This article is addressed to the "fixer" in every relationship, and to the person who is trying to love one.
Have you and your spouse or partner ever had an argument that went something like this?
Allie: "Honey, I've had a very bad day."
Brad: "Allie, Let me help. There is a very simple solution to your problem."
Allie: (volume increasing): "Why won't you just listen to me? You don't hear a single word I'm saying!"
Brad: (in a frustrated tone): "Allie, I'm just trying to help! Why won't you let me help you?"
I'm guessing you have indeed witnessed an argument along those lines at some point in your relationship.
There's a good chance you've had that conversation a lot if you've been together for any significant length of time.
The conversation left you both feeling frustrated, offended, and misunderstood. You may have wondered to yourself, "What happened?"
Why you want to fix the problem
Brad's position makes total sense.
What could be more natural when we see someone upset or crying than to want to hep them out?
Seen from the perspective of wanting to be helpful, trying to repair a spouse's problems might feel like the most caring thing we can do.
Men are often stereotyped as fixers in the relationship, but really a partner of any gender can try to show love by finding solutions.
It's an approach that works well in many aspects of life.
If someone is sick we look for medicine to make them well. If a pipe is broken, we fix the leak before the basement can become flooded.
Wanting to fix problems is often times just common sense.
Why Fixing the Problem Doesn't Work
So, here's the thing. Sometimes your mate doesn't want you to fix anything.
Sometimes they just need a shoulder to cry on.
We want to know that someone understands and acknowledges we are hurting.
"Just be with me," is what Allie is trying to tell her partner in the conversation above.
"I need to know that you understand I'm hurting. I need to know you will standby me when I am sad or hurting. That is all."
This is a tough thing for fixers to learn.
Not helping someone in pain can seem neglectful. "I see you're hurting," Brad is trying to say, "and I want to stop the hurt." It's a very compassionate thought.
It's important to realize that there is more than one way to help.
Sometimes a hug, a held hand, or even a sympathetic face can make all the difference to the person who is hurting.
Being met emotionally in a time of stress is often the most effective solution to our partner's pain.
An Oprah Moment
In a slightly different approach, the video below demonstrates the same principle with four simple sentences:
- I am here for you.
- I know you are there.
- I know you suffer; that is why I am here for you.
- I'm trying my best. Please help me.
You might notice that none of those bullets includes fixing a problem. They all involve just letting your partner know he or she has been understood.
Remember, sometimes when a person is upset they aren't asking us to fix anything. Instead, the best thing we can do is listen, give a hug, and say, "I care."