Is he a “soft place to fall”?

Dr PhilDr. Phil uses the term “a soft place to fall” to express a safe space to be vulnerable. He frequently asks troubled couples if they each provide a soft place to fall for the other.

When you’ve dated a guy for a little while, do you feel you can be vulnerable with him, admitting your fears and doubts? Sharing your setbacks and disappointments in yourself, your job, your life?

Or do you feel you need to be guarded, never letting on that your life is anything less than optimal, lest he think you are a mess and dump you fearing he’ll have to straighten it out? While some men relish the opportunity to be the White Knight, even seeking out women who regularly need a lot of help, others bail at the first sign of anything amiss.

Nobody has a trouble-free life. No matter how rosy, I bet there are aspects of your life that aren’t perfect, or could at least be improved. Maybe it’s something closeted, that he’d never know about if you didn’t tell him. Perhaps it’s a strained relationship with a family member, or a financial setback, or a chronic minor health challenge.

soft place to fallI don’t recommend revealing these in the first few dates. But after you’ve been with the guy a few times and begun to trust him and get closer, are you comfortable disclosing these hitches? If not, ask yourself why. Is it that he gets upset hearing your challenges? Or he immediately tries to fix the problem, rather than just listening to you? Or he responds by telling you that you “shouldn’t feel that way,” or it was “stupid to get yourself in that situation,” or “Here’s what you should do….” This is not a soft place to fall.

Let him know what you need: “I want to share something I’m not proud of, but I think you should know. You may be tempted to try to help me brainstorm a solution, but right now I’d really like you to just listen and hold me. After I’ve shared my thoughts, I’ll tell you when — and if — I’m ready for us to go into problem-solving mode.” If he ignores you, remind him of your request. He may not have had anyone be this clear on what she wanted and he doesn’t have any muscle built up on how to just listen.

And ask yourself if you are a “soft place to fall” for him. Many men don’t like to be vulnerable, so if he shares something that he’s not proud of, be gentle with him. Acknowledge the courage it took to admit this to you and allow him to share without your problem solving or being judgmental. Ask him what he’d like from you right now to feel supported. If the wound is deep, he may start crying, which is very hard for many man to let a woman see. Especially a woman he’s interested in romantically.

So work on your “soft landing” skills, and allow him to work on his as well. These are muscles some of us don’t use a lot, so the first few landings may be a bit bumpy, but stick with it!

Technorati Tags:,,,,,,,, , , , ,

Got a topic on dating after 40 you want Dating Goddess to address? Send your issue to







7 responses to “Is he a “soft place to fall”?”

  1. Christine Avatar

    In my last relationship, I had known the man since college and he carried alot of fantasies about me from that time. I think once he started to experience me in real time with real challenges, I couldn’t live up to every perfect image he had carried in his head for the past 25 years. I don’t think my life is any messier than average, but it certainly doesn’t have the same cadence it did when I was in college. I was that soft place for him, allowing him to be who he really was. Seeing his vulnerability and lisening to his deepest secrets, I felt safe enough to do the same. That’s when he got scared (or confused, or just plain done) , and he proceeded to throw me off the back of a fast moving train and sometimes I feel like I’m still stumbling around on the tracks trying to find my way back to the station. Now I can see that I was just a one dimensional figure for this guy. He wasn’t interested or brave enough to really know me. He was my refresher course in “Hard Fall 101”.

  2. Bookyone Avatar

    Hi Christine,

    Ouch, that sounds awful, I’m sorry to hear you had to go through this. Some guys just don’t understand the difference between fantasy and reality and when reality hits them in the face (as it does in every relationship sooner or later) they don’t handle it too well. My ex was similar, a sweet guy (or so I thought) whom I could talk to about almost anything and he confided in me regularly as well. Here was a sweet sensitive talkative guy who wasn’t afraid to share and show his feelings; I thought I’d met my perfect match. Fast forward to the first major crisis in our relationship 5 years later (I can’t believe it took that long for a major crisis to occur, but it did). Anyhow, Mr. Sensitive bailed on me, so much for sensitivity and understanding. IMHO, it’s a lot easier to separate the men from the boys when the going gets rough – the men stick around, while th boys cut bait and run. Obviously my ex was one of the boys, no matter how often he claimed the opposite…

    Best wishes from bookyone 🙂

  3. Gatti Avatar

    This is one theme that is resonant with me. One of the things that frightened me about my ex (besides him yelling at me and putting me down constantly) was that if he was that hard on me when I was “whole”, what would happen if I became “damaged”, i.e. became ill or injured. Would he rise to the occasion or would I be even less tolerated?

    My guy now cared for his wife for several years through to the end of a tragic illness. Knowing he did that makes me feel certain that he would support someone he loved, whether through a minor or a major crisis. And up to now everything he’s said and done with me has not changed my view on this.

    And I feel honoured to know his tender places. A soft place for both of us to land, indeed!

  4. Steve Lindsley Avatar
    Steve Lindsley

    What a wonderful post. It IS hard for a man to reveal himself and things we’re not proud of … who doesn’t have them. It’s exciting to be in a relationship where you can be a little “vulnerable.” After not dating for many, many years, it’s hard to know what to reveal and what not. It is a wonderful place to know that you CAN be truthful and not worry whether you’ll be labled a wuss.
    Keep up the good work, Goddess.

  5. Dating Goddess Avatar

    Thanks Steve. It’s nice to know that a man agrees with my observations! And being vulnerable can be very appealing, as it shows a man is willing to not have to “look good” all the time, but can tell his truth, even if it isn’t pretty. That is alluring, not wussy!

  6. Christine Avatar

    Thanks for your comment, Bookyone. As I read over my comment, I can see I’m relapsing into my well established victim role. Sorry about that! I’m sure my mood is dictated by the joys of perimenopause and raising a house full of teenage girls. I’m quite certain God did not intend for a single woman to face these challenges all at the same moment in time!!!

  7. […] “Is he a ’soft place to fall’?” we talked about how important it is for most women to have a man they can be vulnerable with. But […]