When Spouses Process Information Differently

Process information differently - AdobeStock_126615982 copyDo you and your spouse process information on emotional issues differently? Does it ever happen to you that one of you goes forth to bring up a conflicting issue and the other tries to withdraw? That’s not as unusual of a situation as you might think. It sure has happened to us. For differing reasons I’m sometimes the one who needs to take a “time out” for a while. But more often it’s Steve that asks for a “time out” in the middle of our conflict.

A big part of the reason is because we process information that is emotional in nature differently.

Like Us, Do You Process Information Differently?

We recently came across a Focus on the Family Magazine interview with singer Jeremy Camp and his wife Adrienne that experientially highlighted this matter. It’s something that happened to us, as well. Adrienne talked about specific issues they had to work through:

“’During times of conflict, Jeremy would want to withdraw to process things we had talked about.’ Initially she didn’t understand his need to go for a walk or take a drive to think. His reaction felt like rejection to her, especially after she had poured out her heart to him and made herself vulnerable. ‘Our arguments would then escalate because I wouldn’t want him to go, and I wanted to sort through our difficulties then and there. We learned that we deal with things differently.” (Marianne Hering, from the article, “Love Notes”)

And that’s what we found. Steve needs some time to work through complicated issues. I want to plow through and get it all worked out right away. But I’ve learned that this doesn’t work well for us. I need to give Steve the grace to work through the issue if he asks for it. As long as we agree upon a time to “come back to reason together” it now works for us. But it has taken us a while to get to that place to marry our different styles of working through our different conflict styles.

Marrying How We Process Information

Author and researcher Shaunti Feldhahn wrote,

“According to both brain science and surveys I did the book, For Women Only: What You Need to Know About the Inner Lives of Men about the inner lives of men, men will usually want and need more time than women to process unwanted feelings. They will often need to think things through overnight. First, so he actually knows what he feels. And the second, it’s so he doesn’t let hurtful things fly in the heat of the moment.

“By contrast, it’s far more likely that the wife will be the one who wants to keep talking, no matter how late. She needs to work through unwanted feelings and come to the reassurance that ‘’We’re okay’ before she can let it go enough to sleep.”

“As one husband summarized, ‘I tend to go to bed with a clearer mind than she does because I know that eventually we’ll be okay and in the morning we’ll reconnect just fine because we got a good night’s sleep. That is typical for men. But women worry about it and process it while they lie there in bed. They want a clear mind, but they can’t until they have resolution.’

“Ultimately, in Yes! couples, both spouses were willing to hang in there and pursue something before bed or to wait until the morning, if doing either mattered a great deal to their spouse. The key ingredient was trying—if possible—to reach what one husband called ‘relational peace.’

Investing More

“One happy husband told me, ‘Once my brain has gone fuzzy, I’ll still try to invest a little more since she wants to get it resolved, and on her part she’ll understand we may not be able to. But we’ll at least recognize where we are and affirm that things will be okay.’

“His wife agreed. ‘One of the things we’re trying to work on is to say we can’t fix all this right now,’ She said. ‘But we can reassure each other before we go to bed that we are committed. Knowing we’ll be okay is what is important.’” (From the book, The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages: The Little Things That Make a Big Difference)

Applying Important Secrets

The couples that Shaunti highlight have learned and then apply some important secrets to make their marriages successful. It’s important to work with each other on this area of marriage. It will involve give and take.

Keep in mind that some people aren’t able to process information clearly when they’re too tired. It’s late at night, or they’re exhausted for other reasons, and their thinking processes just aren’t working as clearly. That’s understandable; most of us can relate to that type of situation.

That’s one of the problems we ran into in the past. But we would still plow forth, which was really unwise. We got into some horrible fights, as a result. If we had just given each other more grace and space to work things through in a way that worked for both of us, we would have come to agreeable solutions in less toxic ways! But we have since learned (the hard way) and now we’re doing better. We hope you will learn from our mistakes, and the mistakes of others.

So here’s a simple solution to this matter:

“Because listening requires your full attention and adequate energy, tell your spouse that you’re too tired to do justice to what he/she wants to say to you. Listening is hard work and requires heavy concentration along with committed energy.

“If you’re too tired or distracted at the moment your spouse wants to talk then SAY so [in a polite, respectful manner]. No one, except God, can always be on call for listening. The important thing is that you know how to listen and are committed to using your skills in the relationship.

“Tell your spouse that you want to hear him (or her), but at a later time. Then schedule a specific time when you’ll be available.” (Dr. Dallas and Nancy Demmitt, from their book, Can You Hear Me Now?)

If you’re “rarely, or never, available to listen” then there is a problem. It’s important that you show your spouse that he or she is your priority. Even if you don’t want to get into any type of conflict, as a marriage partner it’s important to make it a priority to be available to your spouse to work through the conflicting situation as soon as it is possible.


Here’s another insight into the situation when you and your spouse process information differently:

“There are times in marriage when we just can’t face a confrontation. Too much other bad stuff has happened that day; or we are feeling stripped of all our diplomatic powers; or we are feeling too fragile for criticism. It’s OK in such cases to say, ‘I can’t talk about this now. I’m too angry/hurt/distracted. Let’s talk after dinner/after I get back from my run/tomorrow morning.’

“You have an obligation to hear about problems, but you have the right to hear them on your own terms. If the timing is off, it’s best to admit that you can’t listen very well right now, but that you’d like to talk at a later time. If you use this as an avoidance strategy, your partner will rightly sense it and call you on it. But if you are judicious and honest in your response, your spouse may honor your needs because he [she] sees that you really want to resolve the problem, not just argue about it.” (Toni Sciarra Poynter, from “From This Day Forward: Inspirations for Couples”)


If you’re the spouse who wants to plow through on resolving conflict, try to give your spouse the space he or she needs. Just because your mind is sharp, be kind. Pull back to the degree that it is reasonable. That’s what we have learned. (I explain a bit about it in the “Right Fighting” link below.) Here’s a little insight into something that Toni Sciarra Poynter shares:

“My husband and I solve problems very differently. I talk and talk, groping through the issues, turning over possible solutions like pages in a book. Then, finally, with all the options clamoring in my head, I listen to my gut and take action. My husband ponders. His solution, when it comes, seems cut from whole cloth: rational, orderly, without the frayed edges I find so useful.

“Each of you needs to respect the other’s problem-solving process, even though you may never understand it. Your different methods add new colors to the mutual mix. Let go of trying to get your partner to think just like you. This is only about making you feel more comfortable, not about solving the problem at hand.” (From the book, “From This Day Forward: Inspirations for Couples”)

That’s great advice! We hope you will find a way to follow it if you and your spouse process information differently. When you said, “I do” at the altar to marry each other, you also vowed to work together to marry your ways of approaching life together. This includes the ways in which you process information. You are supposed to turn the “I do” into “we do.”

Cindy and Steve Wright


Here are a few articles that could give you even more insights in handling how you and your spouse process information differently:



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