Romans 12:15 “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”
So often in marriage, our good intentions toward our spouse just do not get through in the way we intend. Recently while meeting with a newly married young couple, the wife was frustrated that her husband was not sympathetic when she told him about her difficulties at work. She comes home feeling disappointed and annoyed by the situation she had to endure. She needs to talk about it, to vent. However, her husband’s response is not what she had hoped for. Though his intent is to help her, he actually makes things worse. What does he do? He tries to fix it. First, he gets angry and then gives an abundance of advice. “If you would just take control of this situation…” or, “Why don’t you just tell your coworker …” Then he expresses anger at her for the situation she is in.
It does not take a psychologist to figure out that his response is not going to make her feel better. Nor does it empower her to go to work the next day and do what he suggested would solve the problem. Rather, it leaves her feeling even more frustrated. In addition, she feels rejected and criticized by the one she thought would be her support system. Now, compounding her problems, she is not only frustrated about her work situation, but about her marriage as well. If she cannot share her feelings about work with her husband and get understanding, where can she go? She certainly is not going to share her concerns with him tomorrow.
How frequently this scene plays out in relationships. Yet there is a simple relationship principle that can easily “fix” this problem: When someone shares an emotion, the first response to him or her should always be an emotion. Ask yourself this question: How do I feel about what this person is going through? Then share that with him or her. Alternatively, if the person shares a situation with you but does not express an emotion, say, “Wow, that must have made you feel ____________________.” (Insignificant, angry, overwhelmed, peaceful, etc.)
Imagine if the husband in the scenario above said, “I am so sad that you are going through that at work.” Or, “You must feel so frustrated by that situation. Do you think you should do anything?” Chances are the wife would have felt understood and cared for and may choose to discuss it further. The husband at that point may be asked for his input or advice. This is an easy principle to apply in any relationship. It helps the person in the relationship to feel valued, validated and cared for. It only takes a sentence or two. Too often, our tendency is to give logic and advice first, which makes the other person feel criticized and unaccepted, as though their feelings are unimportant. I wonder how many arguments start right there.
It is easy to show we care but sometimes we need coaching to break bad habits learned in childhood and previous relationships. Let your good intentions shine through by learning to communicate in ways that your spouse can receive positively. Small changes like this one can make a big difference in meeting needs in the relationship. Try it out today and see if this principle works for you.
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