As humans, “fixing” is part of our nature. We are logical, strategic, solution oriented beings that are often taught from a young age that a question always has an answer and a problem always has a fix. After all, we invented the wheel when things became to heavy to carry and found fire when we needed a better way to eat. In short, “fixing” is part of our nature because it’s birthed from our instinct to survive.
With that being said, no wonder it’s so uncomfortable for us when we encounter a problem that has no tangible fix.
For many couples seeking out therapeutic support, desire to fix, make better, take away a partner’s pain is often a common goal at the onset of therapy. Perhaps one partner has not been faithful, or has said something hurtful or has acted in some way, which has resulted in the other receiving the message “I am not important, I am not loved, I don’t matter”. With true genuine intentions, this partner often arrives in therapy hopeless and helpless, stating his or her belief that they have done all they could–no matter how hard they try to fix the problem, things just don’t seem to be getting better.
“Fixing”, while generally coming from a well-intended place, (we don’t usually enjoy seeing someone we care about hurting, especially when we know that our actions are the reason or at least part of the reason for the hurt) is invalidating. When we have hurt someone and we attempt to fix it or make it better, we are essentially sending the person we have hurt the message: “Your feelings make me uncomfortable so I’m going to do what I can to try and make them go away. This way, you’ll feel better and I can feel better knowing that you’re no longer hurting because of me.” While this is often happening at a subconscious level, it’s the reason why simply telling our partner “you are important, you are loved, you do matter” in these moments is often not enough.
You may have heard therapists or others use the phrase “lean into the discomfort.”—this is what that’s all about. While there is no tangible fix in these circumstances, what is really needed by the hurt partner is for the other to create space for them to be; to lean in to their pain, let them know that their feelings are valid and be asked what they need. When we can do this, we are able to acknowledge our partner’s pain and let them know that their discomfort makes sense. We come alongside of them and co-burden the hurt. In doing so, hurt and pain becomes more manageable because while it is still ever present, we receive the message from our partner that we are not alone.