Temperament and Relationships | Psychology Today

Source: Pavel Danilyuk/Pexels

Source: Pavel Danilyuk/Pexels

Sam loves social events. He can walk into any room and instantly feels comfortable talking to people and making new friends. He also goes with the flow and can easily adapt should plans change last minute.

His partner Patty, on the other hand, takes a while to adjust. She usually stays on the sidelines at events and observes the situation, identifies the people she knows, and eventually warms up to the environment. She has a similar approach when transitioning to a new job; she takes a while to adjust but will eventually warm up to the new situation. Sam and Patty have different temperaments, which is the biological component of personality and refers to how we adapt to novel situations or environments.

In a famous longitudinal study that began in 1959, Alexander Thomas, Stella Chess, and colleagues studied 141 infants through the age of 30 and identified three main temperament styles: easy, difficult, and slow-to-warm-up. Their study demonstrated consistency across the lifespan when it comes to temperament. This means that a difficult baby, who is very fussy and doesn’t like to be held by others, may become a child who gets upset when their routine changes and eventually becomes an adult who finds it extremely challenging to adapt when outside of their comfort zone.

Understanding a person’s temperament and the way in which they handle novel situations is helpful. Relating this to the example of Sam and Patty, Sam would likely be categorized as having an easy temperament, whereas Patty is slow to warm up.

With this understanding, partners have insight into one another’s behaviors in social settings and can support each other. For example, if at a crowded party, Sam can be sure to stick by Patty’s side and facilitate the conversation with unfamiliar people. This way, she gets accustomed to her surroundings and feels more comfortable before venturing on her own.

After a first day on a new job, Sam may want to engage Patty in a discussion about how it went and any apprehensions she has about the role and work with her to come up with potential solutions. The support would play a large role in making her feel comfortable and secure.

Below are some tips for supporting partners with easy and difficult temperaments. Slow-to-warm-up individuals would benefit by starting with the strategies listed under the difficult category.

Easy Temperaments

  • Provide novelty to engage and stimulate your partner.
  • Challenge your partner and continue so that you can help them reach their full potential.
  • Minimize downtime; have activities planned.

Difficult Temperaments

  • Provide consistency and structure when possible by letting your partner know about anticipated changes.
  • Support your partner in adapting to change by engaging them in conversation and validating their feelings.
  • Provide calm and peaceful environments by being warm, empathetic, and attentive.

Partners with different temperaments will have different challenges. Understanding how your partner typically reacts, as well as any patterns they may display (originating in childhood), can provide you with an understanding of who they are and help you devise ways to support them.

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