When my mate and I talk, it often feels like he and I are looking to get different things out of the conversation. Usually, when I'm feeling bad about something, I just want to tell my mate what I'm feeling bad about and to get some comfort, but my mate always tries to fix what's wrong and solve all my problems for me. I know he means well, but I'm really frustrated, as I don't feel like my emotional needs are currently being met by my mate, even though I really love him and I know he loves me too. What can either of us do to improve this situation?
Received via Telegram (name withheld)
Sometimes, all it takes to miscommunicate is entering into a conversation with a set of expectations that the person you are talking with does not share. In this case, it sounds like the problem you are having boils down to what is primarily a failure on your part to communicate to your mate what it is you are looking for when you confide in him.
I understand that you feel frustrated when your mate goes into “Mr. Fixit” mode and tries to tell you all the things you could do differently that might help you feel better when all you want is some comfort and empathy and understanding. It might be that you already know what you need to do, but just need help getting emotionally centered in order to do it. Or perhaps you aren’t even ready to think about solutions until you are feeling better.
Either way, it would be incredibly helpful to tell your mate what is is you want from him before you start the conversation, so you aren’t frustrated when your mate takes it in a direction that does not meet your emotional needs, even if your mate means well.
Consider saying things like, “I’d love for you to listen to what is bothering me and to hold onto your advice until after I tell you I’m done getting all of my feelings out.” You might also say, “What I am needing from you right now is some comfort, not advice or sympathy. Though I really appreciate that you'd love to help me right now, what would actually help me the most would be for you to listen to me and hold me while I talk about what is upsetting me right now.” When you directly ask for what it is that you want, you are far more likely to get it!
As for your mate, he would do well to work on his active listening skills, so that he becomes more able to detect what it is you are looking for from a conversation and gets better at meeting your emotional needs when you confide in him. As a general rule, it is better to give someone empathy and really listen to what they are telling you — to let them finish getting their feelings out — before attempting to console them or offering advice.
If instead you rush into offering judgements, sympathy, or solutions when your mate confides in you, you run the risk of alienating the person you are trying to help by making them feel like you aren’t even listening to them, or like you are condescending to them by offering them glib solutions to a problem that has deeply upset them.
In summary, it may be counterintuitive, but when you are listening to a mate who is in a great deal of emotional pain, the best advice is “Don’t just do something, stand there.” In other words, don’t immediately give in to your own desire to help someone feel better and try to fix their emotional state. Instead, remember that you are not responsible for fixing someone else’s emotions, and that often the best way you can help someone feel better is to simply listen and be present for their pain.
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