Sometimes It's Okay to Walk Away
By Jen Ferguson
“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” - Colossians 4:6, ESV
In the earlier years of our marriage, Craig and I discovered we had two very different ways of processing information. While I’d like to say we came to the conclusion right away that he is an internal processor and I am an external processor and that we made the appropriate accommodations for each other, that would not be true.
In fact, when Craig would say he needed time to think, I would take it as abandonment, as though he didn’t want to talk with me about the subject ever. I had watched my own parents come to a stalemate and then just stew in resentment. Arguing turned to silence and very few things seemed to end in resolution or reconciliation. I was afraid for him to leave a conversation because my fear was if we didn’t resolve it now, it would never get resolved. I had learned to hate silence.
From Craig’s perspective, he would find himself sometimes quickly getting angry about things I said while we were processing through a certain subject. He didn’t understand at the time that just because I said something, didn’t mean I truly believed it or that it was my final conclusion.
For me to get to what I actually think, I have to throw out all possible options so I can get down to the final answer. If I don’t, I get lost in my own head and end up just thinking in circles.
After enough arguments, we began to understand how we process differently and how to accommodate each other so that we could both have some measure of peace as we worked things out.
Craig has learned to listen as I talked and to hold his questions until I finished. He tries to keep himself from formulating solutions in his head and doesn’t assume that just because I am telling him something that I need help. Many times, outwardly processing events helps me process the emotions that go with them and that the retelling keeps resentment, bitterness, and anger from growing. He has also learned not to take my first response or reaction as absolute truth and gives me space to find what I truly believe as I weave through the conversation. When he needs time to process alone, he tells me when he will circle back with me and allows me to keep him accountable to that timeline.
I have learned that when he asks for time to be alone with his thoughts, it’s not because he doesn’t love me, value the conversation, or wants to fight for resolution. It’s because for him to understand what he truly thinks and get clarity, he has let the thoughts roll around in his head and process alone. It’s helpful for him to step away in order to get his emotions under control, and I’ve learned that I actually get my feelings hurt less if I allow him to blow off steam in the privacy of his own space. In the waiting, I’ve learned how to talk to God or, if necessary, go to a trusted friend who will listen objectively and help me fight for my marriage instead of husband-bashing.
There is naturally some give and take in our communication. I can’t always process out loud and he can’t always disappear into a hidey-hole when he wants to be alone with his thoughts. But we learn to ebb and flow with each other, to prioritize whosever’s need is greatest in that moment. And by all means, sometimes it’s still messy and we need to press pause and remember how God made us.
Although having different communication styles has presented some obstacles in our marriage, it has helped us tremendously in our relationships with other people. Understanding how we process differently allows us to have so much more patience and grace with others. And we can use our differences to our advantage, especially as we try to help other couples who are in the midst of their own marital struggles. Be looking for ways that God desires to use your differences to complement each other!
Jen Ferguson is a wife, author, and speaker who is passionate about helping couples thrive in their marriages. She and her husband, Craig, have shared their own hard story in their book, Pure Eyes, Clean Heart: A Couple’s Journey to Freedom from Pornography. Jen is also a mama to two girls and two high-maintenance dogs, which is probably why she runs. A lot. Even in the Texas heat.
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