Can the MBTI save your marriage and family?

By , October 14, 2007 3:18 pm

I first came upon the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator when my adopted son entered public school as a first grader. Immediately, he was diagnosed as Attention Deficit Disorder With Hyperactivity (ADHD).

 Here I had been living with this vastly entertaining, golden boy for seven years (from birth) and, suddenly, because he could not sit still at a desk and listen to a teacher talk, there was something really wrong with him, something needing medication.

Although I am a clinical psychologist, I am not a big fan of medication as the first choice for everything (absolutely, there are times when it is life-saving, can save lives with depression or bopolar and help greatly with ADHD). And, being a client-centered (based upon the work of Carl Rogers) therapist, I believe that every person has a unique path, unique talents, a unique acorn that will grow into a unique tree.

So I started looking for a way to describe all of my child’s positive strengths to his teachers, e.g., no, he didn’t sit still, but, yes, he could do puzzles way better than most children. No, he didn’t sit still, but, yes, he could put objects together and fix machinery. No, he didn’t sit still, but, yes, he was an amazing athlete, always friendly and happy, etc.

The best tool I found was Keirsey & Bates, Please Understand Me (Prometheus Nemesis Book Co.,1984), still my favorite inexpensive, user-friendly introduction to personality differences. There is a modified version of the MBTI in the front with scoring sheet and explanations of the sixteen personality types generated.

I identified my son as an EST(F)P, an “artisan,” an “active, hands-on learner.” (see the tables included at the end of  my short article, “Jung, MBTI, and Experiential Theory”,, for Thumbnail descriptions of each of 16 MBTI “types”). I then could use the classroom-oriented work of Thomas Armstrong (ADD/ADHD Alternatives in the Classroom, ASCD, 1999) and Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences theory and many other tools to fight for active, hands-on learning options for my child at school.

As a single mom, I also started to apply the MBTI to my understanding of relationships. At one point, thinking I had honed in on the problem, I posted newspaper “personal ads” saying I was looking for an “NF” (iNtuitive Feeler) partner. I found one, and it didn’t work out! Maybe we were too similar!

Instead, I found an ISTJ partner, a wonderful compliment to my INFJ  type. Right from the beginning, I shared MBTI understandings with him.  We knew we shared an Introverted (I)love of quiet alone time and a Judging (J) love of organization and structure. His Sensing (S), reality-oriented common sense balances my iNtuitive (N) “sixth sense” global  imagination. His Thinking (T) ability to be objective and analytical actually complements and balances my Feeling (F) ability to be subjective, relational, and empathic.

However, without the MBTI understanding of our difference, we might have floundered, him finding me “overly emotional, ” me finding him “overly intellectualized,” him finding me “unrealistic,” me finding him “boring and mundane.” 

As a “mature” couple (he on his third marriage, I my second), perhaps we had also realized that compromise, appreciation, and mutual respect for difference were key to continuing relationship. We discussed how our former spouses, both P’s, had brought spontaneity and fun, but also lateness and disorganization that we couldn’t tolerate.

What does the MBTI understanding do for you? When your child or partner does something that makes you think, “This person must be from a different planet,” or “This person is crazy,” or “This person is evil,” looking at MBTI differences can help you see that, yes, this person is radically different from you, but he is like a whole lot of other people, a whole “type” of people with unique talents and unique “gifts” to bring to the table.

A few examples:

I am rushing to get my son to the bus for a winter retreat with his church group, up on a mountain. Arriving early (which, as a J, I like to do), I look down and see that, on his feet, he has no socks and flipflops, his only shoes for the trip. I am screaming at him as I rush home for “appropriate shoes,” “How could you……?!!!!!” Then, I realize, for someone who is “spontaneous, lives-in-the-moment, is the life of the party,” thinking ahead to a snow-covered mountain was just not in his repertoire.

One of my husband’s former wives gave him this reason when, after 15 years, announcing “out of the blue” that she was leaving him: “Remember that time we were moving, and I wanted to stop to say goodbye to friends (F) and you said we couldn’t, we had to stay on schedule so we could return the van on time(TJ) ? That’s why.”

When I am caught up in too much feeling (F), my husband can steady the ship with an “objective analysis” of what is happening (T).

Enough for today. Main point: people really are different and, rather than hate them for it, embrace these many “gifts” by using tools like the MBTI.

5 Responses to “Can the MBTI save your marriage and family?”

  1. check out my website – – to play jigsaw puzzles online…

  2. You might like to see a new book about temperament, What Makes You Tick and What Ticks You Off by Jim Harden….

  3. Thanks, Diana. Sounds great! Just had an interaction with my husband today resolved only when he said, “As an iNtuitive, you are able to juggle a lot of balls at once. As a Sensor, I am linear, sequential, get overwhelmed if have to deal with all at once (we are trying to plan building a house together!)

  4. I’m happy that you’re speaking about it so everyone else can know! Definitely will keep in mind. But, what I finally figured out is, you have to nurture the environment that first brought you together and also avoid a ton of bad steps we all naturally make if you want to save marriage alone

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