MBTI and Personal Relationships

Using Type with Couples

Happy and unhappy marriages are found in all type combinations, and type differences and similarities are likely to be only one of several sources of difficulty in a relationship.  Regardless of the nature of such other difficulties, a comparison of the couples’ personality types by a counselor can enhance the therapeutic process and increase the likelihood of a successful outcome.

A word of caution:  While it is exciting and revealing for couples to mutually consent to take the MBTI and compare results, taking the MBTI by oneself or in conjunction with others should not be considered “therapy”.  If you are having marital issues that appear to require intervention by a therapist, please do not consider using the MBTI as a substitute for third party counseling!

Focusing on natural type differences early in the counseling process can be the “neutral ground” that enhances rapport, reassures the couple that the therapist is not likely to “take sides,” and provides a nonjudgmental language for discussing sources of irritation and misunderstanding.

When interpreting results of the MBTI to a couple, it is useful to let partners guess their preferences as they are discussed and to compare these with the answers given of the Indicator.  Both partners can be asked to comment on the accuracy of type descriptions in describing both themselves and their partner and to discuss type characteristics as they affect their relationship.

When couples take the MBTI “for each other”, that is, when they answer the questions the way they think the partner would, the therapist can identify probable issues in the couple’s difficulties.  Particular counseling issues are indicated when couple members recognize that they are different from each other and accurately assess the nature of their differences by answering the MBTI “correctly” for each other.

For such a couple, a personality type explanation of the differences they already recognize in each other can be therapeutic.  Rather than attributing differences to the partner’s “annoying habits,” “hang-ups,” or “incompetence,” the couple can learn to appreciate the nature and reality of their differences as legitimate and interesting.

The task of counseling is very different when the couple believes they are both the same or similar in type (therefore answering for each other “inaccurately”), when in fact they are quite different.  When a person believes the partner to be a different type from what he or she actually is, the mis-perceived partner’s communications and behavior are likely to be misunderstood.  The mis-perceiving partner may have a distorted notion of the other’s needs and motives.

For example, an ENTP husband answered the Indicator for his wife as if she was an ENFP, but she verified her type as ESFJ.  Her major complaint in the marriage was that she felt discounted, ignored, and misunderstood by her husband.  It became evident during counseling that he did not recognize her central desire for harmony and togetherness.  Instead, he assumed that what she really wanted was more freedom to pursue her many interests without interference from him.  He was genuinely puzzled when she told him how bad she felt.  In another couple, the INFJ husband and his ESFP wife both saw each other as ISTJs; they later recognized that both of their fathers were probably ISTJs.

The partners thus projected an exaggerated and distorted ISTJ personality on each other, each seeing the other as demanding, critical, and controlling.  These and similar kinds of discrepancies in the ways couples answer the MBTI for each other can often reveal the nature of the couple’s expectations of and projections onto each other.

From “A Guide to the Development and Use of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator,”  Consulting Psychologists Press, Inc.

Using Personality Type with Families

Personality preference comparison concepts can be useful in family counseling.  The personality type distribution of the family provides a language for talking about alliances, difficulties in communication, allocation of household tasks, differences over child rearing, and children’s career plans. When working with families, it is particularly important for counselors to discuss the value of type differences.  Any relationship suffers if one person treats the personality type of another as a defiency.

For instance, the parent-child relationship may become advesarial if a parent tries to make a child into a carbon copy of him or herself.  It is hard on children to find that parent wishes they were something they are not.  Children who are Feeling types may try to distort their type in the desired direction;  Thinking types may resist their parent’s expectations with hostility.  Neither reaction repairs the damage done to the child’s self-confidence.

The Judging-Perceiving dichotomy can be important in child-parent relationships.  For example, a parent describing a child’s behavior in a Judging manner can be shown that his or her every description is full of judgments (“This is wrong.”  ”He shouldn’t have done that.”  ”I made a mistake.”)  Practice in the Perceiving attitude can lead to statements such as, “Why did it look like that to him?”  ”I wonder if he did it because…?”  The essence of the Perceiving attitude is that a topic opens up new questions and creates curiosity for learning more about a situation.  Judgment closes the issue; perception opens it up for new discoveries.

Many Judging types benefit from learning to stay longer in the Perceiving mode; many Perceiving types benefit from learning to come to closure. It can be helpful for a counselor to give parents a perspective on how parenting differs based on the type of the child.  It is easier for an orderly, practical Sensing, Judging parent to raise a Sensing Judging child who has a desire to conform to structure than it is for than parent to rear an independent Intuitive Perceiving child who finds structure and consistency anathema.

Understanding type differences can reduce guilt in the relationship and promote problem solving on the part of both parent and child. Family therapists report that understanding type often helps all family members modify their perceptions about meaning and motives behind the other person’s behaviors.  The therapist can suggest ways for family members to better explain themselves and more accurately assess the meaning of behaviors.   [top]

From “A Guide to the Development and Use of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator”, Consulting Psychologists Press, Inc

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