We often seek counsel, especially from our partners, for the purpose of problem solving. But sometimes it feels necessary to vent. At some point in your relationship, your partner will complain that they don’t need advice to solve the problem. They simply want to talk—not to strategize, not to get advice, and especially not to receive a critique from you on how to view the problem differently! To meet the needs of your partner—to listen but not advise—empathy is necessary.
Beginning a conversation with empathy can defuse a potentially tense situation. If your partner arrives home after a rotten day at work, having had a run-in with a coworker, received bad news about their bonus, and hit traffic on the way home, what is your response? Do you focus on how your partner might have avoided the argument with the colleague? Do you suggest that in light of the lousy bonus, your partner should look for another job? Those conversations are important, but first try a little tenderness!
That sounds like an awful day. Let me give you a hug.
Wow, that’s too much for one day! I’m sorry that happened.
I want to help however I can. Should we have some dinner and talk about it?
It can be difficult to tolerate the misfortunes of a partner. Not being able to control the outcome of their life can make you feel powerless. When you are close to your partner, their frustration, sadness, or failure feel like your own, deeply impacting your emotional balance. The definition of a mature partnership is lovingly acknowledging another’s experience while recognizing that you are separate people, with your own separate struggles and triumphs. Offering compassion helps you understand that your role is not to fix your partner’s problems but rather to be kind to them while they work on fixing their own.
- Detach with love. Though your instinct may be to move closer to your partner to fix their problems, issues, or concerns, you may actually be too close. Often it’s your ability to know yourself apart from your love relationship (and kids and family too!) that makes you a better partner. Give your partner room to breathe by maintaining a strong focus on your own interests and life.
- Ask. If you’re unclear if your partner wants advice or whether he or she just needs to blow off steam, it’s okay to ask “would you like to hear my opinion?”
- Curb the need to fix. First, listen with compassion, just as you would like to be listened to.