Maybe you’re under the impression that, when your girlfriend is upset about what you would consider a problem, she’d like you to solve it.
You poor, poor man. If only it were that simple.
She doesn’t want your solutions. She doesn’t even want you to say, “gee, that sounds so hard,” because . . . actually, we’re not sure why. We just know that we get yelled at whenever that gets said.
Anyway, we have a solution for you. Or, more accurately, this article in the Harvard Business Review about how to be a better listener has a solution. Consider:
When someone is upset or venting, a lot of us “listen” by sharing our own experiences (note: that is actually just talking). Or we try to fix the problem. (Note: that is also talking.) Or, perhaps because we’ve been told, “Don’t try to fix it, just listen!” so many times, we clam up and say nothing, which doesn’t result in the speaker really feeling heard. So the best way to listen when someone is venting is to ask questions, writes Mark Goulston, a psychiatrist and author of Just Listen. Help them get all that anger and frustration out into the open, where they can start to make sense of it on their own. Pose questions like, “What are you most angry about?” and “What are you really worried about?” They’ll feel heard, and you’ll get to the root of the problem.
On the down side, you’re going to get a lot of repetition with this approach. But on the plus side, your girlfriend is going to run out of steam sooner or later, and she’ll be happier when she does.