One major characteristic of a healthy marriage is friendship. A friendship offers advice, apologizes when there is hurt, forgives, and commits to truthfulness.
In a healthy marriage partners risk opening up about embarrassing moments, feeling let down, being overwhelmed with life, or admitting when they have fallen short. Life gets messy and unfair, and having your partner as a friend is beneficial during those times.
Genuine friendships allow space for friends to be open with each other. It’s the foundation of emotional intimacy in a satisfying marriage.
How do couples build, and maintain, their friendship? What makes their marriage different than a marriage that’s closed off from emotional closeness?
Understand Before Giving Advice
You don’t want to see your partner hurting. If he or she is in a job they hate, or having problems with a family member, you want to help them out. It shows that you care.
The problem is that he or she may not want you to fix it. I know your intentions are to help them feel better. Great! But do you know what they want from you? Does he or she want advice?
If your partner is angry, hurt, sad, exhausted, overwhelmed, anxious, or just feeling blah, they probably just need a shoulder to cry on, or need to let loose and vent.
Allow him or her the space to have whatever is needed. Your partner’s complaint is not an invitation for advice, or your opinion. It’s a request for emotional connection.
Listening without offering advice is a way of caring for them in a way that pulls them close. It’s a way of being with them in their struggle.
Immediate Responses Are Reactive
Often, immediate responses are more reactive than thoughtful. You may feel compelled to offer an obvious solution. You may wonder how not offering anything is helpful. Yet, it is.
Attentive silence, many times, helps more than harms. It silently considers the gravity of his or her situation. It, also, shows your partner you get how difficult that situation must be for them.
A quick response makes it more about you than your partner. Is your pride on the line if you don’t give advice? Will you feel more valued if he or she heeds your advice? What if he or she doesn’t? It’s worth considering — are you more invested in your advice, than simply being present.
Connect with their pain
Do you know what it’s like to feel sadness, anger, overwhelm, confusion, and all of those other uncomfortable emotions? Connect with that. You know what it feels like.
It’s not in your wedding vows to rescue your partner from every negative emotion. Your good intentions may be sending the message that it’s not okay to express emotions, or even feel them.
Ask questions. Look in their eyes. Hold his or her hand. Connecting with where he or she is emotionally, is more important than finding a solution. What he or she needs most is your presence, and your attention. Hold back your advice for a separate conversation.
When your partner feels accepted, and feels your patience, you empower him or her to tap into the competence they already have to figure it out. If you’re not sure what to do, ask — “What do you need from me right now?” or “Would you like to hear my thoughts?”
Brainstorming the problem, and finding a solution is a separate conversation. Trust that your partner will seek your expertise, or genius advice — until then, work on listening, and being supportive.