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The Importance of Allowing for Nuance in Relationship Judgments

Friday May 3, 2019

A. wrote some things that I want to send out to you guys in case they’re familiar and maybe even troubling to some of you.

My therapist tried to convince me to be less “moral”, re:making moves on engaged women. I’m not a “nice guy”. By a long shot. But I just think it’s a truly unholy thing to do.

Reviewing my notes in this case, it’s funny because A.‘s most recent “engaged woman” was making moves on him!

In the general case, I think it’s at least a good idea to say something like, “I know you’re engaged and I totally respect that, it’s awesome for you and I wouldn’t ever want to misread you and overstep that boundary. But here’s what I’m getting from you lately…I feel like I’m getting signs that you’re maybe a bit more seriously interested in me, and I wanted to just put that out there and ask if you’d share your thoughts? I’d really appreciate it—again, if I have misunderstood I apologize.”

Right? It’s totally OK to do that no matter how much you have misread that person. AND it will probably make you feel about 200% better to get if off your chest, out of your system, and acknowledge that it’s really a shared burden of judgment.

Also note that in this case, A’s tendency to find comfort in rather severe perceptions of morality has “mysteriously” upgraded the problem from “therapist thinks I should respond in kind to a rather open-relationship-oriented person” to “therapist thinks I should make a move on an engaged woman.”

The fact is, these two already went out together several times without her “other man” around, there was a certain mutual attraction; she invited him for some rather physical shared activities between her and the other guy.

So: this is not quite as A. describes it, right? As easy as it would be to suspect that the therapist is somehow undermining his morality.

Thus, a big point here: Be super nuanced in your communications (even self-communications like journaling) about moral decisions. Be aware of any tendency to be a severe, black-and-white moralist. It’s a good idea to resist the urge to skim and leave out important details like those I listed above. What will likely result from this kind of generalization is the same old INTJ problem—a very black-and-white judgment process which ends up making the INTJ feel like their relationships are horribly unfair or even deeply damaging.

A. continues:

Re:friends who don’t have your back. Selfishness. I get it, nobody can ever be reproached for caring most about themselves. But as I expressed earlier, I thought the point of a friendship was…to facilitate a certain ease of living. To help out.

This is part of the same family of thoughts / judgments: Introverted feeling, or Fi, also known as Valuing (Linda Berens). Those who aren’t very experienced with Fi are more likely, I find, to make black-and-white judgments that do not echo or overlay well on top of our shared, more objective reality.

So what happens a lot to INTJs in this kind of situation is that they 1) fail to communicate their values and expectations to their relationship partners and then 2) explode or door-slam the partner when their values and expectations are violated.

Here are some tips in this area:

  • Do your best to come up with a blend of choices, when you have a decision to make about a relationship. Be nuanced. Such a mindset is generally a sign of education and wisdom. Watch for a tendency to engage in black-and-white perception and judgment.
  • Don’t make important relationship decisions when your stress or exhaustion levels are high. Ask for more time to get some rest (like actual sleep or time off), or do your best to make a decision that seems fair to both parties.
  • Involve others in your decision-making. Don’t be really general—give them the key details. Listen to their input, and push back gently only when necessary. See if you can try out their advice and be open-minded in this experiment. If what you trust is only what you’ve tried before, you can lose a lot in a new friendship.
  • Along similar lines, try not to worry too much about friend gossip. Most of it is background noise that will never come back to bite you, unless you are legitimately causing a friend or associate a lot of pain. If you’re imagining someone gossiping about you, keep in mind that at least some of those involved will probably take your side, or feel sympathetic. ;-) Working in a gossipy organization in the past, I learned that a lot of people who gossip are doing so without any serious values-judgment, because they themselves are practically values-blind! The serial gossips are just hypocrites; they know it and laugh about it. They think that because they need to gossip, everybody’s doing it! There’s a perception filter which rewards them for gossiping. They also may be scared or feel overwhelmed, or simply need to get the information off their shoulders and process it. Again: Most of it is just humanity doing its thing; it’s noise, and that’s OK.
  • Talk about the kind of friend you want to be, and listen to feedback! “Listen friend, I have these really high expectations of my friends sometimes, and I want to make sure that I communicate up front—I’m the kind of guy who does his best to watch his friends’ backs. And I just want you to know that if I could use your help, I will do my best to be considerate and communicate my needs while keeping your own situation in mind. But if you see that I’m in trouble, please don’t hesitate to jump in and help.”
  • Listen to your friends’ responses. Are they really hyperbolic? “DEFINITELY BUDDY I’VE GOT YOU” can be equally concerning or comforting. But so can a long, twisty, winding set of phrases that leave you feeling confused about how the other person sees the relationship. Ask yourself how you feel after the conversation. And keep in mind—ANY of this is better than no conversation at all.
  • If they do something that demonstrates “I SO DON’T GOT YOUR BACK,” let them know! Again, gently. Avoid the urge to freak out. But let them know—“hey, I realize it may be asking a lot, but I really want to trust that my friends have my back in a situation like this. Maybe that’s extreme. Anyway, I’m hurting over here man.” Let them recover, give them another chance. And it’s never a bad idea to temper your expectations a bit, as opposed to just cutting them off completely. Realize that if you need someone who will come through for you no matter what, every time—that’s an extremely rare individual, and those are very special needs.
  • While you get this experiment going, keep in mind it’s traditionally a weak area for INTJs. You may have to push yourself further toward “risk” than you have before, in order to learn key lessons that will really help you in the future. We all make mistakes, and if you’re not making any mistakes in your values-related decision-making, ask yourself if you’re even developing in that area at all. Are you stretching those muscles for when they need to be used? Something to think about.
  • Keep a sense of humor. You get major bonus points if you can laugh about your own set of “uptight” morals, when there’s a higher risk that others will perceive them as such. You get major bonus points if you can laugh at your past self, who was much more awkward and direct about door-slamming relationship partners.
  • Study personality type. As a tool, it will give you a powerful new way to perceive and judge relationships. For example, knowing where Fi is in someone’s stack of cognitive functions, and what that means, can be a huge benefit that helps you navigate new relationships. Generally speaking, close relations with types with Fi in their 5-8th functions can be more difficult for INTJs who are hyper-attentive to black and white Fi / Valuing, because we tend to perceive their general lack of Fi-preference as “superficial” or “values-blind” or even “crafty”. This is also generally unfair, and it’s just one of many models of human relationship psychology. Again, try to be nuanced and ask them how they see things. Learn about your relationship partner and ask yourself what you can do about it.
  • Learn about Ti, a still-nuanced, and yet more logical way to think about relationships. Maybe you didn’t get a relationship partner who’s super close this time, in this or that friendship? No sweat, at least you have a friend, and you never know what benefit that might bring! Now: Is there anything they’d love to help you with, that you’d need? Can you give them something in return? In such a situation, it’s clearly less manipulative to ask them for this help than it would be if they gained nothing. INTJs are also very brittle thinkers in this area in general, so it’s good to know about for a challenge once in a while, as well as for your overall development.

If you made it this far—congratulations, I know this can be a really, really touchy area for INTJs. In studying it and getting to know the dynamics, you are setting yourself up for a more satisfied, energetic, and peaceful future.

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