Building Your Dream Relationship: Step 3: Stop Fixing Your Partner’s Feelings

Building Your Dream Relationship: Step 3: Stop Fixing Your Partner’s Feelings

When I ask partners, who come for marriage counseling in Wake Forest, NC what do they usually do when their significant other is in distress, most of them say something like:

 “Well…I try to find a solution…to help her/him fix things and feel better”.

What they usually don’t know is that when marriages fall apart, it is not increasing conflict that caused it but decreasing affection and emotional responsiveness, according to a breakthrough study by Ted Huston of the University of Texas. In other words, what you and your partner need is not a hectic search for solution, BUT vulnerability and connection.

Stop fixing your partners feelings! Although your intentions are good, and sometimes it may seem the most logical thing to try fixing the things for your partner when they feel overwhelmed, try to avoid doing that. This approach simply doesn’t work. And here is why.

What the Experts Have to Say About It?

Communication between you and your partner usually happens on two or even multiple levels. For example, if you playfully throw a pillow at your partner, you are actually bidding for attention and attachment. Your partner may respond by either:

a)     Throwing a pillow back at you (responding on an attachment level) or

b)     Saying something like “You’re really acting silly. You’re such a child” (responding on an intellectual level).

According to Dr. Sue Johnson, if you ask for emotional connection and your partner responds intellectually rather than on an attachment level, you will experience this as “no response” – your partner is ignoring your bid for connection.

When we are distressed, we need emotional confirmation from our partners; we need to feel cared for, secure, and safe; we don’t seek advice or logical explanation.

And as you can see, all of this happens on an emotional level: when you get emotionally flooded and you start freaking out about burned dinner, you don’t need your S.O. to logically explain what caused you to feel overwhelmed. You just need him to give you a hug. And maybe say “We can order Thai instead.”

What you actually need is empathy.

Marshal Rosenberg, a creator of Nonviolent Communication (a process for supporting partnership and resolving conflicts) explains “It may be difficult to empathize with those who are closest to us.” Rosenberg defines empathy as putting yourself in the loved one and sympathy as feeling of sorry, compassion, or pity but without experiencing their feelings with them. Your partner cares for you and doesn’t like seeing you upset. So, he tries to sympathize with you and minimize your difficult feelings in an attempt to make things better.

However, what really makes things better is not rational response, but connection.

How to Stop Fixing your Partner’s Feelings and Foster the Connection Instead?

·       Fill those Moments with Empathy

Instead of saying “Honey, I know how you’re upset now but here’s what should you do…”, validate your partner’s feelings and say something like “I understand you. I can feel that you’re experiencing a huge distress right now. I am here for you.” Just try to put yourself in their shoes and feel their emotion.

·       Be Your Partner’s Listening Ear

Instead of trying to fix things in challenging moments, just letting your partner talk without interrupting and offering solutions. This approach sends the message that all feelings are okay and that your partner is allowed to experience them without you judging or rejecting them. However, this doesn’t mean that you should not make any suggestions whatsoever. But before you do, try just listening and allowing your partner to express themselves.

Building a Real Connection

Dr. Harville Hendrix, a marriage therapist and founder of Imago Relationship Therapy, identifies four parts of building a real connection process: mirroring, validating, empathizing, and giving the gift.

·       Mirroring

Mirror your partner: let them express their thoughts, feelings, and needs without being judged. You can do this by simply summarizing and restating what your partner shared with you. For example, if your partner says “I’m irritated when you don’t step in and help out with the kids”, you would mirror saying something like “It sounds like you feel angry when I don’t lend a hand with the kids”.

·       Validating

According to Dr. Harvile Hendrix, it is not enough just to feel heard. So, you and your partner may want to validate each other’s feelings by saying something like “I can see what you’re saying. It makes sense.”

·       Empathizing

Stop for a moment and allow your partner’s feelings to flood you – try putting yourself in their shoes and image what would that feel like for you. Say something like “I understand…this must be really hard for you”.

·       Giving the Gift

The last part of building a real connection process is giving the gift: Dr. Hendrix suggest that now you ask your partner for something that you need, such as a hug, kiss, a kind word, etc. However, I feel that this is an optional step, and depends on a particular situation.

Summary

Instead of trying to fix your partner’s feelings, try connecting with them on an emotional level. You might find practicing these steps very mechanic and fake at first. However, but with enough practice and time, they will become part of your relationship routine. In addition, this will enable you to have productive arguments with your partner without feeling stuck in the endless cycle that is destroying your connection and safety.

I hope this information helps you to better understand why connection is important in your relationship. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to give me a call at (703)347 3200 and schedule an appointment in my Wake Forest office.

ABOUT AUTHOR

Irina Baechle,LCSW is a founder, owner, and a licensed therapist at IrinaBaechleCounselingLLC. She specializes in helping distant couples and anxious singles build truly connected and meaningful relationships. She currently offers online and in-home counseling services to residents of Virginia and North Carolina (and most countries abroad). Click here to schedule your free 15 min consultation. Follow her on Facebook, Pinterest, and Youtube for useful tips and resources.

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