When our partner is hurting, so are we. Because we love them, and don’t want them to feel pain, discomfort or sorrow.
Yet, in spite of our own sadness over their pain, or maybe precisely because of it, we are often unable to give them what they need: true, heartfelt, love & connection. True empathy for the pain they are experiencing.
So often, instead of hearing our partner and being present for them, we inject our stories – our personal narratives – into the experience, thereby ruining our ability to fully support them in their moment of need.
Sometimes we are so consumed with our own sense of pain, that we skip over their need to express and vent, and instead zoom into solutions. Or we push them to talk, when talking may not be what they want right now. Or even more dysfunctional is when we are so flooded with guilt from thoughts that maybe we are the cause of their dismay, that we react defensively towards our lover, because why should their discomfort be our fault. How dare they get upset at us?! How dare they have pain due to the inevitable ups and downs of our relationship? And perhaps the least effective response is when our pain over their pain supersedes their pain, forcing our partner to emotionally support us, when it is really they who needs a shoulder to cry upon.
For our partner, so desperate for love, a soft hug, and a kind ear, this can result in two wounds, compounding:
Marvin comes home from work, despondent, angry or depressed. Janet notices her husband’s pain, and asks “Honey, what’s wrong?” Marvin is in no mood to talk. He just wants to take his shoes off, grab something to eat, and relax. Janet feels slighted at her husbands reluctance to share, so she turns her back on him in frustration.
Not only is he suffering from his own pain from work, but now she has added an additional helping of salt in an unhelpful and sometimes aggressive response. Ouch.
And if every time our loved one shows up melancholy we go into an emotional tailspin, how can we ever hope to be the support they need? How can we hold-up our end of the implicit commitment we have made to each other – that we will be there for them in their time of need?
As a marriage therapist, I’m privy to see this dynamic repeated over and over again. And it’s a tough one to solve, because the truth is, is that in order for us to be present, loving and empathic with our partners, we must be present, loving and empathic with ourselves. And that itself can take a lifetime of personal work and reflection.
But the journey of a 1000 miles starts with a single step. So we must begin somewhere. We cannot abandon our partner when they need us most.
Perhaps the most important principle to internalize is that our partners are flawed human beings – just like us. They have the full gamut of emotions, driving responses that are formed from fears, anxiety, childhood wounds, and underdeveloped maturity. Again, just like me; and just like you. When we replace that big bad man or woman with the hurt little boy & girl inside each and every one of us, we can start feeling again – feeling for them, instead of just responding.
And in the same way we can reimagine and unconditionally accept our partners, we can do so for ourselves as well. And we must do so for ourselves. We are flawed, imperfect, less-than humans.
None of this means that we are bad. None of this means that we are evil, greedy, narcissists, or the mother of all fears – unworthy of love. It just means that we are all – even your partner – works in progress. And you have been blessed with loving, connecting with, supporting this beautiful work in progress. And they have been blessed with you. Soul to soul, heart to heart, hand in hand supporting each other over the hills and valleys of a lifetime of love, pain, and joy.
Show You Care:
“I’m so sorry that you are sad. I want to be here for you. Let me hug you.”
“I can sense your anxiety. I wish I could take it away. Share everything with me.”
“I feel that something is wrong. I love you deeply and if you need anything from me right now, please let me know. I’m here.”
“I understand that when you are stressed, you don’t want to talk about it. I respect that, but I want to support you. Can I give you a backrub or make you something to eat?”
“There is nothing you are feeling that can push me away. I love you and will be here for you when you need me.”
“I can tell you are upset. If it’s something I did – I’m sorry for hurting you. I never want to hurt you. When you are ready, let me know what it is, and if I can, I’m happy to change for ‘us’.”
When we let go of our story – our own false insecurities and pain – we are free to love ourselves. To accept ourselves, with all our flaws, imperfections, and the inevitable mistakes we have made, and those yet to come. We understand that even though we have failed at times, we are wonderful humans, worthy of love.
And then, we are free to love our partner, too, the way they really need, and can show them we really care. ❤️