Your partner comes home in a mood. Their boss undermined them at work again; they rant about how horrible it feels never to be recognized. But one thing leads to another and all a sudden, you’re both in a fight.
How did the tables turn so quickly?
What might’ve started as your partner blowing off steam quickly turned into a battle between you two. But chances are that didn’t just happen. In fact, you’re both at fault here.
While your partner may not be in the clear, you most likely were guilty of one thing: lack of empathy.
You might think listening is enough when your partner is upset. But showing you understand how your partner is feeling and that you’re there to listen is even more important.
The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology published a study conducted by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley. Participants in a relationship were asked to log their arguments daily, rating how understood and happy they felt in their relationship after.
They found that couples that understood each other better during an argument thought more highly of their relationships. In fact, just the simple act of one partner trying to understand the other made the person feel happier.
So while listening is the first step for communication in a relationship, empathy is what truly matters when your partner is talking about their struggles.
But that doesn’t come naturally for everyone. You may be thinking, “I always say and do the wrong things!”
And I totally feel that because I used to be the same. I struggled to find the right words; I felt like everything I said made things with my partner worse.
But empathy isn’t something you need to be born with; it’s something you can learn and practice.
If you want to work towards making your partner feel more understood and heard, give these ideas a try.
1. Put down your phone
No one is going to think you’re listening to them if your eyes are glued to your phone. Think about the last time you had an important conversation with someone. How would you have felt if they had picked up their phone while you recalled your struggles?
Put down your phone and look up at your partner. Give them your undivided attention. If you don’t follow this step, the rest won’t really matter.
You need to actively listen to what your partner is saying. That won’t happen with your Instagram feed in your hand.
2. Ask questions
If something your partner says doesn’t make sense to you, don’t nod and let them continue. Part of actively listening is asking questions for clarification.
So if your partner feels like they were “undermined,” ask them in what ways they felt that. Tell them to describe to you what being undermined feels like.
Asking questions not only helps you understand your partner’s situation better but lets them see you care enough to engage.
3. Be close to them
Listening to your partner from another room can come off as uncaring. Physical closeness establishes a connection that says you’re there and listening.
Sit down next to your partner while they relay to you what’s going on. Create a calm space for your partner to be there next to you.
If they are open to physical touch, hold their hand during your conversation. Give your partner a hug if they seem overwhelmed. A simple act of touch can show how much you understand their distress.
4. Don’t automatically jump to advice
I’m sure every single one of you can think of a time where you were talking to someone about a problem, and they jumped in with unwarranted advice.
I know this is a personal pet peeve of mine.
Here’s a piece of news that will get you far in life: most of the time, people just want to vent. Especially if that person is a friend, partner, or family, they just need to talk about things. They don’t expect you to have the answers.
So take the pressure off yourself to have the solution; your partner doesn’t expect that hefty role of you.
5. Validate their feelings
Instead of giving advice, opt to validate their feelings.
If they’re coming to you feeling emotionally drained because of how horrible their boss treats them, be with them at that moment. Acknowledge that it makes sense they feel that way because it sounds exhausting to you as well.
A simple “I can see you’re really upset” or “I understand how that would be frustrating” lets your partner know you honor the way they’re feeling.
Validating their feelings doesn’t mean you agree. But what your partner feels is a fact. Whether you agree or not doesn’t mean they don’t feel that emotion wholly.
6. Ask what you can do for them
If the conversation ends and you’re not sure what to do, ask.
See if there’s something you can do for your partner to make the situation better. If not, ask what you can do to cheer them up.
By acknowledging you’re not sure how to move forward, you’re creating space to have your partner help you understand what they need. Offering to make their situation a little bit easier is a caring gesture.
Communication can make or break relationships. And while it’s not the easiest skill in the world, it’s one that all of us can get better at.
So next time your partner comes home upset about something, create a space for understanding them. Put down your phone, actively listen, let them know their feelings are valid, and ask what you can do for them.
Feeling loved and cared for is what we all want. Do so for your partner by making them feel heard and understood.