by Eve Hogan M.A.
My wife and I get along great except I just don't know how to handle it when she comes to me to complain about a situation at work, or when she is emotional over something. I try to help her but no matter what I do, I just seem to make it worse. Next thing you know, she and I are mad at each other and I don't even know what happened. I want to be supportive but it just doesn't seem to work.
Being able to receive someone else's feelings is a bit of an art. As a relationship advisor, people tell me their deepest secrets, fears, truths and troubles all the time. I realize hearing these things from strangers and friends is not the same as hearing them from someone you are married to and whose life choices impact you personally, however, there are some guidelines that I use that will help you with your wife:
First, you have to get all your judgments and opinions out of the way, so that you can listen with your heart instead of your head. Even if your response would be exactly the same, when you say something from your ego, it blocks the love and communication. When you say it from heart, from authentic truth, your wife will be far better able to receive it. I have found as a relationship advisor and personal coach that I can tell people the brutal truth of what I see going on with them because the message comes from love and a commitment to their highest good. If I respond from ego, they get defensive and cannot hear me.
When your wife complains, shares a story or confides her feelings in you she isn't looking for you to fix the problem. Rather, she just wants you to be a witness to what she is going through, empathize with her frustration and be a safe place to express her feelings. All you have to do is listen. Only offer her advice when she asks for it. When you tell her what to do, or not to feel the way she does, she will likely become frustrated not only with the original problem but also with you. When someone is told not to feel the way they feel, resistance goes into effect and their emotions usually dig in deeper. When they are allowed to simply feel what they feel, observe it and do some self-inquiry, they are usually able to move through it and resolve it. Your job is simply to be a mirror so she can reflect on her own feelings and thoughts, with you.
This does not mean you need to agree with her if you think she is off base, making up false stories or obsessing about something that doesn't seem right to you. In that case, before sharing your thoughts, ask if she wants your input or whether she just wants to vent, or simply ask questions that help her reflect on the situation, "Are you saying that he didn't have a right to be mad at you?" or "What are you basing that thought on; what is your evidence?" or "What would you do if your ego was not bruised?" Or, simply guide her, "Remember what your goal is..." So she makes decisions that will lead her where she really wants to go.
Trust in her ability to resolve her issues. Communicate your faith in her with comments like, "I know you will figure out just the right way of handling this." Empathize while still offering confidence. It is our ego at play when we think the other person needs us to solve their problems. We serve their highest good when we support them in handling what is theirs to handle.
One of the best things you can do when your wife shares her challenges is simply hug her and ask, "Is there anything I can do to help or support you through this?"
Intellectual Foreplay Question of the Week: What kind of support do you like to receive?
Love Tip of the Week: Simply listening to people, rather than taking on their troubles and trying to fix them, is much easier for you and much more helpful for them.