Slow is Not Bad
While working with Pam and Mark in psychotherapy, I became aware of an interesting archetypal pattern of women and men in relationship. Pam, as are many women, was frustrated with Mark’s slowness in processing emotions, especially during a disagreement or when feelings were hurt. During these times, she was able to zip along a chain of related feelings with great speed, interspersing these feelings with questions to Mark to try to get him to somehow speed up his “emotional processor.” He felt like he was trying to keep up with a Ferrari while driving a Volkswagen, which added to his shame and feelings of inadequacy.
I reflected that I too was slower than Joyce in processing and integrating feelings.
I asked Mark, “Is there any way that Pam is slower that frustrates you?”
He thought for a while, then answered, “Yes … skiing! I love the feeling of the wind on my face as I sail dancing down the hills. I wish Pam could keep up with me. I have to continually stop and wait for her to catch up.”
“Anything else,” I asked.
“Yes, I just thought of another example. Figuring things out. It sometimes frustrates me to wait for her to find someplace on a map, or figure out instructions to how something works.”
Pam was in general slower at processing outer physical or mental expression, like physical coordination or external logic. Mark was slower at processing internal expression. Most women are more internally directed, and men more externally directed.
Mark and Pam could just as easily be Barry and Joyce. We very similarly fit this pattern, which from time to time has caused us some conflict too. At times, I have felt frustrated with Joyce’s slowness in certain physical or mental areas, and she has felt frustrated with my slowness in certain emotional areas.
However, it is too simplistic to generalize. There have been times when I have been impatient with Joyce’s slowness in working through a hurt or resentment involving another person. And there have been times when Joyce has been impatient with my slowness in making certain decisions.
Each of us, whether woman or man, is slow in some ways and fast in other ways. Our relationships teach us that we are drawn to a partner who is compatible with us. This means we have some things to teach our partner and other things to learn from our partner.
We need to get clear about our judgmental attitude. Fast is not better than slow. In any particular area of the relationship, it doesn’t necessarily mean the person who is faster is the better teacher. On the ski slope, I pointed out to Mark that his real desire was for connection with Pam, more than the rush of speeding down the hill. By slowing down and pacing himself with Pam, he could be dancing with her as well as himself. And he might be able to put more consciousness into each movement, making skiing more of a meditation.
Just because Pam is faster processing emotion doesn’t mean she is Mark’s teacher in this area. Her frustration shows that she is not honoring Mark’s process. She is wanting him to be different than he is. Again, fast is not better than slow. Pam’s goal, too, is connection with Mark, not competition with him or getting him to change. For her to slow down her internal mental/emotional process, to breathe more deeply to allow some space between the rapid succession of thoughts and feelings, she would have a greater chance of meeting with Mark. She would also have more peacefulness and enjoyment in the process.
Each one of us needs to honor our own slowness, not as a sign of weakness or retardation, but as a gift in our lives. When we are critical of our own slowness, we will be critical of our partner’s slowness. When we accept our own slowness, we learn to see the beauty of our partner’s slowness. Most of us simply move too fast in our lives. Most children seem to be in a hurry to grow up. The pace of technological breakthroughs is heightening. But peace is found by slowing down, not hurrying up. When we slow down our minds, we enjoy life more. When we slow down our bodies (for example, Tai Chi) we enjoy each movement more. When we accept the gift of whatever slowness we possess, we can accept our partner’s slowness, and we will feel a deeper connection with ourselves and with our partner.