“I just want you to listen!” I found myself saying to my husband more and more often as we progressed through the early months of marriage.
“Okay,” he’d respond, confused.
I was having trouble dealing with a difficult coworker. My husband genuinely wanted to help me make the situation better, but he didn’t know all the details about my work environment. I didn’t feel he had enough information to fix this situation.
We were experiencing a classic relationship problem. I wasn’t coming to him for advice, I was asking him to listen. Rather than immediately offering solutions, I needed him to show love and support for me by listening to my frustrations. I often need to talk something through before I can come up with a solution on my own. Sometimes I wanted to find my own solution, rather than be told what is the best thing to do.
But my husband wanted to help me, and he also was frustrated that we kept talking past each other in these conversations.
It took me a while, but I figured out that his desire to help me find solutions for my problems with others was good. He just had a hard time knowing when I wanted him to go into solving or listening mode.
Then I remembered a story my mom once told me about my aunt. Early on in her marriage, she posted a sign on the refrigerator with a list of her emotions and the best responses to them.
If I’m angry, do this…
If I’m upset, say this…
If I’m worried, say this…
I initially feared my husband’s responses would seem to me insincere—and therefore less effective—if I knew that he was just following directions, rather than naturally coming up with responses on his own. But since we weren’t really making progress, I decided to spell things out a little more as my aunt had years ago. After all, all he wanted to do was help me.
We decided to try a new method of communication that required me to identify ahead of time what I needed. Did I need to just talk? Did I want help figuring something out? Did I want another perspective or did I need just to vent first? Was I ready for him to solve my problem? We decided that when I just want to vent, I will tell him so before I start talking. If I want to discuss a situation with which he is unfamiliar, then I either need to give him the relevant information so he can help provide solutions or ask him to just listen.
Through this process we have become less likely to hurt or confuse each other because we both gained a better sense of how we need our spouse to respond to our frustrations. He has worked to listen to me, support me, and ask questions while avoiding “fix it” mode. As time has gone on, I’ve become more open to my husband’s advice on how to fix my frustrations.
Just knowing I have his support, in whatever form I currently need it, means so much and strengthens the trust in our marriage. When I communicate properly, he knows what I need to feel supported. I’ve learned that relationships work best when you tell each other what you need and you both listen.