Have you ever tried to talk to your partner about something difficult only to leave the conversation totally unsatisfied? Or, have ever wondered if your partner is just emotionally unavailable and simply isn’t capable of communicating? This might be the best relationship advice you could ever receive.
Let me tell you a story…
The time had come. I needed to talk with my husband about some things that had been building up for me. I planned it perfectly to be certain I wouldn’t make him feel attacked. My delivery was AMAZING! I got out everything I wanted to say in a non-defensive way….SUCCESS!
Crickets! Nothing. Absolutely nothing! He just stared at me with a blank look. No words, no expressions, just a stare.
Had he heard me? Was he confused? Was thing on? I had no idea!
This used to INFURIATE me and spin me into an angry spiral.
If thought that if he would just talk to me, we’d be fine! How hard is to communicate with your wife. Why wouldn’t he JUST do this one small thing for me….for our marriage?
And then I realized….
He WAS talking! He WAS listening and was even already problem-solving. And…maybe he wasn’t as emotionally unavailable as I had once thought.
But here’s the kicker…he was doing it all in his head. Everything I wanted to happen was happening, I just couldn’t hear it.
AND THAT’S WHEN IT HIT ME!!!
My husband is an INTERNAL PROCESSOR and I’m an EXTERNAL PROCESSOR. When he’s handed a problem, he goes into his head, lays it all and out, and figures it out. He has his own private conversation and works everything out BEFORE he speaks. And this is how he communicates.
This is so different than how I process things. When I’m handed a problem, I start talking. The more I talk about it, the more the solutions become apparent. I process out loud.
I was trying to get my husband to completely change the way his brain worked in order to make me happy. That would be like trying to get myself to process quietly….silently.
IMPOSSIBLE. AIN’T HAPPENING!
Once I realized that my husband was “on”, and he wasn’t emotionally unavailable, I knew what I needed to do next.
1. Make it comfortable for those words up in his head to make their way out to his mouth.
I used to get SO MAD while waiting for him to communicate, that by the time he was ready to talk, my behaviors (huffing or eye rolling) had already shut him down. There was no point in him trying to talk now.
And here’s the thing-an internal processor’s INNER CRITIC is already telling them they aren’t gonna get it right…that they can’t make you happy anyway, so why try? When you confirm that with your nonverbals, their inner critic says “I told you so” and shuts them down.
2. Be patient
I lean towards an anxious attachment style. That means that waiting for my husband to respond is EXCRUCIATING. But since I know it’s necessary, here’s what I do…I go in my head and count to 10. “1 1000, 2 1000, 3 1000 , …”. This serves several purposes; it slows my heart rate, gives me a power punch of mindfulness, and it gives my husband time to get the information from his head to his mouth. It sends him the message that I value him and want to hear what he has to say.
SIDE NOTE: The more patient I am with my husband, the faster he opens up.
If 10 seconds have passed and my husband STILL has not responded, I check in with him from a place of genuine curiosity. Ask these questions:
• What do you think about what I said?
• Do you need more time?
• Do you have any questions for me?
This concept of internal vs external processing has been a TOTAL game changer for me and clients have told me it’s some of the best relationship advice they’ve ever received. It’s simple but does take practice.
Need help with your relationship?
Knot Counseling offers marriage counseling services to help you learn these relationship skills. Our trained therapists are experts at recognizing the signs of troubled relationships and finding ways for couples to resolve problems together so they can learn how to form loving, fulfilling relationships on their own terms.