With the pandemic, emotions and stress are running high. This can make daily life with your partner feel really challenging at times.
In my couples counselling sessions, it is SO common for one partner to say something like "My partner gets SO WORKED UP and I just don't know what to do! I try to solve the problem, but I feel helpless."
When your partner gets easily angry, frustrated, or emotional, it can be alarming. You may wonder why they are like this, or even wish they were different.
And of course you'd be alarmed! Most of us were not taught how to handle emotions very well. Emotions, for many of us, were at best annoying and at worst shameful or even punishable. It can seem really scary to be faced with big emotions when you don't know what to do with them.
The way most of my couples try to deal with this problem is by "problem-solving". The partner who isn't upset will often try to tell their partner why "Things aren't so bad" or that "It will get better soon", not realizing that this makes their partner feel invalidated and diminished.
The BEST (and most often overlooked) way to calm your partner down? Is actually to sit with them in their emotion (also known as validating). To ask questions which aim to understand why they're feeling this way, and then to validate that yes, it makes sense that they would feel this way!
Here's an example: Say your partner is upset about work. They really want to quit, but they're scared they'll regret it later, or they won't be able to make as much money if they venture out on their own. They constantly seem tense and snappy.
You can try to reassure them that it's going to be okay, that things will work out. This might work, but often it just feels to them that you don't understand.
Sitting with them in their emotion looks more like this:
Asking questions which aim to understand. "You're feeling scared to quit your job. You're not sure if you'll succeed on your own, and that's terrifying. You are worried about being a good provider for us. Is that it?"
They'll correct you if you're wrong, but the mere fact that you're trying to see things from their perspective will already start to calm their nervous system.
And then you can offer some reassurance. "I believe so strongly in you and your abilities. But I know it's different when you're the one who actually has to make your own business happen. I can only imagine you're feeling totally stuck right now, and that's such a hard place to be."
This will allow them to open up further to you, to tell you everything that's on their mind, and to give you even more opportunities to connect with them by validating how they're feeling!
It's such an incredible feeling to be HEARD and SEEN and UNDERSTOOD. In fact, it's what many of us are craving from our relationships.
One caveat: If your partner is angry AT YOU, then validating will be incredibly hard to do because you're likely to be triggered as well. However, letting them know that you hear what they're saying (hearing is not the same as agreeing) and that you love them and want to work things out with them can do wonders here. It is so often the case that the angry or emotional partner is really looking to see if you'll be there with them, if you want to work things out with them, if you're willing to try. Reassurance and comfort can go a long way.