A common issue I encounter with couples is knowing how to best support your partner when they are upset. Most people have an impulse to problem-solve when that’s not what is wanted or needed. This often stems in part from underlying anxiety on the part of the listener. It is hard to see one’s partner in distress.
Most people, when they are upset, are not able to clearly communicate what they need. When you put the problem-solving anxiety together with an inability to communicate needs, you have a recipe for disappointment, misattunement, and frustration.
Knowing that it is difficult to work on these things in the moment, it makes sense to sit down and talk about it at a time when both partners are not in distress.
One thing I recommend, unless it is specifically requested, is to try not to jump into problem-solving. Problem-solving can make the person in distress unintentionally feel dismissed and unseen. It’s not dissimilar from parents telling their kids to stop crying when they are upset. This is essentially a crude form of problem-solving that does nothing to understand and address why the child is upset.
In other words, problem-solving can make the person on the receiving end feel like they are being told to stop feeling what they are feeling. When someone is sad or upset, it helps to feel like it is okay to feel what they are feeling. This takes a layer of pressure off.
Asking someone what they need can also be comforting instead of assuming you know what they need.
Often times, just listening can be the best medicine. Remember though that we don’t just listen with our ears. We listen with our eyes and our bodies. If you are staring at your phone or facing the other way when someone is talking to you that will obviously feel very different from having eye contact.
Try to set aside a time to talk with your partner about this. Ask each other what you need when you’re upset. Listen and try to understand.
Finally, we all need positive reinforcement. When your partner does a good job, let him know that you appreciate it.
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If you haven’t already read the book, it’s a great place to start – Relationship Reboot: Break free from the bad habits in your relationship.
David B. Younger, Ph.D. is the creator of Love After Kids, for couples that have grown apart since having children. He is a clinical psychologist and couples therapist with a web-based private practice and lives in Austin, Texas with his wife, 13-year-old son, 4-year-old daughter and 6-year-old toy poodle.
Originally published at www.loveafterkids.com