Guys, it’s not your fault. You were taught to do this by your dad, or your grandfather. If she’s upset, it’s our job to solve the problem. The old cliché, “Happy wife, happy life” easily turns into “if she’s unhappy, I better fix it!” This would be all well and good if that is what she wanted – but often it is not.
Guys instinctively want to figure out a solution and then are completely confused by why they are in trouble for their efforts. Men look at me in the therapy office dumbfounded, “Hey, I thought she was asking for help. I listened this time, didn’t I? I offer an opinion, and then she gets mad at me!”
If this becomes a pattern, then guys feel like it’s a Lose-Lose. If they help, they get in trouble; if they stay quiet, they’re accused of not listening.
So here are some tips on how to avoid this Fixing trap.
- Listening is key. If she is upset about something and talking to you, that means she wants you to hear her. Look at her, stop whatever else you were doing (we don’t multitask well). Try to be patient. If you give her a few minutes, she will really appreciate it.
- Repeat something back to her. “So your boss said such and such to you right in front of so and so, hmm.” You’re basically just repeating the meat of the story back to her, in your own words.
- Empathize. Part of “fixing this” for her is knowing that you could see it her way. Just say that. “Wow, that must have been tough. I would have been mad!” You hear her, and you’re on her side.
- Ask a Question. This is big. If you ask a question, it not only tells her you were listening, but it tells her you want to understand her experience. If you ask a question, she knows you’re trying – you’re on her side.
- If you only ask one question, ask: “What do you think you want to do?” or “How do you think you want to deal with it?” Here’s the tricky part for many men – women often want to process. This is a stereotype, but it is what often frustrates guys when it happens. In other words, they want to talk through different options out loud. Again, if you can be patient for a few more minutes, it will help. Usually, then she’ll either figure it out, or she’ll finally say, “What would I do?”
- If she still doesn’t ask for assistance, you can ask her, “Do you want to know what I would do?” If “no,” then let it go. Just be supportive. If “yes,” then Bingo! You’ve got the green light to give your advice.
- One last thing: qualify your answer. Even if she wants your advice, don’t come across as telling her what to do or that you know better than she does. Say something like this. “Well, I’ve never been in that position, but I think I would…” Or perhaps, “Hey, you know your coworkers better than I do. But if I was at my job, I would…” or even easier “I don’t know for sure, but maybe try this… ?”
Remember, the best thing you can do to “fix” this is not to try to fix it! Just be there for her. Listen, empathize, ask questions, be supportive. She often doesn’t want answers from you – she wants support. A little effort and some patience will help you avoid the fixing trap.