• Feeling vs. Fixing

    Feeling vs. Fixing


    When Joe suggested that his wife Anita hire another worker for her business, he was trying to be helpful. So he was surprised by her sharp response: “That’s not what I need right now. Stop telling me what to do.”


    After all, Anita had approached Joe to talk about her frustration with her business. Joe’s intent was to help Anita feel less pressured and happier, and for them to spend more time together. He believed his “solution” would help her — and them. But instead, he found himself on the defensive as he walked away confused.


    So what happened here?


    Hearing vs. Helping

    Anita’s experience in that interaction was completely different. Joe was right that she was feeling overwhelmed by the business, and she, too was longing to spend more time with him. When Anita approached Joe to share her struggle at work, she was hoping for a moment of comfort and a respite from her stress.


    But instead, he gave her advice. She felt minimized and emotionally abandoned. In the moment, she was looking for her partner to understand what she was going through, not offer a practical solution. Anita was looking for connectedness and understanding — something that science tells us can reduce pain and increase feelings of well-being.


    A Deeply Rooted Response

    Anita’s childhood holds clues to her reaction to Joe. In her early life, her parents were always working and, due to their own fatigue and stress, often ignored Anita’s emotional needs. They’d say things such as, “I’ll give you something to cry about.” She frequently heard “Just do this,” or “Just do that,” when she’d turn to them for emotional support.


    Joe’s well-intentioned suggestion came across as an echo of those early parental dismissals. In addition to disappointment and frustration, she also felt Joe wasn’t seeing her as capable of handling things herself. Joe, meanwhile, failed to recognize her effort to connect emotionally with him.


    Joe was raised in a family that expected men to mute their emotions. Joe’s father was stoic; he was there to fix things and solve problems. And this was Joe’s template for being a husband. Although men in our culture are more often conditioned to compartmentalize vulnerable emotions, in some relationships, these roles are reversed.


    Try Feeling First

    In either case, it’s a good idea to share emotions before attempting any problem solving in an attachment relationship. If you’re accustomed to showing love by fixing things, it can seem hard to believe that simply tuning in, hugging or sharing feelings can, in itself, provide comfort and lessen emotional pain. On the other side of the relationship, a partner with little experience being seen emotionally or receiving comfort from emotional sharing may have difficulty when someone offers it.


    If efforts to “problem solve” leave you both dissatisfied, try focusing on feelings before trying to fix anything — or anyone. You may discover that emotional connection was all that was needed.


    If interpersonal struggles are stealing the joy from your relationship, consider seeing a therapist for assistance. You can reach me, John Gallagher, LMHC, at 407-579-2070 or through my website at CouplesTherapyOrlan

    Therapy services available via Telehealth.