We sat at the table for the gazillionth time. I am the more “relational” one, the one who could strike up a conversation with just about anyone. He is the one who gets tired if he has too many conversations in one day! I could talk about a subject until the cows come home. I like to hit every angle of every angle asking question upon question. I want to know the why behind the why for my personal health and for the health of all others. Some might call this intense. To me, it’s normal. He, well, let’s just say there is an inordinate difference between our word situation. He usually uses the least amount of words possible in just about every situation. He is the classic internal processor. I am the classic external processor.
It’s like we are trying to communicate but we are on two different frequencies. He is on AM and I am on FM. How do we come together to hear and understand each other?
I like to talk it out. I once sat in a Panera with two friends at the same table for over 7 hours talking. And we could have stayed longer! To him this is reminiscent of a nightmare. After 24 years of marriage, sometimes it is hard to remember those days when we couldn’t get enough of each other. We wanted to spend all of our time together! There weren’t enough right words in the English language to explain our love for each other. He was the best! And I was the best to him! Something happened to this love fest as the months turned into decades. Just the other night, I had to leave the room he was in to get “a break” from him because I was annoyed so badly! Oh, the ups and downs of a long term, committed relationship.
So, who are you? An external processor, one who needs to verbally talk through an issue or a problem to get to a better place or an internal processor, one who does most of your thinking through issues in your mind? Can you interact act with a situation with words immediately or do you need some time in thought and reflection to formulate your perspective and ideas?
Recently, while on the roller coaster of staying connected and fighting for our relationship, I had a light bulb moment. I couldn’t tell you if it was a first time revelation or just a revamped view of the same thing we have had to learn over and over again. But we had some breakthrough again. I wonder if a good marriage that stands the test of time really is just two people willing to learn the same lessons over and over in new ways, season after season?
At the table, I could feel hopelessness threaten.
I don’t know how we will navigate this. He is so different from me. How many times do we need to have a similar conversation? He will never understand what I am going through. It seems like it is so hard for him to open up. Will we be able to move through this difficulty staying in tact, stronger and not weaker?
Staying is what we’ve committed to for all the days we have on this earth. This underlying commitment is the foundation from which we jump into the sometimes hard work of connecting, being emotionally intimate.
I, as the external processor, had to stop talking and give him some moments. I asked questions and left room for him to think and respond. My default mode is to snap back at him in some way, sometimes stomping on his authentic perspective and feelings. I may have grinned through my reactions and thoughts a few times, trying not to say anything instead of spewing my immediate thoughts. His default mode is to be more quiet and withdrawal. I don’t know exactly why and how it happened that we made space for each other in our own unique wiring that day. But finally, he shared a few struggles with me. Finally, I wasn’t the only one with “problems.” For an internal processor, they know their struggles but they often do not say anything out loud. They don’t “need” to verbally talk out their issues. They process most things internally. But if they are in a relationship of any significance with an external processor, saying things out loud is vitally important to connect with this person. It made all the difference for me! I was not alone. Even though our experiences were not exactly the same we connected through our humanness. We connected on a deeper level than the day-to-day activities and schedules with work, ministry, the house and the kids.
Creating space in the middle between two people for connection requires work on both sides. We pull back from our “normal” modes and new threads are tied, pulling us together instead of apart.
Instead of anger having its way, love takes root. We are quick to listen. If you are an internal processor being quick to listen to someone you love means actually talking, saying something to allow the other to know you more deeply. But, listen, the talking very likely should not be the step-by-step process of how to fix the other person’s problem. The talking required here is sharing of your own issues and struggles. This includes God, as well. God wants to hear your heart, your cries, and your celebrations. And, of course, for us external processors, we need to hold our words at times and truly listen, making space for someone to speak, whether it is our husband or God himself just waiting for us to take a breath and hear, truly hear the other’s heart and soul.
This pulling back from our go-to mode does not negate the beauty of our natural wiring. We bring life to others through who we are. The light bulb here is when we need to step out of the default in order connect with someone who is very different from us. If we can do this, we make room for the other. And it is a very, good thing.