(WHAT'S NEW! Read about my daughter's life-changing project over on The Refuge. She needs your help!)
(Note: 2/22/15--The new CHAPTER 8 is posted! SURVIVING THE LONG AND GRINDING ROAD)
I have received many emails over the last few months from people who are, or want to be, in a romantic relationship with an INTP. And they have questions. They need help. Does the INTP like them? What does this or that behavior mean? What started as amazing is now drifting off course. How can it be stopped? What is going wrong?
If you are here because you might be falling in love with an INTP, I applaud you! You are exactly what we need. You are a person who wants to understand, and you have a real heartfelt desire to understand your INTP and make him or her happy.
It's okay that you need help. There are often fundamental differences between how you and your INTP approach issues like calming, problem solving, and dealing with emotions. The miscommunications and misunderstandings can run rampant. And because these conflicts lead to frightening emotional upheaval and conflict for INTPs, their natural reactions may give you the appearance that they no longer have feelings for you. Tragically, the opposite is true. It is the intensity of the negative emotions that is fueling their withdrawal. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Below, I'll describe common relationship situations, give you a sneak peek into the INTP consciousness, then suggest how you might respond.
Now for a few housekeeping items. This article is focused on new and recently new relationships. However, even the most seasoned relationships will see elements of themselves described here. The good news is that what I'm going to talk about is straightforward. These frictions, once you see them, will be very easy to understand. Dealing with them, of course, is another matter. Why? Because each person is entitled to have his or her own wants, needs, and love language. When two people don't match up on these points (such as when two different types attract), the best possible outcome is that you meet in the middle. I know it sounds great, but really think about what that means. Each person will only get half of what he or she wants at best. You have to understand that is your goal. You will not getting everything you want and dream of in the way of alignment. If deep down, you don't like that sentence, please read it again and try to embrace it. If you expect too much, you will ultimately express your disappointment, anger, and sadness toward your INTP. Your INTP will then feel intensely badly that he or she made you feel that way and will eventually interpret a pattern of these conflicts as evidence that your relationship is wrong and should not exist. If you keep cycling in that zone, you will lose your INTP.
This chapter is focused on understanding INTPs and addressing needs. That fact is not meant to suggest that the relationship is all about the INTP. If you are here in desperation, you want to get on better terms with your INTP first. Once you achieve that important goal, then it's your turn. Your INTP will be very interested in fairness, understanding, and doing hard work. He or she will want to understand your wants, needs, and love language and should be very willing to meet you in the middle.
The Truth about INTPs
INTPs feel emotion very intensely, even if you don't think they show it. In fact, emotion for an INTP is primal and pure. Almost naïve. And they are afraid of it. That's why they learn to suppress it, withdraw from it, and safely pack it away. But it's there, my friend, and it is strong. And we want to make sure that emotion is all about you! (In a good way, of course.)
The Way an INTP First Shows Attraction
If an INTP is taking the initiative to talk to you, especially with deeper, more complex, and probing conversation, he or she likes you and wants to get to know you better. It's that simple. And if he or she seems to be actively seeking you out for these beyond-small-talk conversations, then he or she probably already has a crush on you. An INTP crush is all about mental obsession. Your crushing INTP will have thought through all sorts of imaginary conversations and interactions with you as a way of trying predict who you are, how you'll respond, and how best to approach you and succeed. Also, if your INTP seems very nervous and tongue tied around you, the crush is immediate and strong. Your INTP has no confidence in how to handle that emotion (or you) and is coming a bit unglued in your presence.
Correctly Interpreting INTP Behavior
There are some very important misconceptions about INTP behavior. These are things to watch for. When you misinterpret these behaviors, you have a high likelihood of starting a reactionary spiral where you drag each other down by playing off one another, matching one reaction for another, in a terrible dance of mistakes. For example: a boyfriend observes a girlfriend's troubled demeanor. She is upset about her day at school, but it has nothing to do with the boy. Worried, the boy asks whether she is upset at something he did. She says no. He asks again, not really believing the answer (because of his fear). Not in the best mood, she gets annoyed that her first answer wasn't good enough. She feels interrogated. Her annoyance shows. Now the boy is worried even more, because his initial fear appears to be true.
He pushes, increasingly desperate to know why she is mad at him. Of course, it wasn't him in the first place, but now she is quickly getting very angry at his intrusiveness. He reacts with even more anxiety. Whoa, see? She IS mad. Really mad! And so the spiral deepens, each of their reactions feeding the other's. Sadly, it didn't have to happen at all. The conflict was entirely manufactured, and in his case, a self-fulfilling prophesy.
So, let's kill some spirals, shall we? Your task is to see the truth of what is happening in the following seven situations. With these lessons in hand, you can react to the truth of a moment and break the spirals soon after they begin. We will start easy, in the beginning of your relationship, then work onward.
Situation #1. This INTP I know, and might like, wants to talk to me.
What it Means: This INTP likes you and wants to get to know you better. Very early on, an INTP will start making you the focus of his or her thoughts. The INTP will be considering future conversations with you, observing you, and trying to maximize the likelihood that you will become interested in return. Don't doubt that you are on his or her mind. It would probably shock you to know how much and in what depth.
What to Do: Talk back. Accept the offer for conversation. Share thoughts. Try to work together as a team on something the INTP invites you to participate in.
Situation #2. Your INTP is witty and charismatic around small groups of people, but becomes an nervous wreck around you.
What it Means: It easier for an INTP to perform around a small group of people, because the INTP can deliver snippets of wittiness directed at each person in turn and entertain the group without having to focus entirely on any one person. It's an easy approach using basic skills and doesn't require deeper knowledge or comfort with the people involved. One-on-one interaction, however, is a very different set of rules and expectations for an INTP. There, all of the focus is on connecting or not-connecting on a deeper level. It either unfolds naturally or disintegrates quickly. The interaction will be more meaningful than in a group. If the INTP is avoiding eye contact with you and is acting nervous, he or she really likes you, and is afraid that the moment will go awry if the INTP makes a mistake. The weight of the positive emotion mixed with the fear and all of the things flying through the INTPs head on what to say, how to act, etc. (to impress you) is sending the INTP into meltdown, which is itself a mortifying emotion.
What to do: Try dialing down the emotional storm for the INTP by having both of you direct your attention to a third thing, like a movie, a webpage, or something else to observe. That way, you remove the pressure of the one-on-one interaction and replace it with a joint activity. It's more co-operative and less adversarial. Sit next to each other, if you can. You might even try sitting close enough to be touching. The point is to remove the eye contact factor, the intense focus, and allow freer conversation. The physical closeness will be easier to broach now as opposed to a time when your attention is on each other. Once you are successful in calming the INTP and establishing a safe zone, build up from that foundation.
Situation #3. You have some emotional bumps in your relationship. Your INTP is beginning to show annoyance with you.
What it Means: Your INTP is disappointed or frustrated with you, yet is still feeling safe enough to share the emotion in the open. THIS IS GOOD NEWS. If you really want the relationship to get back on track, and if you are strong enough to take honest feedback, then ask your INTP what is annoying him or her. You can gauge how positive the INTP views the health of the relationship (and his or her willingness to be vulnerable and open) by how easily the INTP gives you that feedback. The more the INTP fears your reaction, the less candid he or she will be. A fearful INTP quickly becomes a distant INTP.
What to Do: Remember, your INTP appreciates understanding and attacking the problem. He or she values these things far more than harmony. The INTP shows love by his or her willingness to work on the relationship with you. Even though it may look and feel like criticism to you, try to reassure yourself that your INTP is expressing love.
Situation #4. You have some emotional bumps in your relationship. Your INTP is withdrawn and cold.
What it Means: An INTP withdraws for one reason only. He or she is emotionally threatened by you, and by withdrawing, the INTP is putting a buffer zone of safety between you. Why does the INTP feel threatened? Because he or she has tried to give you honest feedback and show love by openly discussing the relationship with you, but you became upset emotionally or did not seem to understand or appreciate what was being said. Maybe you felt criticized or rejected or unloved. Maybe you just didn't understand that these conversations were so important. However, for the INTP, explaining and analyzing and deconstructing is how he or she orients to the world and calms. Including you in that process is love. By taking that away and layering on your own scary emotional reactions, the INTP has no choice but to distance him or herself from you. As a result, you will probably feel like the INTP is falling out of love with you, and you may want to cling tighter. But pushing an INTP to express love emotions back when he or she is in withdrawal mode is a cardinal sin in INTP world. INTPs hate being pushed to express emotion on demand, and they will distance from you farther.
What to Do: Stop and reflect immediately on what you have been doing right before the INTP withdraws. If this cycle repeats often or if episodes last a long time, your relationship is in danger! You have to get to the bottom of this dynamic if the relationship is going to be vibrant again. The good news is that INTPs are very resilient. After a cooling off period, the INTP will re-engage and try again. However, if you can't stop what is causing this reaction, the INTP may conclude that your presence in his or her life creates more damage than good. You may find yourself exiled to such an emotional distance that it might be realistically impossible to bridge the gap (unless you can summon near perfection or are willing to wait a long time for the INTP's fear of you to fade).
Situation #5. You have some emotional bumps in your relationship, and your INTP discusses them openly, including how he or she feels emotionally about the situation.
What it Means: Jackpot!! Your INTP feels safe with you and is speaking the most vulnerable INTP love language to you. He or she is willing to work hard on the relationship. No bad constructs have set in, such as annoyance or withdrawal/avoidance.
What to Do: Keep it going!! Try to engaging equally in what the INTP wants to address with what you want to address. You INTP will be committed to meeting you halfway.
Situation #6. Something massive and fundamental seems to have changed in your relationship. Everything you do seems to make the situation worse and drive your INTP away.
What it Means: Your INTP has weighed all the relevant factors and has come to the unpleasant conclusion that your presence causes more harm than good to the INTP's well being. The INTP is hoping for an exit, but may be reluctant to the trigger the emotional turmoil of a breakup.
What to Do: Emergency mode, man! An INTP is always willing to work with a receptive, committed partner, so you need to call a special meeting. All cards need to be laid on the table. All honest feedback ought to be encouraged. BUT BY ALL MEANS, keep your emotions out of this discussion to the greatest extent possible. They have become toxic to the INTP. You need to get into INTP logic mode temporarily. If you do, the INTP should feel safe enough to open up and share what the problems are.
Situation #7. My INTP broke up with me, and I desperately want him or her back.
What it Means: After the warnings above, your INTP has weighed the totality of what you bring to his or her life and finally determined that the evidence clearly indicates that your presence does much more harm than good to the INTP's well being. This conclusion was certain enough to risk the emotional turmoil of a break up. Your INTP may have steeled him or herself to get through it, appearing as cold as the arctic (before global warming). The steel is a protective mechanism. Down there lurks the emotional disaster of losing you.
What to Do: Here is a recipe to get back an INTP. First, reach out and say specifically what you love about him or her and why you don't want to lose him or her forever. This message is a recitation of facts. Keep your emotions out of the reasons or explanations. Just the facts. Second, say that you believe that there are things that your INTP loves about you that he or she doesn't want to lose (but don't speculate on what they are or fish for compliments. If this recipe works, your INTP will tell you freely.) Third, say that you believe that your relationship has hurt him or her and that you now understand that fact (it is safe for you speculate here on the specifics). Ask your INTP to confirm your observations and ask him or her to further deconstruct how the relationship went awry.
Basically, you are inviting your INTP to have a logical conversation, a problem-solving session. That will feel very safe and calming to the INTP, so long as you play by the rules and KEEP YOUR EMOTIONS OUT. It is imperative that you keep conclusory, emotion-based statements out of the conversation, such as "we have a connection" or "I feel like we were meant to be together". Stick to evidence and analysis. If your INTP clams up during the conversation, apologize and figure out what you said or did to cause the reaction. Really make an effort to absorb and build on the information the INTP gives you. If you appear like you can't handle this kind of sharing and working together, the INTP will stop trying and disengage. If your INTP is talking honestly, BRAVO! Keep it going. Keep it building. You are on your way to reconciliation.
Okay, So I Took Your Advice, and my INTP is Happy. Now What About Me?
uite right. You deserve to have your needs meet too. An INTP will always be willing to meet you halfway and to have a give-and-take, equal relationship. But remember, that's a two-way street. You will need to commit to the middle also. If deep down, you really want an imbalanced relationship in your favor, it's not going to go well with an INTP in the long run. On the other hand, if you embrace a balanced relationship, then open up to the INTP and share your needs. INTPs highly value fairness. He or she should try very hard to give you what you need.
A Final Word about an INTP's Sacred Place
What is the one thing that you can be for your INTP that will mean more than anything else? Ultimately, your INTP doesn't need help problem-solving, observing, or idea building. True, those things can be a blast to do together, but they are natural and easy for an INTP. Like breathing. No, your INTP's sacred place is at the heart of his or her vulnerabilities, not strengths. It's the emotions, especially when logic fails and fears and anxieties get the upper hand. Your INTP's most intimate need from you is an emotional refuge. If your INTP can put emotional vulnerability in your hands and get support, safety, and comfort (temporarily, mind you, because your INTP will be eager to feel confident and capable again), you really do have the magic touch. If you can do that without spooking your INTP and making him or her pull back, then my hat is off to you! You have won an INTP's deepest trust. To get there, listen. And try very hard not to forget what you learn.