Internal Vs. External Processing Styles

Season 1 Episode 1 of Better Relationships After Baby Podcast

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Foundations: Internal Vs. External processors Better Relationships After Baby

In todays episode, we dig into processing styles and how the impact your relationship after a baby. I'll tell you about internal processors, external processors, and how to navigate conversations if you and your partner are different. Plus, I give you my top tip to help increase teamwork in your communicate and decrease fights and resentment.  Get the show notes here: Explore coaching with me: Sponsors:  Good Clean Love Love Lingual — Send in a voice message: Support this podcast:

Show Notes and Helpful Links:

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TLDR Podcast Notes

  • Most people lean towards more of an internal processor (someone who needs to think through things before providing a response) or an external processor (someone who needs to talk it out to refine their thoughts).
  • When in a relationship with someone who has a different processing style, you may struggle to have both of your processing needs met
  • Different processing styles is a root cause of many arguments and conversations gone rogue for couples, especially new parents
  • There are ways (as mentioned in the episode) to help bridge the disconnect and have stronger communication

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Transcription of this episode:

Today, we are laying some foundations by getting into one of the concepts, I find it changes the game of communication with a lot of my couples. Today, we are talking about internal and external processing styles.
What does it mean to be an internal processor?
What does it mean to be an external processor?
And how did these dynamics play out in our relationship?

I’m Chelsea Skaggs of the WTF trimester and we are going to use today’s skill to have better relationships after baby. So if this is something you have already worked on, or already thought about, stick around, because I’m sure there’s going to be something new, that helps you to tweak even more, and to have even better success with your communication with your partner. And if you’ve never heard these terms, internal and external processor, well, you’re in for a treat. And this is going to blow your mind as you consider a recent argument pattern you’ve been in a time when maybe you felt resentful towards your partner or a decision that you are just struggling to make together.

What is an Internal or External Processor?

So let’s cut to the chase here. These are very generalized terms, right? Like, obviously, there are not just two camps that people live in all the time when it comes to taking it and processing information. So don’t ask me like, hey, Chels, I don’t exactly fit in one of these. I don’t want you to exactly fit into one of these. But I’m giving two generalized buckets here as a way for you to see yourself to see your partner and to see how you work together.

So an internal processor, this is the person who takes in information, and they might sit on it for a while. They want to refine their thoughts, they want to make sure that what they say is what they mean. An internal processor is the person who is going to think through a million things in their head. But when they say 10 or 20 of those things, you know that it’s purposeful, and you know that it’s potent.

On the other hand, my external processors, you are the ones who want to get it out of your head and get it off of your chest and then make sense of it. I am you. You’re the person who maybe says 1000 things. But in reality, you only need 10 of them. It’s just that getting it out there outside of yourself helps you to make sense of it, and then figure out how to move forward. I’m gonna pick on you for a little bit no matter which camp you’re in.

So my internal processors, let’s talk about things that are really strong when it comes to communication with you. And some things that can make it difficult for your partner and I’m not gonna leave you hanging, I will give you a tip to increase the ways and times that you and your partner are able to really be cohesive work together and respect each other’s style. So internal processor, what is great about you, is that you come to the table prepared. No one has to guess through if you’re saying what you mean when you have had time to process and think through the conversation or discussion point. So you are bringing that to the table. It helps for the actual conversation to be more concise, more to the point, less guessing and your words are potent.

Now the frustrating thing about you sometimes is that you can walk away from a conversation in order to have time to gather your thoughts and you may leave your partner hanging. Your partner may feel deserted they may feel like you are leaving them to finish the conversation or make a decision on their own. They may feel like you aren’t giving them what they need to be able to relax and move on from the conversation.

My external processors, let’s talk about your strengths and where you can be hella frustrating to your partner. So you have the strength of sticking with the conversation, you’re there, there’s some back and forth, you are looking at things from all different angles, you’re giving the people in the conversation, these different points of view. And that can be really helpful. However, it can be frustrating to be in a conversation or an argument with you, because you might leave your your partner in a place where they are guessing. Okay, did she really mean that is that what she means? Oh, my gosh, but then she just said this. And it can sometimes feel a little bit like a roller coaster ride, trying to reach a consensus or a conclusion with you.

So the good news and the bad news is that both of these styles in their generalized camps can be super helpful. And both of them can be super annoying. Let’s just go ahead and normalize that. Your annoying is not any less annoying than your partner’s annoying and there’s no annoying competitions here. There’s no right or wrong. There’s no best or least annoying processing style. There is, however, different ways that we approach conversations, discussions, arguments and decisions. And being aware of this helps us to work together as a team, by knowing our strengths, knowing what we need, having the space to advocate for what we need, and then being able to work together as two different separate humans, who both bring something to the table.

Okay, so here’s where I want you to take some copious notes, and it’s going to be short. If you are an internal processor, you want to step away from the conversation. You don’t want to be nagged. You don’t want your partner to be like, are you ready yet? Did you figure that out? Did you think about that was that enough time because that is just going to make you lose your effing mind. And you’re going to become annoyed. And you’re probably then going to withdrawal from the conversations. In order to avoid that. Here’s what I want to offer you when you need to step away.

And partners, it’s really important that we honor this need, but internal process or when you need to step away, you need to step away in a way in a mode, that gives your partner the reassurance that you are not leaving them in the conversation, but that you have the intent, and it is scheduled for you to return to the conversation. So a compromise might be I need to step away from this conversation for 30 minutes, but I’m going to set a timer for 30 minutes, and then I’m going to come back with my more refined thoughts. Or maybe it is, I’m not able to reach a decision right now. I feel like there are some things I haven’t thought about, can we make that decision at our meeting on Sunday night? Or can we put some time in the calendar Friday after work to revisit this conversation? Okay, so what this does is it respects your need to have space to process information and come up with your response. But it also does not leave your partner especially if they’re an external processor. It does not leave them hanging, feeling like they cannot move on with their life until you’re ready to come back to the conversation.

So internal processors, your homework, your job, what I want you to be mindful of is respecting your need to step away from the conversation to internally process, but doing so in a way that honors your partner’s desire and need to reach a conclusion. And to know that that is scheduled that that is prepared for you to come back and reach that conclusion.

My external processors, here’s where this can be frustrating. Your partner may feel like you are pushing them like you are not respecting them, like you’re not giving them the space they need. And one of two things might happen. One, they’re going to just agree with you and go with what you’ve said, and then resent the fact that their voice wasn’t able to be represented and heard in the conclusion of a conversation or an argument or a decision being made. Or you might push your partner to the point where they just blow up and they seem like a total a hole and you’re shocked by it. Because they feel as though Oh, they have not been respected. So external processors, you deserve the space and the right to externally process. Okay, I am you, I feel you. However, you cannot run all over other people in order to do this. And we have to be mindful of respecting someone else’s style and needs. So for my external processors, a couple of tips for you. The first one is that I want you to ask your partner for permission, or just, you know, for the safety to externally process and give them the heads up, that you are externally processing. And you do not lead them to fix or take to heart everything that comes out of your mouth right now, you will then let them know when you feel more solid and concise in what you want to say. And then that is the time for them to take it a little more personally or emotionally, and really dig into what you have shared. So my external processors, this might sound something like this, Hey, baby, I need to externally process right now, I don’t want you to take everything I say to heart, I’m trying to get it off my chest so that I can figure out what I really want to say.

And the other thing, the other tip that I have for you external processor is to use a different outlet. When possible. I love using the voice memo on my iPhone, I just pull it up and you guys, I probably have over 100 voice memos that I may or may not ever listen to again. But it was a place for me to put my thoughts, it was a place for me to externally process sometimes I literally just go for a drive, and I talk to myself in the car, or I might journal or maybe sometimes it’s a friend or a sister who is able to just listen and not really worry too much about what you’re saying in the processing mode. But it’s also very fair to not expect our partners to always be the full place where we input our processing, until we figure out what we mean.

So this gives us again, these two generalized ideas of an internal and an external processor. And my hope is that this helps you to identify what you veer towards. The reality is that you probably have some of both of these camps inside of you. And perhaps they come out at different times, or they’re more prominent in different times. But there is definitely a way that most people lean. And we want to be able to understand that about ourselves so that we can advocate for ourselves. And we can also make sure their actions are respectful of those around us. And we want to be able to understand that about our partner, so that we can both respect what their needs are. And we can adapt our expectations of the experience around what we know to be true about them. The goal here is for us to have ways where our conversations, our decisions, and even our disagreements, become more respectful, and become a place where both people are able to show up uniquely as they are without feeling like they have to tiptoe around their partner, I want you to be able to have a strong voice. I also want you to be able to have strong listening ears and compassion and understanding for your partner. And so by recognizing where we may do things the same, or we may do them very differently. This gives us the opportunity to instill more teamwork and respect into our communication.

I’m sure that for some of you, your brains are exploding right now as you think about a recent conversation or argument or decision that you have been in. And as you think through this, I share with you that this is so fun for me to help you and to help my clients really pinpoint in their own relationship because this was such a game changer for me in my personal relationship with Mike. I’m the external processor. He’s the internal processor and you guys we are like the general lies stereotypes when it comes to how we approach a situation how we process information and what it means for us to continue and reach a resolution. And this was true for us prior to having kids.

However, after having kids there is less time left less brain space, less sleep sometimes just less to work with. And this issue felt like it just, it became so much a part of what was happening for us that we had to revisit it. And we had to have these conversations again, and we had to get really clear. So like I said, I’m the external processor, Mike is the internal processor. And there were times I just felt like, he wasn’t listening to me. He wasn’t hearing me. Or, even better yet, it just felt like you didn’t care about these situations about our home and our family and our kids and the things that had to happen. And so the story I told myself in my head was that he didn’t care. He didn’t care as much as I cared. And damn it, I had to shoulder the whole load of caring. And if you know my husband, you know that that is not true. It is not that he is and and caring person. It says he is a not an urgent person. And I mean this in every possible way, he does not make rash decisions, he does not say 100 things just to get them off his chest without care for what the impact might be on those around him. That’s something I’m working on. He wants to think through situations. And it’s not because he doesn’t care. It’s because he cares so much that he wants to say and do and believe and root our values into the right thing.

So this was a lot of arguments, this was a lot of Mike, finally taking a drive to get to get away and me like stewing you guys, I would like pace back and forth in the kitchen and just stew over it and wonder why he wasn’t carrying and tell myself that I couldn’t even do anything else I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t plan for my next day, I couldn’t pack a bag, I couldn’t even exist until he came back. And we had a resolution because I was pinning that on him because he was walking away or because he was taking a break from the conversation. I couldn’t do all these things. And the reality is that that was me. That was my anxiety. That was the story I was choosing to tell myself, I had the capability to do all these other things. I didn’t have to stay in that place and feel stuck until he came back 99% of the decisions we make are not urgent or life altering forever. And so after a few times of this ad, oh no, I lost count. But after a few times of this after our first baby, we really knew we had to figure this out.

Again, we had to figure out where we were not connecting where we were not communicating well, and how we could be a better team. And this took exactly these things that I share with you guys. He needs time to process and I had to learn to respect that and not hate that about him, I had to learn that I get the best version of him when he was able to gather his thoughts and bring his best to the table. And so I asked him to give me a timeline, give me a set time when he would come back and revisit the conversation. Meaning I could go on about my life knowing there was a basket a bucket a place where this conversation was set down and had the intention of being picked back up. And on the contrary, Mike, who took things very personally at first had to give me some of this face and respect to get things off my chest without having to explain them or without defending himself or any of that.

And I had to be able to externally process now this does not mean be a bitch. This does not mean you hurl insults and just spew hate, okay, this is still a place where boundaries may have to be set if your external processing is a little on the jaded side. But what he learned to do was to give me that space to process to let me know if he couldn’t hold that space for me. And that’s not frequently but every now and then he tells me that that’s not where he can hold space and I go use a voice memo or whatever. Then he had to know that I don’t say every I don’t mean everything that I say at first, and it was going to require some refining before it was the actual content, thoughts and opinions that we would work with. And so for him, I gave him the warning I needed to externally process please don’t take this personally, these are things I’m trying to get off my chest. And this is constant refinement.

So I don’t care if you have been talking about this for 20 years, or 10 years, or five years or two years, or you’re hearing this for the first time, this is constant, constant refinement, as we work to be a team and respect our partners. But I wanted to give you a little insight of what that was like for us. And normalize that, yes, these are things we come up upon as we enter our relationship, or marriage or whatever that is for you. But these things can be so escalated when a baby comes into the picture for a number of reasons. But less time, less sleep, less energy, and more decisions to make are some pretty big ones. And over the last five years, Mike and I have really dug into this, and this is how it has played out for us. And that doesn’t mean that it’s still perfect every single time. But it means that we have built more and more tools, by getting to know ourselves and our tendencies, by getting to know our partners and their tendencies. And by respecting those and adjusting our expectations, so that we could have a team work kind of communication.

Now, this is something that is, you know, just blowing your mind, and you’re seeing all the ways that this could create some change for you, then let’s continue the conversation specifically about internal and external processing. And I would be more than happy to share how this small tweak could lead to even more change and growth in your communication. Okay, you guys, you have permission to set new boundaries, you have permission to have new patterns and tendencies you have permission to let go of old versions of yourself and your partner. And also you have the responsibility to do that in a respectful way towards your partner to respect their boundaries and expectations and to really lean into being a great teammate and partner as you navigate relationships after baby and we make them better.

If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode, I want to invite you to explore coaching with me. I help my clients identify where they are, where they want to be and what is standing in their way. And then we get to work changing mindsets, altering patterns and developing the communication skills, the action points and personal competence you need to live the life that you want to be living as you deserve to be living the fullest version of yourself for your own experience and for your family. I offer a free 15 minute exploration call where we just chat about where you are where you want to be and whether coaching is the route to get there. You can schedule that free call at

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Published by Chelsea Skaggs: Coach

Chelsea is the queen of taboo topics and new-mom life. Postpartum Together (Blog & Groups) and The WTF Trimester (Relationships and coaching) are your go-to places for life after baby. We focus on communication, connection, and confidence. As a life coach for moms and couples, Chelsea helps you have your strongest relationship with yourself and with your partner, even after baby.

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