Navigating Different Communication Styles

Over the past 18 months, I’ve been meeting with a behavioral therapist, as often as once a week. When I started, I had been sitting in a pit of despair after realizing too late what a special and rewarding relationship I had with my husband of nine years. I had turned 40 in 2008 and sort of lost my mind over the next two years. The collateral damage incurred by us and our sweet family post-split still nags at all of us. We are healing, albeit slowly.

Through my therapy I’ve learned that one of the issues “Eric” and I dealt with during our marriage and divorce involves our vastly different communication styles. We are similar in that we’re both passionate, quick-tempered and stubborn. However, I am a moving-toward quick-processing extrovert (MTQPE), and he is a moving-away slow-processing introvert (MASPI). Night and day. Black and white. Scorpio and Taurus.

Defining the styles. Moving-toward means I’m the woman who talks to strangers and wants to save the world even when it’s inconvenient for me. Moving-away Eric hangs in the background and observes the scene before he makes a move. The night we met, I walked up to his adorable self at Little Harry’s Airport Bar in Lewiston, Idaho, and said, “Hi. I’m Cindy. Wanna buy me a drink?”

Eric likes to listen and assess, and he’s good at both. I like to chat, on and on, and recharge when I’m around people. Eric recharges by spending time alone. Quick-processor me can call him on a Monday at 8:00 a.m. and say, “Wanna take the kids to the theme park this Friday? Do ya? Huh? I’ll drive. I’ll buy the tickets. What do you think? Huh?” Slow-processor Eric would probably take a minute to answer: “I don’t know. Let me check and get back to you.”

When you’re in love with someone, these differences seem minor. But after years of mistaken assumptions and misinterpreted silence, they can wear on a person, even destroy an unexamined relationship. And then, when you’re in the middle of a breakup, these differences cause real arguments.

Being aware and strategic. Eric lives in his head much of the time (he’s amazing at self-reflection) but I process my life out loud, through talking. If you are a MASPI, like Eric, I would drive you bonkers. If he has anything on his plate, work issues, personal stuff, bills, he would prefer to slide the theme park to the bottom of the stack until he was ready to tackle it simply to avoid feeling overwhelmed. Meanwhile, I’m doing aerobics, playing paddle ball with one hand and whirling a figdget spinner in the other.

Eric and I have been divorced six long years. In the past ten months, we have been scheduling monthly “conversations” where we talk about the kids, our lives, and manage our different communication styles. One of the most important things I’ve learned relies on the premise that my style is no better than his style. They are simply different. In this post-therapy stage we’re in, Eric and I work hard to treat each other with dignity, and examine and respect the styles.

Being versus foreseeing. Being an MTQPE, I would love to know exactly when I’m going to see and talk to Eric. I recharge when I’m around him. But, when a moving-toward person moves too quickly or too often, a moving-away person tends to get his energy zapped and needs more space. That is a style, not necessarily a strategy.

Eric is content just being. He doesn’t need to plan every movement of his day or his life. I, on the other hand, want to see into my future. When will we meet again? When we will talk again? Forward, forward, forward. One of the things my therapist helps with is my feeling comfortable in the not knowing. (Eric tries to meet me halfway by communicating more.)

We are less than a year into this process of trying to communicate effectively. We stumble. We piss each other off. We spend hours laughing. It’s an unpredictable way of living. But, I am slowly gaining comfort and working to make him feel safe in my presence. The closer we can come to meeting in the middle, the better off we’ll be.

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8 thoughts on “Navigating Different Communication Styles

  1. I admire you and Eric. I’m envious. I cannot even begin to think about conversing with my ex-husband; not sure I want to spend that much energy. He could push my buttons so easily. And I fell for it every time. The last time we talked it was bad. It will probably stay that way. I think we both are satisfied with not communicating!

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  2. Cindy,
    Your writing still rattles the cage in the dungeon of my heart. I don’t go down there to check on things very often; it’s easier to stay busy upstairs, dealing with the tyranny of the urgent and ignoring the weird noises below.

    Thank you for combining your talent with vulnerability, honesty, courage, and willingness to share. You’ve reminded me that the stuff in my dungeon is really messing me up and I need to find healthier ways to deal with it.

    Blessings on your curly brave head, my friend.

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  3. Most of us humans spend our brief time… (even if we live to be 100, that’s brief when we think of time)…just “going through the motions”…NEVER taking the time to either use a therapist or “self-therapy” helps (books-recordings-articles etc) …and basically NEVER understanding OUR SELVES let alone those we’re in close relationships with…Can’t say that I know a whole lot about this…but learning…hearing your story…the more I learn, the more I am aware of what I did NOT know…So, I continue to keep my eyes & ears open to learning more about “why I am like I am” …and…”HOW to improve…Can’t say that I’m “all that much” but I continue…at the age of 75…to continue as…”a work in process” (smile)

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    1. Hi, Margaret. And yes! Back in the day, when I married Josie’s dad, we had a catholic wedding. We had to go to a three day workshop to learn how to communicate. It didn’t work because he wasn’t compliant. But it’s a great idea! Thank you for the kind words about my writing. I appreciate it very much.

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