“I don’t want you to FIX it!” Said every wife ever!!
I am sure we all know this tension – woman has a problem, man wants to fix it, woman feels frustrated, man feels frustrated.
It is a vicious cycle – our husbands first response to many of the niggles or pains or problems we have is to fix it. It seems like an automatic response. And yet we don’t want them the fix it! So we feel unheard, under-valued and frustrated. They don’t understand why a solution wouldn’t be a good thing, they feel helpless, and not wanted because the one thing they can do in this situation (look for a solution to fix it) isn’t appreciated.
Pete and I were in such a cycle the other day – and yet in a moment of honesty (for both of us) Pete says: I know you don’t want me to fix it, but it is what I want to do. And out of my mouth came words so simple but so true – It’s not that I don’t want you to fix it, it is that when that is your first thought I feel like I haven’t been heard or seen as capable, or valued. If you can help, that is great, but it would be nice to just acknowledge my pain, frustration, or efforts first.
It made sense.
My greatest need at the time of pain or frustration is empathy – to be understood, to be accepted, to be heard, to be loved in the middle of the pain.
So next time you are in this cycle of offloading and only hearing solutions to your problems slow the conversation down by saying: I appreciate your efforts to help me, but can you just hear my pain first. Can you just give me a hug. Can you just give me the confidence that I’ve got this – that I am able, that we are in this together, that you love me (regardless).
Empathy is a tricky character response because we either want to do something, or we want to correct something. We have this false idea that if we show love and acceptance we are accepting the problem (or even accepting the thing we disagree with). No – this is not empathy. Empathy is where we feel with the person, we feel their pain, we feel their frustration, we feel for them. We aren’t taking on their pain, we aren’t taking on their beliefs – we just feel for them. We just love them. Unconditionally.
It is this idea of unconditional love that is hard to do. We say (and woman are prone to this as well as men) that we want to fix something, or change something, or help in some way because we love – but often that is heard as – I’ll love you when this is fixed, changed, or done.
5 Steps to Show Empathy
- Listen without judgement or solutions
- Focus and respond to what the person is feeling
- Affirm that you hear their pain
- Affirm that you love them
- Ask: “How can I help you?”
Sometimes women just want to be heard – they just want to rant, put words to the things bottling up inside. Which is why the question, “How can I help you?” is respectful and a good way to go forward, because it gives the woman an opportunity to move forward without feeling unheard. This question gives the woman (and anyone really) an opportunity to say – No, I’m good I just needed a listening ear thank you. Or they could say – I have no idea! To which you can offer an idea you have!
When men offer help after they have listened, loved, and shown respect, there is a completely different outcome. It isn’t that we don’t want help – we just want to know we’ve been heard first.
Now to be fair – though I’m writing this reflecting on the conversation that Peter and I had, and the lessons that I learnt about how I was reacting to how Peter was reacting – the truth is that this is true of any relationship. I know I’ve been in the situation where Peter was offloading to me, and I just gave him the solution – it seemed logical to me! But he needs / wants empathy as much as anyone. So wives it isn’t really a one way street – it is about building empathy in your relationship so you can listen and feel for him and he can listen and feel for you.
I hope that these thoughts make you think about how you show empathy to your husband, but also make you think about your needs and to find words that you can communicate to your husband that will help him. Afterall when he offers help, when he offers to fix your stuff he is motivated by love. So take that love, know that it is there, and help him understand you better so that he can be the husband that he wants to be.
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