Do you find it impossible to not jump straight into problem solving anytime your partner is struggling? Do you feel like offering advice is your strong suit and so you provide solutions before your partner has even finished his/her sentence? This is one of the most common things that happens in relationships. Someone expresses pain, and their partner almost automatically swoops in with a solution and tries to fix the problem. It comes from a good place but can you see why this can be a problem in relationships?
One of the most important skills we can have in a relationship is to listen. Taking the time to hear someone out and trusting that they have the skills to handle it themselves is really important. When we jump in with a solution, we neglect to realize that more often than not our partners really just want to feel heard and supported. The challenge, is that for the fixer, just listening can feel anxiety provoking because their partner’s pain can be really hard for them to deal with. And we know that when it comes to anxiety, we typically try to do the quickest and easiest thing we can to make it go away, which is what keeps the pattern repeating itself. When working with the fixer in a session, we do a lot of work around helping them see that the way they can be most helpful is to show their partner empathy and then ask if there is anything they can do to help.
So what is one of the easiest ways to remember to step back from fixing and step into empathizing with your partner’s struggle?
The line I often recommend fixer’s try to remember is “what’s the feeling the behind the fix?” The reason someone wants to fix their partner’s problem is because they care about them. And those exact feelings of care and concern are exactly what their partner wants to hear. So instead of going into action mode, ask yourself what your feelings are and express them first. For example, if your partner were to say “I am feeling really anxious. My boss sent me an email saying we needed to set up a meeting to talk over a few things and I am terrified I am going to get laid off.” The appropriate response in this situation would be something along the lines of “I can imagine that feels really hard sitting in that anxiety wondering what he wants to talk about. I know you really value your job and while my hope is that everything is fine, I know it feels scary sitting in uncertainty.”
Truly there is no greater feeling than feeling heard and understood. Feeling like what we say matters is more often than not, all that is needed for a person to take the necessary steps to fix the problem themselves. So the next time you are driven towards fixing your partner’s problem, instead ask yourself what your feelings are behind the fix and start by sharing those instead.