Random vs. Sequential Thinking

Over the years Sharon and I have taken many different personality assessments that help each person understand their own strengths and weaknesses. The idea, which I think is very valid, is that as you learn to understand your partner’s natural strengths and weaknesses you can better love them as they are and not be so focused on changing them. You also realize that every quirk that they have that irritates you isn’t something they are consciously doing to make your life miserable.

After many years of marriage, during mutual counseling with Sharon, our therapist pointed out that I am a random thinker/processor and Sharon is a sequential thinker/processor. This one simple concept helped us both to understand and accept one another better – in some ways more than the detailed personality assessments.

A sequential thinker/processor likes order to their life. Sharon likes the calendar up-to-date, the check book balanced, the pots and pans in order in the kitchen, and if she has a problem she is trying to solve she is likely to think through it very logically to come to a conclusion. Although she multi-tasks physically very well – like talking on the phone and putting the dishes away at the same time – she doesn’t typically do a lot of deep thinking during multi-tasking.

I, on the other hand, am very random in my thinking and processing. I may be working on finances then check email and read a blog post, and be thinking about what I can write in a blog post. I can be driving a tractor – and get so lost in solving some big problem that I forget to watch what I am doing. If I am not careful I can get lost in thought while driving down the highway with all of you – and not be paying close enough attention to the road. At least with a tractor I might just knock down a fence or something. I do try to stay focused on the road, but I do struggle sometimes.

My calendar used to be a Post-it© note in my pocket or on my desk with 100 other notes, some of which had phone numbers but no names.

When I unload the dishwasher I can slow down and study the kitchen but really struggle to figure out which skillet goes where or which drawer the potato peeler goes in – even though they have gone the same place for years. I am sometimes baffled where something goes but I usually get the everyday forks and knives right. Whatever things are left that I am not confident of where they go I leave on the counter. Sharon appreciates me having 80% unloaded than none unloaded or 20% put away randomly that she can’t find when she needs it.

Since I have been around farming all of my life I am used to the weather being a huge determinant to the day’s work. I can have all the plans I want as to what will happen in the field, but one rain will change all of that. So I have learned to be very flexible that way. Sharon on the other hand had two parents who worked 40-hour per week jobs, so she was used to the schedule being very predictable – almost set in stone.

Here are some practical adjustments that we have made that make life easier between the two of us.

If we are in the car together, especially if I am in thinking mode on some issue, or farming out the window watching my neighbor’s fields, Sharon drives. Pretty much whenever we’re together Sharon drives, because I’m in that mode almost all the time.

I don’t have lots of appointments, so when I get one I e-mail her and she puts it in our master calendar on the desktop computer which then syncs to both of our phones. Even though it is technologically possible for me to enter an appointment in my phone and have it sync back to her desk top, my notes are so cryptic it would drive her nuts to figure out what I mean, so she just puts it in the way she prefers and we are both happy because we know what is happening with each of us.

Early on in our marriage Sharon learned to adapt with the weather. If she had plans with friends or family and she really wanted to go – she just committed herself and left me as a maybe at the last minute. If I can join her I do, and if not, she realizes that whatever I am doing probably means money in the bank account sooner or later.

After reading some of the adjustments we have made to accommodate our personality differences what are some you might be able to make in your own relationship to make life go smoother with your spouse?

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