Have you ever felt like screaming because your spouse just doesn’t understand you? Or experienced a sense of utter frustration at not “clicking” with your stepchildren? Although there are many dynamics which can lead to conflict, one of the most overlooked reasons for misunderstandings within any group of people is personality differences.
Nearly ten years ago, I became a stepmom to two boys, aged 12 and 14. When we got married, I entered a wholly male family, dominated by roughhousing, toilet humor and lots of video games. As a soft-spoken, book-reading introvert, I sometimes felt like a delicate flower amid a jungle and wondered how I would ever fit in.
Do you struggle with feeling like a stranger in your own family, too? If so, consider that personality differences may play a role in some of this feeling of discomfort. These dissimilarities can impact our views on handling children and determine the atmosphere of the home. When you enter a stepfamily, the children will be used to the dad’s ways of doing things and may find it difficult to adjust to your ways. In the same way, you may also find it hard to adjust to their ways.
In this article, we will examine how people process information and how this aspect of personality can affect stepfamily relationships. In the Jungian model, this is referred to a sensing (S) preference or an intuitive (N) preference.
There are many excellent tests online you can take to determine your personality preferences. I especially recommend this one from the Personality Hacker site. For your convenience, I have included a mini-test but you may wish to confirm this with a longer test. I would encourage you to get all members of your stepfamily to take the quiz. If they are too young or simply not interested, do your best to guess what answers they would choose, based on your observation of their behavior.
Sensing and Intuition in Stepfamilies
Answer this question for a quick assessment.
Which of these pair of statements are truest of you?
1.a. I notice connections more than most people
1.b. I notice more details than most people
2.a. I could be accused of being impractical
2.b. I could be accused of being too unimaginative
3.a. I am less observant than most people
3.b. I tend to be very observant
If you answered more a’s than b’s, you likely have an intuitive preference. According to the Personality Page, this means that you will listen to your intuition, your gut instinct first. This does not mean you don’t pay attention to your senses but you notice your intuition first.
If you answered more b’s than a’s, you likely have a sensing preference. This means that you tend to rely on what you can, see, taste, and hear over any inner feeling or intuition. It doesn’t mean you are not capable of abstract thought but rather that you prefer to learn through your five senses first.
The sensor and the intuitive see the world in very different ways and this can make it very difficult to understand one another.
The intuitive person has the tendency to constantly strive to improve the world, rather than simply enjoy what is. They thrive on possibility and seeing connections between things that are not apparent to everyone. They also tend to be less observant and may find it more difficult to always keep up with every day tasks.
According to the site, Personality Hacker, only 30% of the population tend to have the intuitive trait. Therefore, an intuitive person is more likely to be the odd one out in a family. A good catchphrase for an intuitive person would be “Everything’s connected!”
Sensors may feel offended by the ideas of an intuitive trying to improve things and take their constantly changing ideas as a sign that their life is “not good enough.” A sensing person tends to be more attentive to the details of what needs to be done immediately around them. They have excellent observation skills and are more likely to stick to straight logic. “Just the facts, ma’am” is a good catchphrase for the sensor. Because sensors make up the majority of the population, the sensor may find that the world is tailored more to his or her preferences.
Examine Your Own Family
Examine the dynamics of your family. Are you a group of sensors with a lone intuitive? Or a group of intuitives with one lone sensor? Or perhaps you are an even mixture of both. Whatever the combination, try to be aware of differing preferences when dealing with each family member. Before you judge their motives, ask if this conflict may be related to personality differences. This won’t automatically solve the problem but it may help you handle things in a more effective manner.
My husband is a sensor and I am an intuitive. When we first got married, I worked as a teacher and by Saturday, after a busy week of schedules and taking care of the endless needs of my students, I was really craving time where I could escape into my imagination and simply create. This took the form of working on online collages on a site called Polyvore, and eventually writing.
These abstract pursuits brought me immense joy but my practical husband saw no immediate benefit. All he saw was his wife tied to a computer screen in the middle of a messy house. All I saw the beautiful collages in front of me, created by my imagination. I felt unable to tackle the messy house until I had some “me time” to use my creative energy.
If you tend to be the more practical partner, you may get frustrated when things are not being done according to certain standards. You may feel impatient with your spouse for not insisting that the children help out more. Consider that they simply may not see the practical things to be done, as easily as you do. If you tend to be the more intuitive partner, you feel misunderstood within your family. It may frustrate you that you cannot communicate your abstract ideas with your more concrete partner.
An intuitive child may feel misunderstood when a parent does not seem to take an interest in his seemingly esoteric interests. Conversely, an sensing child parent may feel frustrated if an intuitive parent’s communication is too abstract and find it confusing.
Tips for Sensing and Intuitive Children
Ways to Respect an Intuitive Child
- When teaching an intuitive child tasks such as cleaning their room, be patient and be sure to tell them why it is important, rather than saying, “just do it.” When they understand why, they will have greater motivation.
- Look for interests for the child which allow them to be creative and to follow their muse. Look for anything that allows them to be creative and envision possibilities. Whether it’s playing make-believe, drawing or reading their favourite books, look for ways that they can nurture their imagination.
- An excellent way to bond with your intuitive stepchild is to be willing to “play along” when they go down what may seem like “conversational rabbit trails” to you. If the child speaks in a fanciful way, don’t shut them down by telling them not to be “silly.”
Ways to Respect a Sensing Child
- Communicate with this child using concrete, direct language. They will respond much better if you say exactly what you want from them. Avoid being vague because it may be confusing. Don’t force the child to talk about theoretical things that bore him or her.
- Look for interests for the child which allow them to be hands-on. They may have strong spatial-visual skills. Think of sports, building activities, making things.
- An excellent way to bond with your sensing, concrete stepchild is to do things with them. Don’t worry about talking too much. For these children, action speaks louder than words!
Your Differences are Your Strength
Finally, remember that although differences can lead to conflict, they can eventually become your greatest strength as a couple and as a family. A differing personality type brings a new perspective and different strength to a family unit. When the two learn to work together, they can accomplish a lot.
An example is renovating a home. When your home is looking old and rundown, you will need to get work done on it. Before you hire a contractor, though, you will want to have a vision of what you want it to look like. This is where intuition comes in – seeing the possibility. After you get a vision for the completed project, you will need someone to come in and start tearing down walls, pounding nails and sanding wood. That is where the sensing comes in. Both types are necessary for surviving in this world.
Sharilee Swaity has been a stepmom for nine years now. Her two stepsons are both grown up now and she spends her time writing and promoting her work. Her book, “Second Marriage: An Insider’s Guide to Hope, Healing & Love” was published in April 2017, and is on sale this week on Amazon for $0.99. Her book focuses on challenges people find in second marriages, including personality differences. Sharilee also writes at her blog, Second Chance Love.