Are you a detail person or a big picture person? And how does that affect your marriage?

This month, for Wifey Wednesdays, we’re looking at personality differences, using the MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator). The MBTI figures out people’s personalities based on four different scales. I explained how MBTI and marriage work in the big picture in our first post in the series, and then last week we looked at the introversion/extroversion scale. Today we’re going to look at the S/N scale–sensing vs. intuition.

As a major, major N (I don’t even register on the S side of the scale!) I love this difference the most. So let me explain a bit what it is, and then we’ll move to how it affects marriage.

What is the S/N Scale in the MBTI?

Here’s how the book Just Your Type, which details all about the 16 different personality types and how they act in marriage, explains it:

Sensors take in information through their five senses, paying close attention to what something looks, sounds, feels, tastes, or smells like. That’s why they’re usually such realistic and practical people. In contrast, Intuitives look at the world quite differently. Rather than focus on what is, they see what could be, questioning the reasons why it is as it is and how it’s related to other things. Rather than trust and rely on their five senses, it’s as if they use their sixth sense to understand and make sense of things.

So sensors will focus on details and will tend to remember things; intuitives will often ignore details but see, and get excited by, the possibilities.

Intuitives often love theories and ideas, even if they have no practical application. Sensor types have little use for things which aren’t practical. Sensors tend to like to find a hobby or a skill and master it; intuitives may like new hobbies as well, but will often have just as much fun finding their own way of learning it than of mastering it. Once they have mastered it, they immediately will want to find a new way of doing it, or else they’ll grow bored and move on.

MBTI and Marriage: When Sensors Marry Intuitives

Sensors like to deal with the here and now. Intuitives like to see the possibilities. Sensors are highly practical. Intuitives are highly creative. Can you see the potential for problems? A sensor may want to do all the finances on Quicken and have a 10 year plan. An intuitive may always be dreaming up the next entrpeneurial idea!

Intuitives are often attracted to sensors because they ground them. To sensors, an intuitive seems exciting! But as you try to live out life, this can grate on people.

As I told you in our first post, THIS is the one of the big differences that Keith and I have. He’s very much a sensor type. He learned Swahili by picking up a book and studying it systematically. When he started bird-watching, he learned all the birds down to the exact detail, including its calls. I got bored of that pretty quickly (though I do love going for birdwatching hikes!).

When we’re traveling in our RV, Keith likes to have the trip planned out, with reservations for each night. I like to just drive and stay wherever we find ourselves. I’m far more comfortable with ambiguity; he wants things figured out.

But our biggest difference? Whenever I find someone is doing something inefficiently, I will find a better way of doing it. Just because something “has always been done that way” means absolutely nothing to me. I have to shake things up. Keith, though, loves systems. I’m always trying to change things; Keith says, “if it’s working, why break it?” That may make me seem irresponsible and him seem boring (if you’re taking it to an extreme).

What we’ve found that works is just talking it out, and making lists about what are our values and where we want to move towards. That helps clarify things. And if I want to go off on a tangent, that’s fine–as long as I don’t expect him to come with me! If I want to cause a battle over something in church, for instance, I can’t expect him to charge in with me.

What does a "Sensor" look like when they marry an "Intuitive?" Looking closer at the detailed and the big-picture personalities in marriage!

When Two Sensors Marry

Sensors love systems and details and process. So sensors will thrive on adopting systems–and then they will keep at it. So the challenge that two sensors will face is that they may not re-evaluate often enough to see if something isn’t working. They’re more likely to get stuck in a rut, whether it’s not evaluating a new way of dividing up housework when additional kids come along, or new ways of doing their budget, or even when it’s time to find a new church.

Sensors tend to be loyal to the systems that are in place, and may avoid trying new things. They may find that marriage suddenly doesn’t seem exciting, but they may not be able to put their finger on exactly why. Sensors would benefit from actually scheduling (and sensors like scheduling!) some special “sexy” nights when you can be more adventurous in bed, or in deciding to try a new couple’s hobby once a year.

When Two Intuitives Marry

Two intuitives may love making big picture plans and coming up with big picture goals. What they have a much harder time doing is figuring out if any of those goals are actually attainable, or breaking them down into practical steps that they can be taking now.

They may love setting savings goals, for example, but may have difficulty sticking to a budget–or even making a detailed budget.

They also will tend to get distracted and bored with things very quickly. A typical house owned by two Intuitives is filled with unfinished projects. One weekend the couple may tackle something big that excites them, but the next weekend they’re bored, and decide to tackle something else.

My daughter Rebecca and her husband Connor are both Ns: he’s an ENTP and she’s an ENTJ. Here’s Rebecca on how this works:

“What we’ve found is that we’ve had to learn how to be a bit of a tether for the other, since I’m always wanting to reorganize the entire house because I’ve thought of a better way to make the kitchen “flow”, and Connor’s always getting pulled to the next project, game, or activity he wants to try. We’re quite happy to live in their heads, trying new things and re-arranging their lives again and again and again until there’s no structure and neither of us knows where anything is! So when Connor sees me re-arranging the house, he asks, “Is this actually necessary?” And when Connor wants to buy a new game, I ask, “Didn’t you just buy that other one last week? Are you done it already?”

But, Connor still has hundreds of games on his Steam account and I’ve just rearranged the linen closet yesterday so I’m not sure how good we actually are at reigning each other in.”

So now we’ve tackled the S/N scale. Next week we’ll turn to Thinking/Feeling, and talk about how we make decisions.

Where are YOU, my readers, on the Intuiting/Sensing scale?

In my Friday newsletters, I asked all through the month of July questions about personality types. We found that, most of the time, anyway, opposites really do attract: almost 70% of the people responded were married to a person with the opposite preference for intuiting/sensing. About 20% both prefer sensing and almost 10% both prefer intuiting. Apparently Becca and Connor are the minority!

And it looks like we’ve got about 55% of people saying that they’re S and 45% saying that they’re N. Most MBTI materials, I think, put S’s nearer to 70%, so it could be that people THINK they’re different, when it’s just that one is more of an S than the other!

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Let me know in the comments: are you big picture person or a detail person? How does that affect your marriage?

And if you want to learn more, check out Just Your Type!

Posts in the MBTI Marriage Series:

MBTI and Marriage: An Overview
MBTI and Marriage: The Extrovert/Introvert Scale
MBTI and Marriage: The Intuition/Sensing Scale (this one!)
MBTI and Marriage: The Thinking/Feeling Scale
MBTI and Marriage: The Judging/Perceiving Scale (coming soon)

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