External vs. Internal Processor

When you understand how you and your partner process information, you're able to yield to that processing style and avoid blow out fights, have better communication, and make your partner feel more heard and seen.

Updated December 29, 2023

One of our favorite guilty-pleasure shows is Married at First Sight. As a couple who loves helping others prepare for marriage, the concept of two strangers getting paired and married at first sight is kind of fascinating. After the wedding, they spend the next 8 weeks trying to make the marriage work and getting immediately thrown into conflict, communication, intimacy, and more.

Because the experts on the show tend to pair couples who they believe to be compatible, the couples are usually fairly opposite in their personality styles.

At the end of the show, most couples realize they didn't handle conflict well. 9 times out of 10, it's because one of the partners is an internal processor and the other is an external processor.

When you understand how you and your partner process information, you're able to yield to that processing style and avoid blow out fights, have better communication, and make your partner feel more heard and seen.

How to tell if you're an internal processor

Internal processing means you're more likely to turn inward, into your own mind and emotions, rather than outward to the people in your life (clarityonfire.com). You tend to internalize conflict and need time to process your emotions, thoughts, and feelings.

Signs you might be an internal processor:

  • You tend to listen more than you talk
  • You've been called quiet or shy
  • When you're stressed out, you journal or meditate instead of calling a friend
  • You enjoy alone time when making a big decision
  • You sometimes struggle to think on your feet or put your thoughts into clear statements during a heated conversation
  • You shut down or turn inward when emotions of a conversation run high
  • You take your time making decisions

How to tell if you're an external processor

On the other hand, external processors talk things out when they need to understand their feelings, resolve conflict, or make big decisions.

When you try to organize your thoughts in your mind, it feels like one big jumble; however, when you can talk it out, everything tends to get much clearer (clarityonfire.com).

Signs you might be an external processor:

  • You tend to talk more than you listen
  • You'd rather talk something out right away than put it off until later
  • Thoughts, feelings, and emotions can get jumbled up inside your head until you're able to get them out
  • People around you typically know what you're thinking and how you feel
  • Your emotions can get the best of you during a conflict or heated conversation
  • You make decisions quickly

Different combinations in marriage

There are three main combinations of internal and external processors in marriage:

  1. External + External. These types of processors can have huge fights because you're both processing feelings and emotions in real-time. You tend to be a very decisive couple and may be able to resolve minor disagreements quickly.
  2. Internal + Internal. These types of processors may have little to no resolution to conflict OR conflicts can last for a while because it takes time for both of you to process feelings and emotions. You may make decisions slowly, but this also means you avoid mistakes because you take your time.
  3. External + Internal. This is a common combination. If left unchecked, the external processor can dominate conflict and communication as they talk it out in real-time but the internal processor withdraws. However, the combination can be super beneficial because the external processor makes quick decisions and the internal processor makes sure the big decisions are in the best interest of the couple.
A quick note about External + Internal: This our combination. Kyler is an external processor while Britt is an internal processor. We typically recommend couples who have this combo yield to the internal processor. It may be frustrating for the external processor to delay the conversation or need some extra patience, but when the internal processor is ready to have a tough conversation, it levels the playing field for a "fair fight" and helps both of you come to the table ready to talk.

Rules for Healthy Communication

Whether you're an internal or external processor, there are some general rules for healthy communication we recommend to all couples. You can find more in our online premarital course, but here's a quick summary:

  1. Get face-to-face
  2. Say "I" more than "you"
  3. Listen first
  4. Apologize often
  5. Time & context matter

Apologizing Often

This is a big key to communication. We won't go super in depth in this article, but you can read more here or you can watch the sample module on apology languages that's a part of our premarital course (see below).

So, what now?

Super simple homework: learn your processing style and tell your partner! It should be pretty simple, but knowing this info will help you navigate conflict and communication much more effectively.

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