When a loved one, whether a partner or a child, is sad or upset about something, our natural tendency is to first try to understand and then help find solutions. This approach can sometimes backfire on us, when all we wanted to do was to help. Treating many couples, I often hear the same thing in sessions, most often from the woman: “He just doesn’t understand.” The other often replies with frustration because he feels unappreciated: “how can she say that when all I try to do is understand?” This interaction is far too common in relationship distress, and creates a rift between the couple, creating emotional distance.
The problem is that when a loved one is hurting, we may immediately engage in trying to understand the why and how, and want to fix the problem. This stems out of deep concern and love for our partner, but might just leave them feeling more alone and distant. Instead of trying to fix the problem, just try to accept their feelings. Validate your partner’s feelings and let them know they are fully heard and listened to. By doing this you will give them the message that they are OK for feeling the way they do, and that they are not alone.
The first thing we need to respond with when a loved one is hurting is empathy. We need to just listen, and be there, validating their feelings first. Empathy is crucial and is primary, because just by listening and truly being present for our loved one when they need us, allows the other person to begin healing. We all crave for connection. From the moment we are born, we search for that from our caretakers, and throughout our lives we look to connect with friends and family members. What allows for connection to occur naturally is acceptance of one another and of our different feelings, because without acceptance there is no understanding.