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February 2, 2023

The most helpful relationship skill you can build

I’m writing this from picturesque San Francisco, CA. I’ll be here for the next three months, as my fiancé Kelly takes a contract at a local hospital.

The morning construction outside my apartment has me missing the secluded woods of New Mexico. As I’m transitioning to a faster pace, I’m remembering how change grows you. Although a different vibe, I’m excited at the opportunities that will emerge.

While on our way here, we stopped in Palm Springs for what was supposed to be a few days of R&R. As it happens, life had other plans. Kelly had a crisis and instead of relaxing by the pool, she was panic-stricken the entire day.

If there is one thing I’ve learned about relationships, it’s that when your partner is disturbed by an emotion, they don’t want you to try and fix it.

Problem-solving may come, but when they are really in the grip, the best way to support them is simply listening and being with them. We don’t have to be therapists to be therapeutic. Our uninterrupted presence is like a soothing balm to someone’s distress.

Emotions are a right-brained, non-verbal, non-linear process. Fixing them with a left-brain problem-solving mentality is like mixing oil and water, it doesn’t work. Being with someone from an emotional level allows each other’s hearts to synch and provides space for comfort.

(I’ll caveat by saying after an emotion passes, left brain practices like journaling are massively helpful in processing events. My thoughts are focused for when someone is in-the-emotion itself.)

It’s challenging not to offer advice, especially when we think it could help. In the past, when Kelly would tell me a charged story, I literally had to hold back the urge to comment. After a few minutes of her venting (and me saying nothing), she said, “Thanks for listening,” and like magic, all was better. If I had butted in and said, “here’s what you should do,” I would have just made it worse.

This recent time in Palm Springs, she was just happy I was there for her. When we’re in a difficult emotion, we want someone to verbally or nonverbally say, “I see you, I love you, I’m here for you.” That’s different from “I have the answer for you.” After letting the emotion pass, then we are ready for problem-solving input.

This advice goes beyond significant others to all relationships. As we talk less and listen more, people feel safe, heard, and understood.

Next time someone you know is having a hard time, practice releasing the urge to fix and instead, just be. It’s one of the most helpful relationship skills you can build.

Caring for Difficult Feelings is a meditation that helps us offer this wholehearted presence to ourselves and others.

SongYou Can’t Rush Your Healing — If you’re in a difficult place right now, you may find this supportive. If you’re not, you’ll still get all the feels.

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