It’s evening, you’re tired from work. She is upset. A part of you wants to hear her out, but a bigger part wants her to put it away so you can enjoy a relaxing evening. You have to deal with her, so you try a few of the usual tricks. If she’s mad about something you did, you bristle and get defensive. Did something happen to her that has nothing to do with you? Try to solve the problem or play it down. She might accept this, but then again, she might get even more upset.
Does this sound familiar?
Of course, she might detect that you don’t want to hear it and get angry with you, tell you what a selfish slob you are. She doesn’t want you to solve any problems, why can’t you hear her out? You think, why is she so hell-bent on wallowing? Nothing seems to help. Now you’re frustrated and hurt, you didn’t need all this drama. You feel resentful too and want to disengage. You might pour a drink, turn on the TV, walk into the other room. Find a way to distract yourself from the tension that she introduced.
Wanting to approach your partner’s painful feelings is hard. Most of us don’t welcome pain. You don’t like to suffer, or even witness another’s suffering. Especially when you’re tired. The bad news here is that if you want more intimacy, you have to be willing to feel some of what she’s feeling yourself. You’re going to need to let it in and feel the discomfort it brings. Relationships can be a place to develop emotional muscle. Or call it emotional intelligence. It gets easier with practice.
Sometimes you might notice yourself going too fast into problem-solving mode. You might notice that you are intent on not letting her bad mood affect you. A long term relationship is a long-term training program. When she sees you are making an effort to hang with her in the dark places, she can feel she can rely on you. When there are no immediate solutions, at you’re there with her, and that can be all that matters in the moment. Leave the problem-solving for later, if it’s needed at all.
Brene Brown studies emotion. Check out this short clip she created about empathy.