The Difference Between P and J

structured_vs_flexibleA week before my wife and I got married, we went through an assessment/leadership retreat sponsored by our church and the seminary from where I eventually got my degree.  While my wife had been educated in psychology and human development, it was my first exposure to things like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and the Strengths Finders assessment.  Knowing our personality types and how we are put together has really helped us to better understand one another as well as other people.  These things have helped to inform our relationship and have framed many discussions throughout our more than twelve years of marriage.

There are four areas that are classified within the MBTI (check this out for an overview of the MBTI if you are unfamiliar with it).  I won’t take the time to go into each at length, but a brief overview will probably be helpful.  The four areas really have to do with people’s observation, perception, and decision-making.  People are generally either Extraverts or Introverts.  They are either Intuitive or Sensing.  They are Thinkers or Feelers.  They are Judgers or Perceivers.  While my wife and I aren’t complete opposites on all of these, we are opposites in two major areas: I am an Extravert while she is an Introvert and I am a Judger while she is a Perceiver.

Again, I am staying fairly general here, but one of the characteristics of J’s (as Judgers are called for short) is that they like structure and organization.  Closure is important to J’s, they don’t like to leave things hanging but like to “close the loop” on things.  On the other hand, P’s (as Perceivers are called for short) can easily flow in and out of projects and activities without necessarily finishing things.  They are more flexible and less structured than J’s are.  Herein lies a major difference between my wife and I.

Now, over the course of our marriage, I think that I can safely say that we have moved a little bit closer to the middle as each of us has influenced the other.  My wife has gotten a little bit more structured and I have gotten a little bit more flexible.  As I spent the last four days watching my kids though, I realized the importance of being both structured and flexible in the every day.

My wife’s flexibility is definitely to her advantage here.  Stay at home parents can attest to the fact that things rarely go as planned and there are plenty of the proverbial wrenches thrown into the proverbial gears throughout the day.  In fact, I had one friend who cautioned me not to be too structured for fear that I would miss something.

At the same time, any lack of structure would be silly.  If you shoot for nothing, you will hit it every time.  Some kind of a game plan is necessary to accomplish something throughout the day.  Here’s where I think the balance is a good thing.  The question becomes how much is too structured and how much is too flexible?  That’s where I think we all need to figure it out on our own.

If I stayed at home with my kids, I would tend towards more structure and less flexibility while my wife tends towards less structure and more flexibility.  That’s not to say either one of us is right or wrong, but that’s the beauty of the MBTI, it’s how we make decisions, perceive, and adapt to our situations and circumstances.  My wife functions the way that she does because that’s how she was created.  I function the way that I do for the same reason.  For me to expect or demand her to function as I do while she is created differently would be foolish, and likewise for her to me.  Again, the beauty of our differences.

If I stayed at home with my kids, I could see myself being too structured.  I would always want a plan and I could easily become frustrated if that plan didn’t work out the way that I thought it should.  I grew up with a father who had a tendency to become frustrated when the plan spiraled out of control (as it generally does in the midst of life happening around us), it’s in my DNA, so I am aware of it and try to combat it as best as I can.

Like I said, this is only a scratching of the surface in regards to the difference between J’s and P’s, but it was my perception as I walked through those four days of being thrust into the fire of becoming a stay at home parent.  Thank God that he created us all differently, with all different strengths and preferences.  I so appreciate all that my wife does and all that stay at home parents do in negotiating that delicate balance between structure and flexibility.  While four days isn’t a long time, certainly not long enough to become an expert at anything, it sure gave me a glimpse into things that I need to be doing to help my wife out.  Now it’s just a matter of stepping up and actually doing it.  Godspeed!

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