The Process of Processing: Give Your Man Some Space

The Process of Processing: Give Your Man Some Space March 27, 2014

Rear view of young man watching televisionDear Shaunti,
I feel like my husband is a total avoider. When we get into an argument, all he wants to do is ignore the situation and escape to the TV room. He doesn’t care that we need to talk it through. What can I do to get him to talk to me?
— Wanting more words

Dear Wanting more words,

Boy, can I feel your pain! In fact, in the research I’ve done with thousands of men and women, I know that most women can feel your pain! Getting everything out on the table and resolved right now makes total sense, right? Right…to everyone, that is, but most men. I’m guessing that it’s not that your husband doesn’t want to communicate, but that he needs to go about it very differently.

If you are like most women, you are a verbal processor and think something through by talking it through. And with lots of connections between the left and right hemispheres of the brain, you can talk and think about many thoughts and feelings at the same time.

But most men (perhaps including yours!) are internal processors. In most cases, it is actively difficult for a guy to think something through by talking it through. His brain is wired to process one thing at a time, going deep within each one, as he tries to figure out what he’s thinking and feeling – and what you are thinking and feeling. Pressing him to talk before he’s had a chance to process all that makes it harder for him to think things through. If lots of emotions are swirling around, he’ll struggle even more. I am guessing that when he “escapes” to the TV room it isn’t really to “ignore” the situation but to get space to process it.

So although you innately feel a need to talk right then, try a different approach and see what happens: at some non-emotional time (in other words, when you aren’t arguing), ask him if he’s the type to need time to process and express your genuine interest in understanding what that is like. Explain your own need, and ask if you two can try an approach that works for both of you. You’ll give him the time he needs (for example, until the next morning), but can he then agree to try to talk about it at that point? Then when you do get into a conflict, take a deep breath and (as hard as it is) don’t press your husband to talk. Wait and see what happens when you come back and talk about it later. Although it may take a few tries to find the timing that works for both of you, I suspect that if you get into that pattern, you will have much better communication in the end.
Do you want Shaunti to share these life-changing truths at your church or event? Inquire about Shaunti speaking, here.

Shaunti Feldhahn is the best-selling author of eye-opening, research-based books about men, women and relationships, including For Women Only, For Men Only, The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages and her newest, The Good News About Marriage. A Harvard-trained social researcher and popular speaker, her findings are regularly featured in media as diverse as The Today Show, Focus on the Family, and the New York Times. Visit www.shaunti.com for more.

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  • Nick Stuart

    1. What does she mean by “talk it through?” If what she’s meant in the past is “I want to keep after you about this until you cave in and do what I want” it’s not surprising her husband wants to get away.
    2. Men learn very quickly that the penalty for not saying anything is so much less painful and extensive than the punishment for saying the wrong thing, which often means “anything that the woman doesn’t want to hear, or anything not said exactly the way the woman wants to hear it.”
    3. If she wants her husband to talk, she should consider these three simple tips:
    a. Let him start a sentence occasionally
    b. If he starts a sentence, let him finish it
    c. Don’t punish him if he doesn’t say exactly what you want to hear, exactly the way you want to hear it.

  • Larry Ebaugh

    I think you’re a very wise woman, Shaunti Feldhahn. I’m 67-years-old, and my wife has passed on now, but I’m very much like the man you’ve described above. God bless . . .

  • Mary Smithson

    I think you need more time to process this.

  • Choirgirl

    How much time? An hour? A week? A day? A month? Most of our issues he’s been “processing” for more than 30 years. He doesn’t want to talk until I make a decision, then it’s endless questions on why I did it that way and not a different way.

  • Choirgirl

    I just want him to talk period. All he wants to do is stare at his computer screen and “process”