Somewhere along the line this has probably happened in your relationship:
Your partner, upset about something, vents their frustrations, saying something like, I just want you to listen.
What do they really want from you in that moment?
Here’s the important part, friends. Generally, what they don’t want is you telling them what to do – unless they specifically ask what would you do? or What do you think I should do?
The real problem is simply that your partner is stressed about something. Helping them with stress can involve some simple steps:
Listen! Don’t interrupt. Let them finish their train of thought.
Make eye contact, nod, use your non-verbals to communicate “I am listening and you have my full focus.”
Ask open-ended or clarifying questions so you clearly understand the situation. Say, “Help me understand what you mean,” then ask your question. Avoid Wolf-in-Sheep’s-Clothing questions such as: “Have you tried…?” These are actually just your efforts to solve the problem, dressed up as a question.
Deep down you really just want to help. But consider this: When we are frustrated or upset and complain to our partner, we are seeking emotional support, and that makes us vulnerable. When our partner jumps to problem solving instead of listening and validating, it has the opposite effect.
Say things like I get it, or That sounds stressful/frustrating/irritating, or my personal favorite: That sucks, babe. Express support and camaraderie. Say things like, I’ve got your back, anything that conveys an Us vs the World approach.
Validate your partner’s feeling or thinking. We all want to know that we’re not crazy in feeling what we do. It is comforting to hear a loved one say: I understand why you feel that way.
Before you move into a problem solving mode, ask whether advice is actually wanted. Say something like: Would it be helpful for you if we come up with some solutions together? Convey that you care more about your partner than solving the problem. But remember: If this comes too early the conversation, it won’t be helpful at all.
At the end of the day, it’s their problem, and probably perfectly capable of finding a solution. They may have already thought through most of the suggestions you would make, and are just not emotionally ready to take action yet.
Have questions or want to learn more about Couples Therapy? CLICK HERE to contact Dr. Parker