Has this ever happened to you? You call up your man and ask how his day is, he responds with a slew of “nothing is going right” and “I am so stressed from by boss breathing down my neck..” As any loving partner, you respond by listening, trying to give feedback and advice on how to get through this tough work day.
But in your quest to help your partner find relief from his stress – you find yourself feeling irritable that “he’s not taking any of your suggestions… “and if he just would try deep breathing, he would see how helpful it can be to manage his anger…”
Why this is a toxic merry go round:
Empathy VS Sympathy.
Knowing the difference will save you tons of stress and conflict in your relationship!
Brenee Brown said: “what makes something better is not a response, but connection..” This is the essential component of empathy. It’s a very simple concept but so tough to practice! When we know our loved one is in some kind of emotional pain- our gut instinctual reaction is to want to take that away. So, we go into problem solving mode! We say “do this…stop that” and spend much of our time formulating a solution rather than truly listening and validating out partner’s experience in that moment. This can cause our loved one to feel unsupported, misunderstood and invalidated!
- Reflect what they’re saying to you- without interpreting) stand on their side, even if they are dead wrong!) “You’re boss is really on your case today” or “there’s been a lot of things that haven’t gone as planned for you today”
- Put on your therapist hat and validate, validate, validate: “I’m sure it’s really suffocating to have your boss so involved in everything…”
- Let them know you’re here if they need anything/ask is there anything I can do?
Remember: It’s not your responsibility, nor is it even possible to change the way your partner is feeling in any given moment. The more you understand this, the easier it will become to provide empathy.
Check out this short clip that will help you learn more!
Val Spiropoulos, LCPC
It is beyond difficult to go through mental and emotional distress. It can feel impossible to formulate what you are going through, let alone express to a loved one how they can help. So many people experience feelings of depression, anxiety, anger, grief, and loss due to struggling with a mental illness or enduring a period of pain. However, everyone goes through different experiences and struggles so it can feel helpless to explain your pain and it can feel helpless to be a loved one trying to help heal that pain. I understand how loved ones then can feel at a loss as to how to give their support. It is normal to not know what to say, how to say it, what to do, or know if you are being helpful in any way.
Being a family therapist at The Centered Life, I believe it is an essential piece to therapy to aid my clients to learn how to conceptualize and express what they are experiencing in order to work through it. But I think it is equally as important in therapy to bring in clients’ support systems so they can learn how to be helpful in a healthy way. It is hard to be vulnerable and ask for help. And if that help is received in a negative way, it will only set up a dynamic of little communication about emotional needs and can negatively affect the relationship as well. Which then creates more distress on both ends. Here is a list of some ways that may help people express what kind of help they need and help support systems navigate how to be helpful.
Say This: “I may not understand exactly how you feel, but I care about you and want to help”
Not That: “We all go through times like this”
Say This: “You may not believe it now, but the way you are feeling will change”
Not That: “Just snap out of it, look on the bright side”
Say This: “You are not alone in this. I’m here for you. We will get through this together”
Not That: “You’ll be fine. Stop worrying. Shouldn’t you be better right now?”
Say This: “Talk to me, I’m listening.”
Not That: “Here is my advice.”
Say This: “I know you are feeling anxious and overwhelmed right now, what can I do to help?”
Not That: “You are freaking out, you just need to calm down.”
Say This: “You are not alone in this”
Not That: “There is always someone worse off than you.”
Say This: “You are important to me and I want to help.”
Not That: “No one said life is fair.”
Say This: “Do you need a hug?”
Not That: “Stop feeling sorry for yourself.”
Say This: “I can not completely understand what you are struggling with, but I can offer my love and compassion.”
Not That: “Believe me, I know how you feel. I was depressed/anxious for a few days”
Say This: “I’m not going to leave you or abandon you.”
Not This: “Your moods are bringing everyone around you down.”
Say This: “When these feelings subside, I will still be here and so will you.”
Not That: “Stop being so sensitive, cheer up.”
It can feel helpless for both the person enduring the emotional distress and the people who are trying to help, but it does NOT have to be. The above statements are some helpful outlines to enhance healthy and empowering support. If we can open up a dialogue about these topics and help each other understand from both sides, then there is so much more of a chance of coping better. It is important to offer support with an open mind, open heart, and with an open-ended approach because it only leaves room for open healthy communication and learning amongst support systems. All of us at The Centered Life are here to help people that are going through a hard time. Please call us if you are needing any kind of guidance and extra support!
All my best,
Let’s be honest, relationships of any kind can be difficult and expressing emotions is not easy. Now add an array of life stressors and it can make sense why fighting amongst people can become explosive, full of miscommunications, filled with mis-directed emotions, and can be a difficult cycle to break. A big difference in relationships that prosper and those that stay stuck is the WAY in which they handle disagreements.
As a therapist whether I’m working with an individual, a couple, or a family, a common goal people want is to have healthier and happier relationships. Life puts a strain on relationships so it is normal that with additional stress comes an increase in arguments, disagreements, and feeling like you are not being valued nor heard in your relationship. So the question I get asked all the time is, how? How do I/we stop having this distress in relationships? I will never encourage clients to set a goal of never fighting in their relationships. I help clients reframe their exceptions that the function of fighting is to express your emotional and relationship opinions and needs. I teach clients how to “fight fair” and learn how to express themselves in a healthy way. Everyone is valid to feel how they feel, but what improves relationships is effective emotional expression, healthy boundaries, and learning how to identify your responsibility and ability to do both.
Rules for Fighting Fair
1. Ask yourself what are the real reasons you feel upset. It is never really about the dirty dishes left in the sink or the dirty clothes left on the ground. It can be about gathering evidence as to why you feel you are not valued nor being heard about what you need from your partner. So take a step back and ask yourself, what am I really upset about? Without self awareness of your true emotions, you will not know how to work towards a resolution.
2.Only discuss ONE issue at a time. It can be easy for fights to morph into other issues, especially unresolved ones from the past. This can be tough but keep each other focused on the issue at hand. Keep this boundary, it is the only way to keep control of the disagreement.
3. Take responsibility for the way you feel. Express your feelings using “I statements.” Do NOT play the blame game when discussing important issues in your relationship. Instead of saying “you make me angry because you always do…,” reframe it to say, “I feel angry when…” Pointing fingers will only put up defenses and cause a barrier for any healthy communication to happen.
4. No degrading language. Discussing sensitive topics is hard and can trigger a variety of deep emotions. This can lead to impulsive outbursts such as using words or statements that you do not truly mean but will not be able to take back once said.
5. Take turns. We often listen to respond and not to understand. Try to set a timer so each person gets their turn to express themselves. Then whoever is listening does not have to worry about getting their turn, they only need to focus on truly listening.
6. No stonewalling. It can be easy during an emotionally charged conversation to want to go into a shell and not speak. However, doing this will only make it impossible to resolve the issue.
7. No yelling. Being the loudest does not mean anything you are saying is actually being heard. If you feel yourself starting to get heated and your tone of voice begins to escalate, take 5 deeps breaths to slow your mind and body down.
8. Be prepared to take a time out if things begin to escalate. If the conversation continues to get too heated and taking deep breaths just is not working, then take a time out. BUT, set a time to continue the conversation. Too often when people take a time out they never go back and the issues will only keep coming up in the future.
Set a goal of coming to some kind of understanding or compromise. Relationships are give and take and resolving conflict is the same. This does not necessarily mean you come to the exact agreement or that it will be a perfect resolution where each person gets exactly what they wanted. But sometimes even coming to understand how the other person is feeling and validating that is a solution.
During an argument many people want to either win the argument or want to be heard. Fighting fair requires that either person in the relationship work to communicate effectively so they will not further damage each other or their relationship during difficult times. Use the above rules during your next disagreement and see how you can replace destructive ways of arguing with more constructive ones.
All my support,