So, Your spouse comes to you with a problem and you’re really trying to be helpful. But before you know it, the whole situation has gone south and now your spouse is upset with you. Ever had that happen, or is it just me?
If this has happened to you, you know it’s not always easy to know what to do when your spouse comes to you with a problem. It may sound like they want help, but the minute you try to help you are met with either an icy stare or guns blazing.
You Don’t Have to be an Expert.
You don’t have to avoid these situations. And you don’t have to be a trained counselor or have all the answers to help your spouse when they bring you a problem.
Your attentive presence can go a long way to helping your spouse. But how do you do that…without nodding off or getting bored? I’ve got nine suggestions for you to try when your spouse comes to you with a problem. Even one of these will be an improvement on your approach, and the more you can implement, the better off you’ll be.
Nine Simple Suggestions:
1. Listen Longer and Deeper Than Feels Natural.
Too often, we listen just long enough to get the gist of things, and then we wade in with our thoughts and opinions. But you need to listen long. Don’t jump in when they stop talking, because they’re probably not finished. I know this is not what you want to hear, but learn to sit in uncomfortable silence. This will allow them to open up even more. And don’t just listen to what they say. Listen to how they say it. What are the emotions behind their words? Where do they get angry or tear up? Where do they hesitate, or where does their voice trail off. What is their body language telling you? Listen with both your ears and your eyes.
2. Reflect Back What You Hear and See, Rather than what you Think.
Telling your spouse what you think about their problem should be your last response. First, reflect back to them what you’ve heard them say and the emotions you hear in their voice. It will let them know you’re truly listening. This will foster their trust and help them process things for themselves. Sometimes people just need to bounce things off of you so they can hear the echo and work through it themselves.
3. Suspend Judgement…For Now.
This is hard to do because we all tend to jump to conclusions and make quick judgments. But make a decision up front that you’re going to suspend judgment until you’ve heard everything completely through. Make sure you have the complete picture. And chances are, your spouse needs your support more than your judgment…even if your judgment’s right.
4. Empathize As If It Were You.
Mentally put yourself in their shoes. How would you feel if you were in their position? Would you be afraid, embarrassed, angry, worried, depressed? What would be your concerns? Putting yourself in their shoes goes a long way toward helping you connect and understand them.
5. Be a Friend, Not a Fixer.
Sometimes, we jump into fix-it mode because we care about our spouses and genuinely want to help them. But sometimes we quickly jump into fix-it mode because we’re uncomfortable with their hurt, pain, anger, fear, or grief. Often, when we try to fix things for our spouse, we stop listening, oversimplify their issue, and come across as arrogant and impatient. None of these are helpful. More than fixing things, your spouse needs you to listen while they work things out themselves.
6. Point Out Their Strengths, Rather Than Their Mistakes.
Your spouse is probably already painfully aware of where they’ve messed up. Chances are, they’ve already mentally rehearsed their mistake to a fault. What they need is for you to come alongside of them and remind them of their strengths and abilities. This will spur them on to how they can use those to deal with their current problem.
7. Put Off Giving Advice as Long as Possible.
Let’s say your spouse has gotten things off their chest and now they look at you and say, “So what do you think I should do?” Do not bite on that bait! Stall as long as you can before giving advice. Instead, say something like, “Man, that’s a hard spot. What have you thought about doing?” Remember, you’re not trying to fix things for them. You’re trying to help them come to a resolution on their own. Besides, if you tell them what to do, and it doesn’t work, then you’re really in trouble!
8. Wonder Out Loud, Rather Than Give Advice.
If your spouse is tired of talking about it and they’re really pushing you for your advice, Then couch your words in uncertain speculation. For example, you might say something like, “I don’t know, but I wonder if something like ______________ might be helpful.” This makes it easier for your spouse to connect with you because you’re not coming across as an expert who’s telling them what to do. You’re just wondering out loud.
9. Be Patient With Them as They Struggle and Grow.
People are complicated and messy. We’re not machines. We’re more like plants. Seeds must be planted in the soil of difficulty and given time to grow. Then those plants need to be nurtured and cared for as they grow out of their difficulty. So be patient with your spouse. Sooner or later, they will probably figure things out. But your job is not to force growth. It’s to provide the environment for growth.
A FINAL WORD…
Never underestimate the importance of compassionately listening to and walking with your spouse as they voice their struggles and problems. Your caring presence and listening ear have more power to help your spouse than anything you can say or do.