I think that before I became a couples counsellor, it’s possible that my wife said to me once or twice, “I don’t want you to give me suggestions about what to do, I just want you to listen.” Maybe it’s even happened since.
It’s a common issue in couples counselling. One partner needs to share something and the other partner sees it as an opportunity to show they care by offering solutions or “fixes”.
I don’t like to bring gender into this, because too often we make assumptions about gender that simply aren’t true. (Stay tuned for an upcoming blog post on sexual desire levels in relationships…) However, in this case I think traditional assumptions about gender play a role.
We have been taught that men are supposed to fix and repair things and women are supposed to take care of emotions in the family. This is, of course, just so much rubbish. Women make fine mechanics and engineers and men have all the same emotions as women and can, with a little effort, even learn to do things like being Emotionally Focused therapists.
As a result of these assumptions, though, it does seem to more often be men who want to offer a “fix” when their partners are sharing that they’re in a difficult place.
The thing is, research and experience tell us that the key questions in any relationship are:
Are you there for me?
Do you approve of me?
Do I matter to you?
Do you have my back?
Will you be here when I need you?
Questions such as: “Can you help me figure out how to deal with the coworker who drives me crazy?” and “Do you know why I can’t get this app to work?” don’t have even a fraction of the importance of the questions listed above, in relationship terms.
We have to reorient our thinking to accepting that being there, listening and empathizing aren’t just “enough”; these are the points upon which the whole relationship turns.
As with many other situations, it’s not enough to simply be putting effort into showing you care. You need to be tuned into your partner closely enough to understand how they need you to focus that effort.