By Dr. A.J. Drenth
To understand INFP relationships, we must first understand their dominant function, Introverted Feeling (Fi). One of the curious features of Fi with respect to relationships is its inward direction. Namely, when we think about relationships, we typically think of feelings flowing reciprocally between partners. In other words, we think of relationships as involving the extraversion of feelings (Fe). For Fi users, however, feelings are not readily communicated (at least not directly) to one’s partner because their feeling function is introverted.
Another relationally relevant feature of Fi is its relatively narrow focus. INFPs tend to funnel their love or emotional energy into a limited number of people or interest areas. This often includes caring for individuals (or animals) who have been victims of injustice or misfortune and are therefore incapable of helping themselves. Hence, the INFP can often be found helping individuals with special needs, disabilities, etc. They may also pursue certain artistic or religious interests with vigorous devotion.
While there is certainly nothing wrong with these sorts of intensive investments, we might pause to consider where dating and relationships fit into INFPs’ Fi framework. To be frank, if we assume that INFPs don’t see their partners as needy or unable to help themselves, what motivates their interest in romantic relationships?
Why the INFP Seeks Relationships
First, I think it is worth mentioning that many INFPs do just fine, much better than some other personality types, when not involved in a romantic relationship. As long as they have a meaningful outlet for their Fi (and Ne) energies (e.g., children, pets, art, religion, etc.), romantic relationships may be of secondary importance to them.
With that said, it is also true that other INFPs see finding love as their highest priority. They are your proverbial “romantics,” perhaps dreaming of finding “true love” or their eternal soulmate. INFPs may also seek a partner who can be their best friend, companion, and helper, someone they can talk to and enjoy life with. Moreover, INFP females, in particular, may seek a partner with whom they can start a family. As we’ve seen, INFPs love caring for those who cannot care for themselves, including children.
Since male INFPs may be less concerned about, or eager to, have children of their own, they may feel less rushed to settle into a permanent relationship. They may feel that clarifying their “mission in life” is more urgent or central to their well-being.
What INFPs Seek in a Partner
The qualities INFPs seek in a romantic partner cannot be divorced from their underlying motives for seeking a relationship in the first place (see above). Like other types, INFPs tend to seek a partner with similar values and worldview. For instance, Christian INFPs tend to pair with other Christians, liberals with other liberals, etc. Attitudes toward money and children are also important factors.
As introverts who use Introverted Sensing (i.e., as their tertiary function), INFPs tend be fairly conservative with their spending and content to live with relatively few possessions. Many prefer unconventional, even peripatetic, lifestyles, which may include travelling or permanently relocating abroad. Therefore, INFPs may seek a mate willing to accompany them on their journey, wherever it may lead. For this reason, it is not uncommon for INFPs to pair with someone they encounter in their travels. They may seek a partner, often another NP type (i.e., INTP, ENTP, ENFP), who enjoys what we might call the “seekers lifestyle.”
INFPs preferring a more of conventional lifestyle, perhaps with an eye toward starting a family, may seek a partner who is more stable, reliable, and responsible. At times, it can be difficult to know whether such INFPs are motivated by their Fi desire for a stable parenting environment, or whether they are unwittingly crutching their tertiary (Si) and inferior function (Te). After all, Si and Te can be understood to represent reliability and consistency. This is also why INFPs are commonly attracted to their typological opposites, TJ types (i.e., INTJs, ENTJs, ESTJs, ISTJs), who exhibit a measure of consistency and steadfastness that INFPs may feel they are personally lacking.
INFP Compatibility with Other Personality Types
As we’ve seen, not all INFPs are looking for the same thing in a partner. Consequently, the personality type they pair with will depend on what they are consciously or unconsciously seeking.
In my experience, male INFPs, as well as more artistic or unconventional INFP females, strongly prefer to partner with other N types. Moreover, since both NFPs and NTJs use the Fi-Te function pair, INFPs often enjoy easy rapport with these types. Some may find themselves powerfully drawn to the strength and confidence of ETJs, although this pairing might be viewed as a mutual crutching of the inferior function (i.e., INFPs crutching ETJs’ Fi and ETJs’ crutching INFPs’ Te). Therefore, for long-term personal growth and relational satisfaction, INFPs may be better off with INTJs, ENFPs, or perhaps even another INFP.
Less artsy or more conventional INFPs may have different criteria for what they seek in a partner. As mentioned above, they may look for a mate who is consistent, reliable, and has the makings of a good potential parent or provider. Of course, such characteristics could be found in individuals of nearly any personality type. Therefore, such INFPs may be less particular about their partner’s type.
Potential Challenges in INFP Relationships
In my post, Relationship Challenges for IP Types, I discuss some of the challenges IPs may face with regard to communication in relationships. Like other IP types, INFPs are prone to conflate relational harmony with relational health. Their preference for outer harmony (consider, for instance, the Enneagram Nine “Peacemaker”), as well as the inferior nature of their extraverted Judging function (Te), can make it difficult for INFPs to readily express their concerns and grievances. INFPs must therefore be wary of the relational dangers of bottling their grievances or resentments.
Another potential challenge for INFPs is balancing their relationship with the pursuit of their passion. Some INFPs bounce from job to job, or interest to interest, failing to land anywhere for very long. This lack of consistent direction can obviously be hard on their relationships, since the idea of “settling down” may seem irrelevant until they discover their passion or place in the world.
INFPs’ inferior function, Extraverted Thinking (Te), may also play a negative role in their relationships. In the grip of Te, INFPs can become uncharacteristically rigid, inflexible, nitpicky, or obsessed with things like household organization, doing things “by the book,” or “being responsible.” While this mindset may come and go rather innocuously for INFPs who live alone, it can be hard on their relationships if they take it out on their partners, such as lecturing them about being responsible or leaving them lengthy “to do” lists.
As is true for all introverts, INFPs are wise to look out for their personal well-being, including carving out adequate time for themselves. Doing so will not only make them healthier and happier as individuals, but also better partners in their relationships.