When doing “nothing” is exactly what’s needed
Being a mother of 4, I read a lot of children’s books. Some good, some not so good. This particular night though my little guy brought me one that always warms my heart. It’s about a little girl who is upset about something, and one by one different animals come to her trying to help. Each animal offers a different solution - talking about it, pretending it didn’t happen, seeking revenge, yelling, etc. The little girl doesn’t respond to any of these attempts; she is still upset. Eventually a little rabbit comes and, to an outsider, it appears he does nothing. He gets close to the little girl, and just sits beside her. And he listens. He listens as the little girl talks about what happened, pretends it didn’t happen, plots revenge, and yells. Eventually the little girl makes a choice, starts to feel better, and moves forward.
How does this relate to our adult relationships? How many times does our spouse try to “fix” our problems - offering up any and all solutions that, in the moment, are not what we need. When we’re upset, we’re working really hard to regulate whatever emotion it is that we’re feeling. Oftentimes we become paralyzed in it, unsure of what to do with it. Our partner may have the best of intentions, but throwing you a solution to fix it while you’re paralyzed is like throwing a ball to someone whose hands are tied - they won’t be able to catch it. So how do we help our partner when we see them hurting? We do what the little rabbit does - we move close, we sit there with our lover, and we listen. Simply being present and tuned in to someone in their emotion helps allow the two of you to co-regulate the emotion together. To the outsider, it may look like you’re doing nothing. But to your spouse, you are offering them exactly what they need - a feeling that they’re not alone, the ability to calm their emotion through your help in co-regulating, and eventually the safety to explore and identify what they need to feel better. Sitting with your spouse in their intense feelings is like untying the binds on their hands, freeing them to choose a solution that helps. And that’s ultimately what you want to do, right? Help your lover feel better? We don’t have to over-complicate it. YOU are better than any solution you can offer them.