“Hmm. I’m not sure I’d know the signs that someone was wanting emotional support unless they were crying or upset. What are the signs you want or need emotional support?” I asked.
“Good question. I don’t really know. I just know I didn’t get what I needed from her when I had an upsetting day.”
“What was missing that you wanted? If I were to emotionally support you, what would that look like?”
“Again, a great question. I’m not sure.”
So he didn’t know how to tell he needed it, or what it would look like, but he knew he didn’t get it. Sounds a bit convoluted, but I think we can relate to knowing something is missing, but not knowing exactly what that is. For some, it would be a lack of compliments or positive acknowledgment of your accomplishments. For others it is listening when they’ve had an upsetting event or a bad day, without trying to offer solutions.
Being a bit unsure myself of what emotional support meant exactly, I asked a very emotionally supportive friend for her definition.
“When someone is upset, you don’t try to solve the problem, especially since some are without resolution, especially around kids or spouses. But instead, just to actively listen, and ask about the person’s feelings. Things like, ‘How did that make you feel?’ or ‘I bet that hurt your feelings,’ or ‘Why do you think that comment hit you so hard?’ You don’t focus on activities, outcomes or solutions, but instead on helping them identify their feelings, and then, if they are interested, on the source of those feelings.”
In my life when I’ve been upset and someone has commented on my emotions, I’ve felt absolutely heard. If someone focuses on just the solution, I feel less heard. We know this intellectually, and many of us have taken (or taught!) courses on active listening, but sometimes in our romantic relationships we forget to apply what we know.
How do you let someone know you need emotional support? Early in my marriage, I tried to offer suggestions to ease my ex’s upsets. (I know this is counter-stereotypical.) He finally told me he needed me to hear him out first, before offering solutions. For a while after that I’d ask, “Do you want me in active-listening mode or in problem-solving mode?” Nearly always he’d say the former. I learned to listen first and he’d let me know when he wanted some ideas for solutions.
Do you know how to let someone else know you need emotional support? And what exactly it looks like to you — active listening, being held, only asking questions, not solutions? And do you know how to detect when your guy wants emotional support? What does it look like to him? It may be very different than what you need.
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