Across the United States right now, cities and, in some cases, entire states are locking down and issuing "Shelter-in-place" orders to its citizens. For some, they have voluntarily been doing this for many weeks.
A quick search at trending topics on your favorite social media platform will produce all kinds of articles. Some about working from home, creating the perfect working environments, how to keep your kids busy, how to do school at home, and many more. But I haven't seen anyone address the topic of what I like to call forced cohabitation.
Put plainly; it's when two or more people who don't usually spend time together and are now spending that time together. This could be two spouses having to share a home office or kitchen table to accomplish their work. Maybe it's siblings who typically spend their days at different schools or in separate classrooms. Or it is the empty nester's whose kids have gone off to college and have suddenly found themselves with a full house again. Maybe they even brought significant others or friends with them!
The point is a lot of people, myself included, are now spending additional hours with those we love. And it might not be going as rainbows and puppy dogs as one or both of you imagined.
So what can you do? How do you cope with this person or persons whom you care for but can't seem to keep the joy running all those extra hours? Which could then lead to possible stress later in the day when you don't have an escape.
Recognizing how you process things can help to mitigate a lot of misunderstandings during this time.
Some of us are asked a question and immediately spout off an answer or begin a dialog around the question. It's as if our brain is sending signals directly to our mouths, and our thoughts come straight out as we are processing the query.
Others will be asked the same question and look back at the person asking the question with a blank stare or thousand-yard stare. Leaving the person asking the question to wonder if we've gone into a comma, or we are ignoring them, or just plain catatonic.
The person who immediately (or very quickly begins talking) is an External Processor. In contrast, the person who keeps quiet for a bit of time before talking is an Internal Processor. How do you cope if your spouse or significant other is the opposite or even the same as you?
First off, you have to realize that this is core to who you are. You can't change it. You can't force yourself to be the opposite of who you are for an extended period.
The most significant win either processing type can do is set expectations appropriately. For the external processor, it might be saying something like, "Ok, let me talk this out with you a bit before." While the internal processor should quickly let the other person know they need to "think it over" and give them an idea of how much time they need.
Well, you could share with them this article, or you could pay attention to them and figure out which group they fall into. Trust me paying attention to your significant other will go a lot further then forwarding this article!
Take time to watch them as they work and see how they attack problems. An external processor will be talking to you about their day and struggles as they happen. While an internal processor will only give you the "really big stuff" typically after it has passed, and they have processed it. An external processor will usually give you an answer quickly and then continue to dialog it out. Meanwhile, the internal processor will be giving you the blank stare we mentioned above, or you'll have to pull information out of them.
Once you figure out how they process things, start to use it to benefit them. If they are external processors set them up for success by being curious about their day, their moods, etc. If they are internal processors off support and reassurance by giving them time to think and letting them know you are around, "if they need you."
For external processors, you can say things like. "So, tell me about your day so far." Or even inquire about their mood with statements like "Wow, you seem pretty down/upbeat after that last call. What happened?"
For internal processors, they are going to spend most of the time "dealing with it," and they won't always come to you. Their reasoning why could be one of a million. It could include things like not wanting to bore you, feeling like you don't have enough context or subject knowledge to participate in a conversation, and more. For these being a place they can go to see peace, or find support is fantastic. In fact, trying to use those words, peace, and support with an internal processor will be like unlocking a key to their soul.
Remember, if you or your spouse are the same or opposites when it comes to processing things, take the time to recognize your styles. This will go a long way in making this time a lot more manageable.
If you want to learn more about your processing style or about temperaments in general, drop me a comment here or email me at [email protected].