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How to Support Instead of Solve

Ann Malmberg Relationship Basics


Are you a problem-solver? When your spouse comes to you with an issue, are you quick to offer a solution?

This can be a very positive trait in many areas of life. You’re action-oriented and aren’t one to wallow around in excuses or blame.

Have you ever been caught off guard by a negative reaction from your partner in response to your suggested solution? You probably thought (or said), “I was just trying to help!” and maybe felt a little hurt or annoyed yourself.

The thing is, sometimes a solution isn’t what your partner wants, or needs, or is ready for. So what do you do when they come to you in crisis or to share an issue or problem?

Here are three things you can do, in any order, depending on what feels right for your relationship and the situation:

Listen It’s so simple, but possibly the most difficult for some of us. Just listen. Hear what they’re saying as well as the emotion behind the words. Resist the urge to interrupt, offer advice, or tell them what they should do. Utilize active listening to acknowledge and validate what they’ve expressed. You might say something like, “It sounds like you’re feeling _____ because of _____. That must be hard on you.”

Touch A hug, a hand on their arm, a cuddle on the couch. Physical affection shows your partner in a tangible way that you’re there to support them. Granted, some people are more “touchy-feely” than others, so do what feels right for your relationship. Keep in mind that if your partner is normally the more physically affectionate one, a hug from you when they’re upset could speak volumes.

Ask “What can I do for you?” or “What do you need from me right now?” This gives your partner the opportunity to tell you whether they’re just venting or if they are actually looking for a solution. They might not have an answer for you, and that’s okay. Not jumping in with solutions at the get-go gives them space to reflect on what they need from you – and gives you the opportunity to provide it.

As much as we’d like to, our job isn’t to solve our partner’s every problem. Not only is it unrealistic to think you’ll have a solution for everything, it also sets pretty high expectations to live up to. Let yourself off the hook. Sometimes not offering a solution is the best solution after all.


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