Paul Cockayne – 07791 970406 – email@example.com
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Opposites attract, they say, and there’s a lot of truth in that – if we are a good listener, we are likely to get on with people who do more talking, and vice versa. Two talkers will tend to find themselves in competition with each other, both feeling that they can’t get a word in edgeways. Two listeners will find themselves sitting in silence – they may even find each other boring.
Some people tend to think out loud. Thoughts that are whirring round in their head, problems they are facing, or strong emotions, will tend to be expressed verbally, and not necessarily in a rounded or totally coherent way. The process of talking, of expressing thoughts and feelings verbally is a helpful one to these people.
On the other hand, other people tend to process their thoughts and feelings internally. So when things are going on for them, they will tend to withdraw, and be very quiet for a period. When they do get around to speaking, it is likely to be solutions that they talk about, or well-formulated questions or ideas.
These differences can jar. The person who externalises their thoughts may worry about how quiet their partner is. What is going on in their head? Why aren’t they sharing it? Are they hiding something? And so they may push their partner with questions, or try to force them to sit down and talk. This will be very hard for the “internaliser” who is still processing their thoughts, and doesn’t yet have anything to say.
Meanwhile, the internaliser, who wants to sit quietly and think things through, finds themselves bombarded with information from their partner – everything about what worries them, what they might or might not do, what their parents think, what the kids said about it, how they feel about it all – everything comes at them. The internaliser often thinks they need to do something with all this information – to sort it out, to put it in compartments, then process it. And so of course they want to withdraw to a quiet place in order to do this – and they may use various tactics to get the space they need; humour, putdowns, anger or even violence.
The internaliser and the externaliser can be very good for each other. They bring different styles to the relationship but this offers challenge in terms of communication, which, if it is not recognised, can cause problems. However, once the pattern is recognised, it becomes possible to do something about it, and as so often with difference, it is about finding a compromise.
Once the externaliser recognises how their style affects their partner, they can adapt. Thinking things through more – maybe writing things down before talking – finding different outlets for their need to verbalise – or telling their partner “I need to vent some thoughts for an hour. I don’t need you to do anything with them, just listen while I talk”. These are all things that might help their partner.
The internaliser can also try to change. Why not express some ideas that are not fully formed? They can make an effort to talk more – ask for time to reflect if they need that, with a promise to talk later – ask their partner what they need, is it solutions, ideas, or just a listening ear?
Setting a time to talk can be useful for both parties. Maybe a fixed time every time, or a time slot when needed. By doing this the externaliser knows that they will get a chance to talk, that their partner won’t shut down or walk away. The internaliser knows that there is a time limit, that after an hour the meeting will end and then they will get a chance to process what has been talked about.
Counselling also can help, first by identifying the pattern, and then by changing it. A counsellor can observe what is happening and help the couple to change by asking the talker to be quiet for a while, and encouraging the listener to speak up.