By: Lara Hollway, MSW,RSW
Has your partner ever come to you with a problem and you offer advice, only to have them seem to get upset and/or frustrated with you? Do you find yourself getting frustrated because your partner keeps complaining about a problem but doesn’t seem to want to listen to your solutions? Or does your partner ever say things like “you never listen to me”, when you feel like you are listening and trying to help?
If so, you are not alone. This is a common theme in relationships, and a perfect example of how the best intentions do not always equate to the best results. Read on for a breakdown of this situation, and some suggestions for changing this dynamic.
You are trying to help and offer practical support when your partner has a problem, but it seems like anything you say makes them mad, frustrated, or tearful.
a) you love your partner
b) you want your partner to feel good
c) you want to help your partner with their problems so they can feel good
When your partner comes to you with an issue, and you offer solutions to help them, your partner reacts by seeming to get annoyed, frustrated and/or tearful. They may say things like “you never listen!”, “you don’t get it!” or “I know! I tried that- can’t you just support me?”
You may find this confusing and hurtful, especially as you are trying to support them. You may respond to their anger by trying harder to help them solve their problem, which may make them seem to get angrier with you. Or maybe you respond by trying to get away from their anger and you notice that you shut down or feel numb. This situation likely leaves both of you feeling hurt and confused.
Your partner is sharing their problem with you because they want you to listen, sympathize, and tell them that you have their back as they figure out their own solution.
They most likely do not need practical help at this time.
What they are looking for is to feel emotionally supported and validated by you. While you are trying to support them through practical suggestions, with a few tweaks to your approach, you can first support them emotionally. Surprisingly, once you emotionally support and validate them, they may then ask you for practical suggestions.
When you notice your partner talking about a problem, check in with them. Try saying something like: “Sounds like you’re having a rough day. Would you like me just to listen, or would you like to problem-solve together?”
If they say that they would like you to just listen, then try actively listening to them.
Active listening means some eye contact, nodding or shaking your head in response to what they say, and sometimes responding to what they say by saying “I hear you”, or “that sounds hard”Active listening means resisting the urge to offer advice unless asked.
In fact, instead of offering advice, try offering a hug.
Once your partner has had a chance to talk about their problem and their feelings, and heard you validate them, that may be all they needed. Or, they may now be ready for some problem solving. It can be helpful to check in again, instead of assuming that the conversation is over, or assuming that now they would like advice. You could try something like this: “I’m glad you shared all of that with me. This seems really hard. Would you like any support problem solving, or are you feeling like this is something you want to figure out on your own?”
If they ask for help problem solving, it can be really helpful to ask: “What have you tried already?”, before you jump into offering suggestions.
If any of this is feeling strange, and you are worried about making changes in your relationship, you could try showing this article to your partner. Ask them if they feel like this is a dynamic in your relationship, and whether they would want you to try using some of these suggestions. If they agree and would like to try it, then try this approach, and notice what happens.
Feeling like your relationship could use some outside support?
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