Does this situation sound familiar to you? You have a terrible day at work, which includes making a mistake your boss noticed and having a disagreement with a co-worker. You come home feeling exhausted, frustrated, and concerned about your job security. You can’t wait to talk to your partner about your bad day so they can make you feel better. But as you relay your experience, you are met with “you’re just overreacting and feeling worried for nothing. Stop being crazy, it will be fine.” If this experience sounds familiar, you aren’t alone. Many couples are struggling to meet their partner’s emotional needs. Often, it isn’t coming from a place of bad intentions, but rather lack of knowledge.
Think about what we learn about emotions from our culture. People are expected to be one of two things-neutral or happy of course! But the reality is, as humans, we can all feel a wide spectrum of emotions -sadness, fear, disappointment , frustration…just to name a few. It can be hard to see someone we love feeling these difficult emotions. We want our partner to be happy. How can couples respond in a way that’s emotionally supportive?
-Moderate Your Own Emotions-While we want our partner to support us, as mature adults we are responsible for managing our own emotions. If you are feeling highly escalated, think about some ways you can bring yourself back down to a calmer place before approaching your partner. Take a walk, listen to some soothing music, pet the dog-whatever activity helps deescalate you. Once you are feeling calmer, you will be in a better place to seek the support you need from your partner.
-Be clear with your needs-It’s easy to feel confused at times about what exactly your partner needs from you when they vent about their emotions. I know in my marriage there are times when I simply want to “vent” without any advice from my partner, but there are times I am seeking his advice. When I became frustrated with him for doing the wrong thing, he once said to me “well how am I supposed to know if this is one of the times you just need to vent?” Great question! Let your partner know how exactly they can emotionally support you. Be clear in your communication with phrases like “I just want someone to give me a hug and tell me they’re sorry I’m feeling sad.”
-Validate each other-The skill of validation is a tough one, but one of the most important ones you will use in a healthy relationship. Validation is simply saying to someone “you make sense to me.” Often, we do the opposite. We invalidate each other’s feelings with statements like “you are just being crazy” or “you worry too much”. This happens because we wouldn’t feel that way if we were in that situation. But validation does not equal agreement! While you may not feel that emotion in that particular situation, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a valid emotion for your partner. Knowing that your partner has their own lens with which they view the world, try to understand that they have a different perspective and are entitled to their own feelings. The more you can validate your partner, the more likely your partner is to feel emotionally supported (and the more likely you are to receive it in return).
Learning how to be an emotionally supportive partner and learning how to seek the support you need are crucial skills for staying connected to your partner! For more information, or help with these skills, contact us for an appointment at 908-246-3074 or GetSupport@CouplesTherapyCenterOfNJ.com.