Do you feel like you're often the one who's listening to what feels like too many complaints?
Does it feel like no matter what you try she is always unhappy?
Do you get the feeling that whatever you do to help make things better, it doesn't seem to make a differnce?
Do you feel like there are solutions right in front of her, and even when you point it out she doesn't take them?
Most relationships tend to have this tension of one partner wanting to move towards a solution and the other partner feeling like they want to dwell on the problem longer.
Even though it might feel like one partner tends to do this much more often, the truth is that each partner has areas of their life where they are feeling the need to heal or the suffering of some past hurt.
This is where the concept of holding space comes in. Now this might sound foreign to some of you, especially the men! After all...
You've been taught right from the beginning that you are the one to hold the well-being of the family as your responsibility.
You've been fed through movies, society, friends and family and everyone around that you are the one who needs to keep her happy.
And you've brought up believing that if there's an easy and quick solution to her woes and she can't see it, it's your duty to point it out! Duh!
But somehow, contrary to everything you've learnt, when you try to do your best to keep her happy and give her the solutions to her problems, it doesn't seem to help! A lot of times in fact, it probably backfires!
If you've been facing this dilemma since forever, read on, I have just the right solution for you :)
The reason your attempts to make her feel better,
to provide her with a solution are not working is because
....she isn't looking for a solution! At least not yet.
She may not know it and may claim that she is happy for you to help her find solutions, but the truth is that she's not ready, not just yet.
Remember how the saying goes about how the solution can't come from the same place as the problem came from. Well, she is still swimming in the problem zone and because she feels everything deeply, because she has a wide open heart that loves more than she can handle and because she's really a little warped in her own contradictions, she's not ready to be able to hear or accept a solution.
Taylor Ellwood describes this beautifully as she said to her partner,
“When you’re reacting to what I’ve said, your reaction takes up the entire space and I can’t process my feelings about this situation, so I feel like I’m stuck in it.”
So what can you do instead?
This is different from 'listening'. It's different from listening keenly and trying to acknowledge her feelings. It's a bit deeper.
1. You can hold space for someone when you allow every single of her feelings, emotions, doubts, questions, confused thoughts and everything in between to be brought out on the table.
2. Instead of reacting with ideas, or expressing your own emotional responses to what she's saying you just allow whatever surfaces within you to be felt without thinking about it.
3. You listen intently without thinking about your response. If you feel something, just feel it and let go. Don't think about it, don't dwell in it.
Here's an example:
She quit her job a year ago to care for your then newborn. She loves motherhood and accepts many of the messy and imperfect parts of it. However, when it comes to the sister-in-law who visits often, and gives her parenting advice offhandedly, she seems to totally lose her balance and gets ill-tempered. You are ready to find solutions to this situation by a. Not meeting the sister-in-law too often. b. Telling your wife to find a way to retort back or politely shut her up. c. Reminding her she's a good mother
None of this may work. Because the real reason she's upset is that she feels insecure about how your sister seems to be beautifully managing her career, home and kids. While she was the one who chose to quit her job, she is now facing new insecurities about her self-worth. She's not used to living without a consistent stream of income, a swarm of intellectually-stimulating colleagues around her and she's definitely not used to being in a full time role of a mother that has no recognition, perks or appraisals. All of this brings up insecure hidden parts of her inner self that she didn't know existed.
If you follow the steps outlined above and hold space for her by asking questions, getting curious and being genuinely interested in allowing her to move through her own emotions, very soon she can come to place of acceptance of her own emotions and the solution will spring forth - automatically and organically!
Holding space for someone, letting go of the temptation to move towards a solution before processing your own or her feelings and allowing pain or anything else it's total space to breathe requires more courage than you might imagine. But I can assure you it's a beautiful and highly rewarding practice for both partners for your individual growth as well as to explore depths of your relationship that will being you immense joy and togetherness! Totally worth committing to!
A special note for
Women - Be Unstoppable
Men - You are the best support system for your partners - let's just not forget that the definition of 'knight in shining armour' has changed. Time to update yourselves..
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