On Processing & Analyzing

June 7, 2010  |  essays

Here’s the thing.

People have told me—in comments, in emails, sometimes even my friends in person make little comments or raise their eyebrows incredulously—that if my relationship with Kristen needs this much processing, perhaps there is something fundamentally wrong with it, perhaps we just aren’t “meant to be.” This argument usually continues with something like, “My girlfriend and I have been together for x years and we never need as much analyzing as you do,” or, “Real couples don’t need to work this kind of thing out so constantly, I should know, I’m in a relationship and we don’t do that,” et cetera.

Well.

First of all, these comments have discouraged me from posting the analyzing, which I’ve been realizing lately I’ve been a bit nervous to do, precisely because of this occasional feedback. But not posting them publicly doesn’t actually solve this complaint, and isn’t actually a rebuttal to this argument.

And I just flat out don’t agree: I know that I am in a good, solid, beautiful relationship, and it is incredibly important to me. I’m not about to end it, certainly not because a stranger says my relationship is no good, and certainly not because we process (according to someone else’s standards) too much. But, yes, we do tend to talk (and talk and talk) about our inner psychological landscapes, about our feelings and histories, as a way to work things out, both individually and within our relationship.

So I got to thinking about that.

I think some people are just more or less analytical than others. I think perhaps we have some sort of “processing orientation,” that some people want to talk and process and analyze interactions and emotions constantly, and others despise doing so, and would even see that as a sign of an unhealthy relationship.

I don’t think one or the other is any more healthy—I think it’s just the way an individual works, or doesn’t work. I do think it’s important to be able to express our emotions, of course, especially to our partners, especially when there’s something bugging us, be it about our partner, about our relationship, or about our life in general, such that the relationship and our partner can be a bit of a sanctuary for us, but that looks differently for everyone.

Given that we all have a slightly different orientation toward processing and analyzing, then, what is important is not whether or not the analyzing and processing is happening, but to what degree, and whether the two people in the relationship are satisfied with that degree.

Despite our frequent verbal processing and analyzing, Kristen and I still have very different processing styles. She likes to talk quickly and immediately about what is going on, and I tend to let things sit, settle in, and to go over it all in my head or on paper before being able to express it to her. She figures things out as she talks, and I talk only after I’ve figured something out. It’s really hard for me to talk through something that I don’t feel I already know. Sometimes, that is really infuriating for Kristen, or so I’ve gathered, as she wants to talk now now now and I am still off in my own land of my head.

(I’m working on this—both by accepting that that’s the way I tend to work and by attempting to be more communicative when I’m off in my own head, even if it’s just to say, “please, can we talk about this a little bit later, I need a bit of time to think.” And by attempting to talk through things, even if it’s not entirely comfortable of my preference, when it is very important to her, and recognizing that it’s not pressure, it’s just part of how she works.)

It’s not as if it’s a perfect system, this human communication thing. We all bring so much to the table, and no matter how much we unlearn, no matter how much we practice being in a state of absolute Bodhicitta, there is so much in our minds, so many complicated moments folding over onto themselves in my muscles and tendons, in the grey matter of my brain.

And sure, it is possible, even (or perhaps especially) for those of us who are inclined toward emotional processing and psychological analysis to overdo it, to spend entirely too much time going around in circles micro-articulating every little thing. Sure, I’ve been guilty of this in the past, even in the past as recently as yesterday. I’m not trying to say that every aspect of processing and analyzing is necessary, just that perhaps we all have different levels of tendency toward these skills, that some of us see the world in a more analytical way and seek to understand our own emotions, psychology, and relationship in these ways. I’m certainly trying to find that balance, that place where I am understanding and expressing my emotions in clear, healthy ways, while not being indulgent or repressing how I feel. Where I am listening and being open, coming to new conclusions or altering my understanding of the situation as needed, and then, and perhaps this is the key part, moving on. (Sometimes it’s easy to just stay in the analysis part.)

So yeah, maybe I do have a tendency toward over-analyzing or over-processing. It is certainly possible that I process or analyze more than you do. Maybe you think it’s unimportant or that I am dwelling or making things harder than they have to be. But just know that we all have different levels of our tendencies to do this, and just because mine is not the same as yours doesn’t make mine or yours any better: it just makes it different.

comment on this
 

Want more? You’re insatiable.

monthly(ish) newsletter

for just the highlights, announcements, workshops, and sometimes even exclusive smut. Plus, get the password for protected posts.

e-mail digest

Do you love following Sugarbutch, but don't check this site regularly, or can't check from work because it's too dirty? Easy! Just subscribe below and receive the new Sugarbutch posts directly to your email inbox once a day.


33 Comments


  1. All I know is that if your analyzing comes anywhere close to what you post, you're still waaaay behind me in terms of sheer analytical output.

    I think that the communication you and Kristen has serves a need you both share, and that's what part of being in love means isn't it? Meeting each other's needs when we're able? Having a need doesn't mean we are wrong or messed up. None of us are broken, none of us need to be fixed, we are all of us human.

  2. Well, another way you could look at it is for us baby dykes just starting out in relationships, your so-called overprocessing is a sort of a way of giving us a heads up on potential obstacles to come and ways to overcome them. Granted, it's not a to-scale roadmap but it's nice to know that problems that pop up between two women have solutions.

  3. 'People have told me—in comments, in emails, sometimes even my friends in person make little comments or raise their eyebrows incredulously—that if my relationship with Kristen needs this much processing, perhaps there is something fundamentally wrong with it, perhaps we just aren’t “meant to be.”'

    That's bunk. Relationships take a lot of work. If someone thinks their relationship doesn't take a lot of work, it's because it's their partner that's doing all the work.

  4. Maybe you analyze so much because you care so much?

    Either way, you're happy, that's all that matters.

  5. "Processing Orientation" = YES

    This is so very right on, not just in terms of comparing relationships, but when looking at people *in* relationships. Realizing that some of us need/want to talk more about something than others is really key in figuring out how to talk about things. Besides, realizing that some folks want to process more than other should really eliminate that "you two talk so much more than me and my partner, something must be wrong" idea.

    And I hear ya on having different styles of figuring stuff out – talking about things clarifies them for me, but I can easily understand the other side of that coin. Some friends of mine are in a relationship and each have very different processing styles (Her: let's wait & think about it, please don't raise your voice, etc. Him: we need to talk right now, please don't leave me…). It's interesting to watch their evolving strategies.

  6. My partner and I are the same way. A psychologist friend of mine has, listening to me talk about the relationship and sometimes watching our exchanges, said "I wish all couples – all PEOPLE – were as self-aware as you two are" And our relationship is the most honest and healthy I've yet to have. So don't let the naysayers get you down. Our method is at least as good as theirs (if not better!), so take heart.

  7. The fact that you process so much, that your posts show some of that processing and have referened so much more, and that in a talk of yours I heard you and Kristen talk about how much you to process together… it has given me hope and confidense because that means I'm not the only one out there who does it.

    So even as some people critique your style, others are feeling better because of you writing about your two's style.

  8. I had to stop in the middle of your article to process my thoughts on the topic with my honey.

    OMG YES YES YES. Yes to that. And that other thing you said. And the thing you said after that. Just, yes. We do a bit of processing ourselves. And every once in a while I think, do we process too much? And every once in a while we probably do. But it's worth it, for the insights we get and the curiosity we satisfy.

    Thank you.

  9. i think that processing/analyzing/talking about or through things does not hurt a relationship and actually strengthens it. i very much like to talk things out and figure them out as i go. but again, it's what works for me. not everyone's like that.

    nevertheless, from my point of view as a third party (virtual bystander), i think you and kristen have a beautiful, strong, connected relationship and i don't think you should change that one bit! keep writing and sharing because those of us in our early 20s need to know that a relationship like yours can happen and work.

  10. My partner and I do a *lot* of analysis and processing; as other people have said, this has provided the goundwork for the strongest, deepest, sweetest relationship I have ever had, as well as helping me to be a better person. I wonder, though, whether there is something about being in a queer relationship (as I am) which adds some impetus to one's pre-existing orientation towards processing. The processing that my butch and I do between ourselves certainly helps us to reject the judgements and isolation that we experience in the wider world, as well as reinforcing those things that we value about ourselves. I know I wouldn't be as sane without the work that we do on our relationship.

  11. Provided that, as has been said, every relationship needs to be worked out as the individuals involved see best, I feel that, if anything, people often just give up on relationships rather than doing some work.

    As long as and inasmuch as it is comfortable for you and Kristen, I would encourage you to keep sharing your processing and thoughts, since they have proved close and helpful to some (many?) of us more than once.

  12. "I know that I am in a good, solid, beautiful relationship, and it is incredibly important to me." Good for you! There are only two people in a relationship and only the two of you know what is good and what is right for you. Never mind the rest – it's all white noise.

  13. i *wish* i had a partner that would put that much work into making things.. work.

  14. Isn't the over-processing and analysing thing part of what makes a good writer? Being able to talk about emotions and situations and all that shit. Wanting to talk about it. Wanting to write about it.

    I am definitely someone who likes to process things and let things settle in. At the moment I'm in a long distance relalationship so that's the only way things can really go at the moment, simply because we have to schedule time to talk rather than being spontaneous about it. I like it that way though. I tend to be too emotional in the moment to actually make sense. Sometimes when I've had some time, something I thought was an issue actually wasn't one after all and I was just working off of my immediate reaction.

    Whilst everyone's relationships are different I think that it is incredibly healthy to be able to analyse and process everything and talk about it. Those people aren't in your relationship, only you know what's best for the both of you!

    xoxox

  15. I enjoy all your posts and I get alot of value and meaning from what you say, express and share. You are very candid, upfront and vulnerable as well to open yourself as you do. I learn more and more about the butch-femme dynamic from you.

  16. I found this to be really interesting. I never really thought too much about orientations toward analyzation or even different styles of analyzing. My wife and I are pretty similar to you and Kristen in this regard. I talk it through and she has to process. In fact if she doesn’t process beforehand she often gets it completely wrong and ends up upsetting us both. I always assumed it was because she had less practice at this whole thing, but your theories make more sense.

  17. I just wanted to say THANK YOU for putting all this into words. I am an endless processor/analyzer myself and very verbal, which means that I've daunted people all my life with the torrent of thoughts that come out of my brain — and since I'm also intensely relational, that means I process and analyze my personal relationships as well. Not in a public forum like this, necessarily, but in private spaces. And I've definitely faced the exasperated criticism that I think "too much" about things, or I "make" things more complicated than they are.

    I'm open to the possibility that sometimes my thinking gets in the way of actually acting on my thoughts and feelings…I move slowly in relationships, I think, partly because of this. Thinking can sometimes get in the way of immediate experience. But it doesn't necessarily do this, and I also don't think it always detracts from the experience — for me, it is often a way to imbue the experience with deeper meaning and heighten my awareness of what is actually going on moment-to-moment.

    Anyway, long rambling comment — but I am thankful that you're willing to speak up for the value of processing, particularly in a culture that associates relationship processing as something that's "feminine" and therefore (automatically) a less worthwhile activity…

  18. Yep.

    I've seen those comments and have wanted to wring their comment-necks. Maybe even the necks of those who've posted 'em.

    I think this post is exactly right, that everyone has a different processing orientation. Mine is a bit of you and Kristen — I tend to talk and talk and talk until I've said the thing that feels right. And then I sleep on it, write about it, talk to a friend about it, and finally can come back to it (a day or two later) with even better thoughts about it, more complete thoughts, and often — since there's more distance — less emotionalized thoughts.

    My girlfriend is not a talker, and processing in general kind of scares her. I think, honestly, that a LOT of people are scared of processing, and I'd even hazard a guess and say that many of the comments you get that say "your relationship involves too much processing!" are from people who are *afraid* that processing means there are huge problems. Sooo many people avoid conflict like the plague. My girlfriend — a chronic conflict avoider — has made HUGE strides in being able to talk about problems or just general things that come up in the past year and a half we've been together, and I've also made strides in being able to let things go, give them a bit of space, and return to them if they're still bothering me. In the past few months we've really hit a stride that feels so … delightful. Yes, that's really it, it's delightful! And guess what? Hitting a stride doesn't mean we process less. It just means we process together in a way that works for both of us.

    So. Anyway. I do hope you continue posting your processing. I find it so refreshing to read (in fact they're my favorite posts), mostly because it's so, so rare that people openly discuss their relationships and their inner workings. But we all could learn so much more from each other if we were all more open about them. So, thanks.

  19. I think processing is a great way to digest all the emotional issues we carry around; doing it with a partner just makes you all the more closer.

    I really admire your public processing and want to say thank you for sharing all you have shared over the internet.

  20. I heard from somebody a while ago (a meeting facilitator trainer – I forget the official name) that in order to have the best meetings people should know what they want to achieve before saying something. I started doing that, trying to figure out what I need before I say something, both in meetings and in daily life. it's led me to be a lot more analytical and it's helped me to learn a lot about myself.

    I think if doing that in your relationships helps to keep you feeling comfortable and secure, how can that be a bad thing?

    as for someone commenting about queer relationships having something to do with it – I'm a single, straight-identified transsexual guy, and all the analysis I do is either about myself or with one of my straight guy friends. Just to confuse things further!

  21. I'm (so) glad you post about your processing! It has been really helpful to me to read how you think about and talk about sex, gender, love, emotions and your relationships, *especially* because it feels thoughtful and respectful of different ways of being and all the people involved in the situation. Please keep sharing – it is definitely valued!

  22. Hmm. I've always found that lots of processing happens when my partner and I have been cut off from organizing and street politics for too long. The desire to make an intervention, to rigorously analyze social dynamics between, well, social actors, gets turned inward. And the processing begins. I know I'm in the minority here, but I like "us' -as does she- better when such energies are directed towards social transformation. We are sufficiently and ecstatically together in the anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist work that we do. Too much processing starts to wear us down and misplaces the generative desire to change not just ourselves, but the world around us.

    Just my 2 cents.

  23. What you do is beautiful, those who criticize just don't/can't understand because they are not you. Ignore those opinions, you know what you need for you and your relationship, those are the only opinions that really matter.

    Those of us that are honored and understand your process can appreciate it for what it is. A voyeuristic view into your life, head and relationship. You're an amazing person, partner and writer… please don't stop.

    ~O

  24. I love every single article you post. Especially the self analyzing ones. Being a femme, reading about the inner workings of another Butch helps me to better understand my own sweet Butch. In our relationship, I'm the one that analyzes too much. She always tells me "You can either think things to death, or you can enjoy being with the one you love." Of course, some issues need to be worked through as a couple. But each day I learn how to better live in the moment. Appreciating the blessing of what we have together and not looking for issues where they're aren't any.

  25. Long-time reader, first-time commenter.

    A friend on a poly list once responded to someone labeling a situation as "drama" by pointing out that "drama" is a way to dismiss the validity and importance of high emotion. If you are often in a state of high emotion with a partner, it doesn't make the relationship bad, it just makes it intense, that's all. That intensity could well come from how intimate you are with each other, how much you trust each other to go into spaces that you would normally keep closed off. Inevitably, we bump and bruise each other when we bare that much of our hearts. I think if you can work those things through when they happen, as you go along, you are investing in stability over the longer haul.

  26. ohmygod. only boring people are bored by their own relationships. don't listen to them. i don't think a rock could get by without almost daily processing of some sort if it was involved with me. i like to think that i'm 'stimulating'. though, and i guess curvylearning would agree with them, most people use 'intense'. either way, i'm interesting and interested-the best kind of lover, friend, or partner. and you guys are too.

  27. Seems like it's raining agreement, and I'll add to the downpour. A healthy and ultimately happy relationship is between two individuals with differences, not between two people who have co-absorbed one another in some sort of Borg-like assimilation and can speak only in "we"s. If two individuals are sharing their lives together for any amount of time and DON'T have processing/talking/arguing going on, at least one of them is lying. I've been with my (now) wife for a total of 15 years, we've literally grown up together since our freshman year of college. None of the growth that has made me who I am and she the utter delight she is would have been possible within our relationship if there had been no communication/processing going on. There would have been weird stunted versions of me and her by this point, or we would have left the relationship – and neither of those options appeals to me at all.

    You and your girl keep up the hard, painful, beautiful, rewarding work – it's totally worth it.

  28. methinks the (lady) doth protest way, way too fucking much.

  29. +1 processing yay!

  30. I think lots of ppl assume that what’s right for them must be right for everyone, which is totally ridiculous. Some of us just have much more layers of awareness to work through, I think, which leads to spending more time processing information about ourselves and the world around us.

  31. As I read this, my thoughts all ranged towards what many others said- The naysayers are full of it.

    I think many people don't discuss and analyze and process enough in their relationships. And if that works for them, that's great.

    As someone who has been in the "not talking about many things and therefore assuming a lot of things" relationships, and the "talk about everything to the point of thinking we're going crazy" relationships as well…. I much prefer the latter.

    Like you said… this whole "communication" thing is kind of a touch and go, very imperfect thing. Everyone does it differently, and it really takes a lot to figure everything out in communicating with another person about things that are potentially extremely intimate. It's hard at times, easy at other times, but it's never an easy action. It's hard work, and totally worth it with the right person.

    If you're communication with her inspires fulfillment, peace of mind in the long run, and happiness in your relationship, you're on the right track. You make the choice, and it sounds like you're happy doing what you are with her. And in the end… that's what matters: mutual happiness! :)

    (BTW, I don't know a lot of your history, as I've just started reading your chronicles. But this opinion holds for pretty much all discussions I have on communication in romantic relationships.)

  32. I never did any processing at all until I met Kyle…and, at first, it was a bit intense, to say the least. Learning to be quiet enough to listen and respond with love isn't easy, nor is facing up to those less-than-perfect moments that transpire in every relationship, but it's ultimately been very rewarding for me, and for us.

    Two years ago I would have scoffed at the idea of processing and analysis – that actions were enough, and that sitting around talking about a relationship was merely wasting perfectly good opportunities for sex. After a lot of patient coaching from Kyle, I'm no less fond of sex or action, but I find the conversations in between make everything better.

  33. i am not a "processor." i kind of have trouble wrapping my head around what processing even means in the context of a relationship, but mostly what that boils down to is that i am a little bit petrified of talking about my emotions. which is something i need to work on, but it is also something i have started to understand about myself, and it *does* work for me and my relationship – we have other ways of communicating things.

    but, that said, i can't see how it is anything but clear that all this is right for you. perhaps it alarms people a bit if they are of another analytical orientation and have only just come upon sugarbutch (and so have only, perhaps, read about you and kristin) – but i think it should be clear upon reading more of your history that you could not be different than you are.

    clearly, sometimes in the past you have "overprocessed" (quotes because it's not "over" if it's right for you) relationships that were not good for you, but i am of the opinion that you are now "overprocessing" a really lovely one. and, as it happens, it was the problems in the relationships that were problems (fancy that, just like the rest of us – even if some of us would rather let them stagnate, the *problems* are still the crux of it =).

    love you, i hope writing this has helped clear the air a bit, because reading your thoughts on many of these relationship things has often helped me think through them myself.

Trackbacks

  1. sunday smut: links on sex and gender (no. 26) | the feminist librarian

Leave a Reply