know we find it difficult to do, so find your safe time and space. Over dinner or a car ride usually works.

Determine the best time of the day for both of you and schedule a check-in time, and don’t forget to do date night. It’s the time where you both put in the effort to keep intimacy and communication going.

Often one partner is an extrovert and the other an introvert. There may be different desires when it comes to attending social functions and when to leave. Even if you are both extroverted or both introverted, difficulties can arise.

Alone time can be affected as can energy levels, which can make it harder to reconnect. I think it’s important for couples to remind each other how important it is to keep a balanced social calendar.

My ex and I had trouble in this department. He loved being out for dinner every single day. One month we ate out 36 times. I like being home and prefer home-cooked meals. We’re not together anymore.

Don’t make assumptions about what being an extrovert or an introvert means. We all have different definitions and expectations. I would say I’m an introvert and yet those who know me would say otherwise. Find your sweet spot.

How many times, how many people, what kind of outing? When is the line crossed? When are you drained of all your energy?

Allow for social differences. You don’t have to go everywhere together and when you do, there is nothing stopping you from going in separate cars. I learnt that very early on. The trick is not to make a scene about going home.

Your partner will know that it’s going to happen and that you bear no grudge that they are going to stay on. You simply say your goodbyes, give your partner a heads up and leave.

No recrimination afterwards and no begging to have that last drink so that you can go home together. I think this is harder if you don’t trust your partner but then I guess the bigger question is, why are you still in the relationship?

You both need to understand the occasion. Is this an important event that your partner wants you to attend, do you need to stay, etc.

Once you understand the occasion, it gets easier to manage expectations and can keep the relationship intimate.

The one thing that drives me mad is my partner’s inability to be spontaneous. I am a bit of a planner but can roll with the punches as and when needed. Him, not at all!

There will be no let’s pop out and visit someone, nor a night out without complete research, and whatever you do, don’t change the plans. This is when his passive-aggressive and my aggressive meet head on.

I like to be organised, so a bit of planning does not go amiss, but I do like to be able to change my mind. We’ve managed to find a rhythm.

I say we’re going out on Sunday but stay vague on the details, that way he gets time to, I don’t know what, and I can change my mind. He never minds if I cancel completely.

We’ve fallen into managing the process. It would have helped to talk about non-negotiables. Date night can be spontaneous, but travel needs to be booked. There is nothing spontaneous about travel anymore, having to get visas has put paid to that.

If someone likes to plan, let them, but show an interest and have appreciation. Talk about how not planning makes you feel. Relationships are all about compromise.

The biggest stickler in relationships is how we process emotions.

Are you an external or internal processor? Do you need time to think, or do you like to deal with an issue then and there. We often misinterpret our partner’s processing as an overreaction or detachment when it may be neither. It’s just different.

When you need time to process, it’s best to communicate that directly. There is nothing wrong with saying I need an hour or two and then respect the space.

Check in with one another about the assumptions you’ve made about processing styles and how to respect them. There may be a very good reason why we react the way we do, but your partner won’t know unless you tell them.

At the end of the day, we aren’t all the same, but we all want to be safe in our relationships. We want to be heard, and we don’t want to be judged.

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