My girlfriend says I do not support her emotionally when she is upset. I freeze and don't know how to comfort her. Can you give me some pointers?
What a great question! Thanks for asking. I wish more men would ask this question.
This is a classic problem and one that can lead to a lot of frustration for both parties. Men want to just solve the problem and be done with it whereas emotional women need to talk about it for awhile and can't just shove the feelings aside. So the first thing you can do is recognize this fundamental difference between men and women: women want empathy and men want solutions. I could go on for pages and pages about why men and women are different this way but it's mainly because of how we're raised.
So…what is a man who is uncomfortable with a lot of feelings supposed to do with emotional women? I know this doesn't come naturally to most guys but the most helpful thing you can do is LISTEN to her. Don't talk. Don't give advice. Don't tell her to calm down. Don't tell her she's making too big a deal out of it. Just LISTEN.
Let me explain.
Emotional women want to talk about whatever the problem is, not necessarily to immediately do something about it but just to TALK about it. Talking about it and knowing that someone is listening, really listening, and acknowledging her feelings about it helps her to calm down. This may not make any sense to you since your tendency is to figure out how you can make the problem go away as soon as possible. But if you really want to help her and be supportive, being a great listener is the way to go.
So here's what you can do the next time your girlfriend is upset about something. Invite her to sit on the couch with you and then say to her, "So what's going on? Tell me everything…" And then zip your mouth shut and let her talk. Look her in the eye while she's talking. If she's really upset and crying then take her in your arms and hug her but continue to NOT talk. You can say things like, "So then what happened?" or "And how did you feel when she said that?" to encourage her to continue talking but that's it! Don't interrupt her. Don't cross your arms or act fidgety or act like you can't wait to get away. Face her and be open to really hearing what she has to say. This may take some practice because most guys aren't used to actively listening without simultaneously figuring out a solution to a woman's problem while she's still talking about it.
After that you can say something like, "Well I can see how that would upset you." This is another important step in the listening process because you are telling her she isn't crazy for feeling the way she feels. So often in life people make us feel like we shouldn't feel our feelings or that we're somehow wrong for feeling our feelings. Emotional women are tired of being judged for expressing strong feelings.
You don't have to agree with everything emotional women are saying. In fact, you can disagree all you want. But now is not the time to voice your disagreement. If the issue that comes up is a problem between you two, then you would also get your turn to tell her how you feel and after that try to work out a solution, but only after you've finished listening to her completely.
This listening business isn't all about capitulating to her or treating her like a child. It's a way to let another human being say what she wants to say without criticism, judgment, condescension, anger, and all the other things that come up in communication. Ideally, when you need to talk to her about something, she will offer you the same kind of listening and support.
(For the purposes of this advice, I'm talking about normal, everyday stuff that happens and upsets everyone. There are some women who are emotionally unstable and fly off the deep end all the time. I'm assuming your girlfriend doesn't fit this category.)
I also want to tell you that the reason you freeze up when your girlfriend is emotional is because you are afraid of your own feelings. When she gets upset and shows her feelings, this reminds you of your own unacknowledged feelings. You think that showing your feelings is too dangerous or shows that you're weak whereas women don't typically interpret showing their feelings that way. So the more you learn to accept your girlfriend's emotions, the easier it might be to acknowledge and accept your own as time goes by.
So, to recap… When dealing with emotional women, the thing you must do is LISTEN without judgment and just let them get it out in the open. That's it! It seems so deceptively simple and in a way it is! But it takes practice.
If you follow these steps on listening to your girlfriend when she is upset, you will be amazed at how appreciative she'll be and how quickly she will recover. Guys don't understand that blowing a woman off when she's upset makes the whole thing last longer and she'll resent them for it and resentment builds up over time, gradually diminishing the relationship.
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