One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned in our relationship, and Betsy in the process, is that we process information differently. For years I simply did not understand why so many of our seemingly simple conversations seemed filled with tension.
For example, we’d be on a long walk and I’d say “Hey, I think we should write a book about our life and the way it’s changed in the last 10 years.” For me, the thought popped into my head and I immediately wanted to share and discuss. For Betsy, this came completely out of left field and she begins to think about the idea working over the subject in her mind. She pulls back a bit from the discussion to focus on what this could mean and to logically formulate her response to the idea.
Meanwhile, I’m going a mile a minute with the idea and throwing out how we could put it together, potential launch strategies, and why this would be the best book we’ve ever done. I begin to pepper her with questions, questions she’s not thought through. The more I race through the idea, the more aggravated I become when she does not respond or engage. I begin to assume she is not engaging as a partner and she is wondering why I won’t give her time to think about this crazy proposal before demanding a discussion.
The result from this simple interaction, and dozens more before it, was inevitable – aggravation, hurt feelings, less sex. All 3 are not conducive to the life or partnership I wanted.
Something had to change and I just needed to wake up and discover what was going on.
Old Approach Equals Conflict
Initially, I believed Betsy, and everyone else for that matter, were just like me. [Yes, I realize NOW just how silly this sounds, but go with me for a minute.] I thought that she loved to talk about issues on the fly, to work through problems with absolutely no forethought. My assumption was the idea of jumping from a conversation about what’s for dinner to discussing our retirement strategy was normal for us both. I struggled to understand why we would get into arguments over seemingly small issues when I was simply looking to bounce ideas back and forth and get the brain juices flowing.
A couple years ago, we were arguing about who knows what, and the same pattern emerged. I brought up a random idea and wanted to talk about it and Betsy felt cornered and ill-prepared. I pushed the issue and the fight was on. We both took to our corners and were swinging without any real knowledge as to why. It was the natural course but it was time for a change.
That night we sat down and Betsy talked about how challenging it is for her to talk about new ideas “on the fly”. Instead, she wants time to explore and think about the concept, to mull it over alone, and then come back and have a discussion in the future. She revealed that when I surprise her and push to talk about subjects, or even worse push for a decision, she feels ill-prepared and out of sorts. This is what I am sensing as resistance. It is her natural tendency and for years I had not bothered to learn this.
Knowing our different styles and approaches was the most important step to eliminating many of our disagreements:
- Me – The Talker: I want to share everything and talk it out. All conflict is done on the fly with quick, rapid fire points made. I talk through the issue out loud to think through the concept as part of the dialog. I feel best when I can get it all out there in the moment. I am a person that loves to talk through half-formed ideas as it helps me to better understand my emotions on the subject. I like to bring up my concerns in the moment, and by talking through them I work through my own ideas and insights. If I can’t bring up an issue I get anxious and begin to be frustrated that I can’t work through the thoughts running through my mind. The longer it goes on the more restless and frustrated I feel.
- Betsy – The Thinker: to her, my approach is similar to walking through a quiet, peaceful morning and having a dozen car alarms going off next to her. It is jarring and leaves her feeling surprised and unprepared. She wants to hear my side of the issue and understand the issue or point of conflict and then go off to mull it over in her own time and space. She processes information inside her head before she’s prepared to resolve the issue. If I push her I am moving her beyond her comfort zone and can expect a greater degree of conflict since she is no longer comfortable and is more likely to lash out.
I was elated to have this new insight and it has drastically changed how we approach conversations today. While I need to talk things through I must also appreciate that her approach to life is very different. It is this realization and understand that helps to eliminate bitter feelings and is such an easy solution.
New Approach Equals Harmony
I have learned to know how Betsy processes information and it has greatly changed how I approach new issues or potential conflict with her.
I’ve learned, through repeated mistakes and arguments, that I need to give Betsy her space and time to work through issues in our relationship. I cannot just expect her to dive into a discussion with absolutely no preparation or to dive into a big discussion topic and expect to come to a decision. She needs her time to process the concept and mull it over at her own pace.
What a shock – by taking into account how Betsy wants to absorb information instead of just focusing on how I naturally approach subjects I can drastically alter the dynamics of our relationship. I can reduce the stress and friction that may build up quickly when I bring up conversation topics or even potential problems.
When I talk about something that has bothered me I need to communicate this in a way that Betsy knows I’m not attacking her. And then, I need to give her the space to think about it and not force the conversation at that moment.
By allowing me to get the words out there between us I can work through my feelings which is my standard approach. However, then I owe it to her to let her approach the subject in the way which works best for her. Now, when I want to have a deeper discussion I’ll state my opinion and the topic, we can have a brief dialog in order to clarify any questions and ensure I am understood, then we agree to a time to get back together and discuss. It does not need to be more than a day later, and often just a few hours.
By compromising on our approach to conversations we are both able to get what we want from the partnership, while respecting the natural tendencies of the other. This small shift in perspective in how I bring up new ideas or potential issues has had a massive positive affect in how we communicate. It reduces the likelihood of a fight and gives us both the ability to share our thoughts and feelings openly and honestly.
The key is to know your partner’s tendencies and how they best deal with new ideas and information. And the best way to discover this is to sit down and have a conversation about it. But, I will warn you from experience, set up the conversation in advance just in case one (or both) of you is not a fan of surprise discussions.