A gift for your partner on Valentine's Day

Valentine’s Day is here, guys.  How about this as the perfect gift for your partner: Stop trying to fix everything!

I hate to gender stereotype but I can’t help but witness certain trends among my clients in heterosexual relationships.  And today, I’m picking on the gentlemen.  I know that we, ladies, have our fair share of struggle, but today the men are in the hot seat. (Clinical note: The theory I am discussing today applies to individuals who do not have clinical symptoms or clinical diagnoses). 

Here are some examples of the complaints I hear from women about their partners.  “He just dismissed what I was telling him.” “He didn’t really hear me.” “He just disregarded how I felt.” “He just gave me a list of things to do to fix the problem.” “He just started talking about something else.”

What’s really going on here?  Well, upon listening to the hardships of their women, men often have a tendency to do two things.

1)    Endlessly try to give action-oriented solutions to immediately have a plan and fix the problem. 

2)    Indirectly refuse to be empathic because of how generally uncomfortable negative emotions feel.

Guys, here’s my advice: Stop being so solution-focused and sympathize with your partner!  I know that it feels efficient and productive to immediately find the solution to a problem.  But the mistake you’re making in being so solution-focused is detrimental to your partner and, believe it or not, is making things worse for you too. 

Gentlemen, the following piece of advice is going to make your lives so much easier.  The only thing you have to do when your partner vents about a negative emotion or negative experience is say, “I’m sorry that happened babe.  That really sucks.” Boom!  That’s it.  You don’t have to share in her emotions nor do you have to rack your brain trying to find the perfect solution.  Let her have her emotions.  Let her have her frustration or anger or sadness, in peace and acceptance!  Trying to find a solution bypasses the very thing that will make your partner feel better immediately and that’s: feeling heard!  The beautiful thing about this for you, gents, is that there is almost no work involved.  Again, you do not have to feel your partner’s emotions nor do you have to find the most immaculate solution.  Just look at her, acknowledge her emotional state or difficult situation and empathize with it using words like this, “Wow that sounds annoying.  It sounds like your boss was being pretty unreasonable.  Sorry babe, that’s hard.”  Guys, how easy is that?!!!

But now…. what happens when you are personally involved in the conflict with your lady? 

Again, I don’t want to gender stereotype but I do see certain trends in my office with the population of high functioning heterosexual adults with whom I work.  In my professional experience, it seems as though men often avoid conflict.  Whether it means jumping to find a solution or being silent and avoidant, anything is better than enduring the emotions that come along with a conflict or argument.

I have come to hypothesize that men in committed relationships have a tendency to be sensitive to their partner’s emotions.  They do not enjoy intense emotions because they are often taxing to experience and hard to watch.  For these and other reasons, men do not want to be the cause of their partner’s negative emotions.

As a result, they might decide to not express their opinions out of fear that they will cause harm.  They may repress their opinions to ensure that they do not start a conflict and upset their partner. 

But guys, that is not fair to you!  You’ll end up being resentful.  I mean, how crappy is it for you to forgo your own needs because you are worried about her reaction?

Trust me, she’ll be fine.  She might express negative emotions but, as we discussed above, just make sure to express sympathy and understanding.  You don’t have to hide your opinions nor do you have to immediately fix anything. 

And you know what?! Even if your partner does have a grandiose reaction to a conflict that involves you, she will be happy that your opinions and emotions were expressed; women love being in a relationship that is evolving. Even if the relationship is experiencing difficulty, women get off on moving their relationship forward and having a full understanding of their relationship status. 

So guys, when she comes home with a problem, don’t try to fix it. Just listen. And when the problem directly involves you, don’t try to immediately fix it either. Hear her out but don’t forget to express your opinion. The results may not be as catastrophic as you originally thought. Bon courage!

Anna-Maria Tosco, or our Sassy Psychologist, has two masters degrees in the field of psychology and has studied and worked coast to coast. She has worked in both psychiatric and community settings in some of Montreal's most respected healthcare organizations and institutions, and has also given a variety of talks and workshops on neuroplasticity, meditation, and uncovering barriers to love.

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