When you are in a long-term romantic relationship, there are going to be times that your significant other comes to you and tells you about an upsetting situation he or she is dealing with. You know the feeling – you probably recall a time or two when you said the wrong thing.
One of the most consistent patterns I see in the work I do with couples relates to a lack of emotional support each person feels from the other in the relationship. When something upsetting happens, Sally may go to her husband, for example, and explain what is upsetting her. What happens next? Her husband dispenses some awfully good advice. His advice reflects care for his wife and strong problem-solving skills. What’s the problem then? Why is Sally left feeling more upset after talking to her husband than she was before?
Her husband, like many people when their significant others are facing a problem, tried to solve the problem for her instead of listening and simply offering emotional support. You know you have given advice in the past when it wasn’t asked for, but do you know why you did it? The reason you and others continue to dispense advice is because people react emotionally in such situations. They hate to see their significant others upset so they do their best to take their pain away for them.
The best thing that you can do when your significant other comes to you upset is to listen. It’s always a good idea to ask first whether he or she wants advice before unleashing your problem-solving prowess. Ask simply “Do you want some ideas about how to handle it?” I am asking you to take a guess right now how you imagine your significant other will answer that question – my guess is that we’re both thinking the same thing.