How To Be Comforting When Your Partner Is Upset
If your partner is upset, for whatever reason, it's always a good idea to be comforting. But what's the best way to comfort your partner when they're upset? Whether they're upset about a fight they had with their family, their friends, their boss or you, or they're worried about some bad news, or they're just having a terrible day in general, if you can tell your partner is ruffled, the time to help is now. But it can be difficult to lend a friendly ear, especially if the source of discomfort is you.
Good news: Arguments can actually be beneficial, if your partner feels like you get what they're saying. A recent University of California study of 107 married couples found that feeling understood in a relationship as a result of having an caring partner can improve your partnership, even in a fight — regardless of what the conflict is about. "Evidence suggests that feeling understood during conflict may buffer against reduced relationship satisfaction, in part because it strengthens the relationship and signals one's partner is invested," the study reported. "These studies suggest that perceived understanding may be a critical buffer against the potentially detrimental effects of relationship conflict."
In other words, you can argue and be miffed with your partner, but if they ask what you're upset about and take the time to really listen, understand, reflect it back to you and search for a solution, and you do the same, an argument can actually be a good thing. Mind-blowing, I know. Here are eight do's and don'ts to keep in mind when your partner is upset.
1. Do: Talk About It
If it seems as though your partner is trying to avoid a discussion, call them out — in a very kind way. "Gently let your partner know that you think he or she is avoiding a conversation," Tina B. Tessina, aka Dr. Romance, psychotherapist and author of Love Styles: How to Celebrate Your Differences , tells Bustle. She suggests that you do so "by mentioning what you observe: 'When I asked if you wanted to talk, you said yes, but then you disappeared. Are you reluctant to talk about this?'" Though no one wants to talk about an argument or hash out a terrible day, talking about it always helps. Just be super mellow and extra gentle about this — do not, under any circumstances, jump down their throat.
2. Don't: Be Judgmental
You might not even know what is the real problem is, says Tessina. "What you observed could be wrong, so ask your partner if your guess is correct," she says. Whatever the matter, don't criticize or fling around accusations. If they're upset about something that you think is stupid or something that you deem to be inconsequential, you still need to listen and be supportive.
3. Do: Make A Plan To Talk More
Even if your initial conversation about what is wrong last two minutes and just covers the basics, it's still worth having, says Tessina. Instead of grilling your partner for an hour, though, just ask them when you can talk again. It doesn't have to be so stuffy, though: You could frame it as a plan to meet the next evening for dinner, and mention that you'll be happy to do some problem-solving or just plain old listening at that time.
4. Don't: Project Your Fears
If it seems as though your partner doesn't want to talk, don't jump to quick conclusions. They may just be tired, hungry or not in the mood. Don't "accuse your partner of being afraid to talk; just acknowledge your own fears, if you have any," Tessina suggests. In other words, keep the focus on yourself. "Perhaps your fear is that he or she won’t talk to you," she says. Express that fear, and then let it go.
5. Do: Make Boundaries
Whether the topic of conversation is the fight you had last night or the awful thing that happened at work, let your partner know that you're fine with letting it go if need be. "Make some agreements about what to do if your discussion becomes a problem," says Tessina. Tell your partner, “If this starts to be difficult, we’ll take a break.” Rather than feeling pressured into talking about every detail, your partner will know that they have an out if need be. "Knowing that you have a strategy to take care of yourselves if things don't go right will give you the additional confidence to talk," she says.
6. Don't: Pretend Like You're Perfect
Never "deny your own behavior," says Tessina. "If you argued in the past, acknowledge it, and explain what is different now," she says. If you try to act like you're always right, your partner will have no room for honesty or openness. Tessina suggests telling your partner that you know what happened in the past was not ideal. Say something like, “You're right, we did get angry and yell before, but we both realize that doesn't work, and we’re learning a new way," says Tessina. If your partner is upset, it doesn't matter what they're upset about: They need comforting, consoling and an open mind — and ear.
7. Do: Be There
"Reassure each other," Tessina says. "Make an agreement that you will honor each other’s opinions, play fair and seek a mutually satisfactory outcome." When your partner is in turmoil, they are often also in panic mode. Talk them down from the ledge by letting them know that you care about them and their needs, she says.
8. Don't: Make Everything On Your Terms
Find out what your partner needs to feel better. You might be surprised that the things you think they need are actually not helpful in the moment. When in doubt, as usual, ask. "Agree to do whatever you can to create a pleasant experience with a desirable result," Tessina says. "Knowing how to reassure each other will enhance your communication." Though you might be tempted to cook a four-course dinner and run a bath for your partner, they might just want you to sit with them and snuggle or take a long walk. It's worth having this conversation before things go haywire, so you're prepared in the moment.
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