How to Support Instead of Solve

Are you a problem-solver? When your spouse comes to you with an issue, are you quick to offer a solution?

This can be a very positive trait in many areas of life. You’re action-oriented and aren’t one to wallow around in excuses or blame.

Have you ever been caught off guard by a negative reaction from your partner in response to your suggested solution? You probably thought (or said), “I was just trying to help!” and maybe felt a little hurt or annoyed yourself.

The thing is, sometimes a solution isn’t what your partner wants, or needs, or is ready for. So what do you do when they come to you in crisis or to share an issue or problem?

Here are three things you can do, in any order, depending on what feels right for your relationship and the situation:

It’s so simple, but possibly the most difficult for some of us. Just listen. Hear what they’re saying as well as the emotion behind the words. Resist the urge to interrupt, offer advice, or tell them what they should do. Utilize active listening to acknowledge and validate what they’ve expressed. You might say something like, “It sounds like you’re feeling _____ because of _____. That must be hard on you.”

A hug, a hand on their arm, a cuddle on the couch. Physical affection shows your partner in a tangible way that you’re there to support them. Granted, some people are more “touchy-feely” than others, so do what feels right for your relationship. Keep in mind that if your partner is normally the more physically affectionate one, a hug from you when they’re upset could speak volumes.

“What can I do for you?” or “What do you need from me right now?” This gives your partner the opportunity to tell you whether they’re just venting or if they are actually looking for a solution. They might not have an answer for you, and that’s okay. Not jumping in with solutions at the get-go gives them space to reflect on what they need from you – and gives you the opportunity to provide it.

As much as we’d like to, our job isn’t to solve our partner’s every problem. Not only is it unrealistic to think you’ll have a solution for everything, it also sets pretty high expectations to live up to. Let yourself off the hook. Sometimes not offering a solution is the best solution after all.

12 thoughts to “How to Support Instead of Solve”

  1. If i am discussing a problem (for which i have no solution) with someone, i would very much appreciate any solution that that person is kind enough to freely offer. Simple as that.

    1. Hello. I can appreciate how you feel that way. Yet it many cases the listener jumps in to provide solutions without fully listening, so the speaker can feel “unheard”. It’s fine to want to ask for solutions; it’s just that a listener should not offer solutions unless asked for them. That is the difference. So, in your situation, you may say, “ya’ now…I’m really struggling with “x”. I wanted to bounce it off you to see if you might have some thoughts or ideas to share that would be helpful for me.”. Then the listener understands that you are soliciting feedback/input/solutions. Many times, however (and most often for women), when they are “venting” they haven’t asked for the listener to solve yet, but often (mostly men) jump in instantly into solving mode without being asked for help and sometimes so hastily to assist that they interrupt the pattern of the conversation/venting/sharing. I hope this is helpful to you to see the difference. If you’d like help, simply ask. Then the listener knows for sure it’s okay to offer a possible solution. Great comment and I hope this provides a bit of clarity.

  2. Great blog – thanks! My husband and I use the question: “Do you want my support or my opinion?” to help clarify the situation.

    1. That’s a good question. Thank you. This was a very insightful post. I am often averse to my husband’s advice because he’s recommending that I do what is right based on what God requires. I’ve often considered that already and want another way, so then I feel guilty after having to admit that. Eventually I (try to) do the right thing my husband recommended complaining all the way until the outcome is satisfactory at which point I reluctantly turn my complaints to gratitude and praise, both to God and my husband, and even that is done begrudgingly sometimes… I’m a work in progress.

    2. This was spot on for me. I’ve been married for for years and this is an issue I’ve struggled with for a few years. Often times my wife would come to me with an issue and because I’m the “fixer”, that’s what I want to do. There were times when she will freeze me in my tracks and why can’t she let me know in advance whether she needs my opinion or not. After reading this article several lights were turned on in my head, and I believe I finally got it. Thank you so much. You’ve probably just Tim my marriage to another level.

  3. This is a very good reminder! I know sometimes my husband does want to discuss a solution, but I do often jump in too quickly with advice, which makes it seem like I’m impatient with his troubles or don’t want to deal with them. Thank you for writing this so I can re-up my efforts to be a better listener, and love rather than “fix”.

  4. I think these are great ideas — alternatives to rushing in to solve a problem, save the day, be the hero, etc., (Superman complex?). My personal experience has taught me that offering support through being a complete listener (with no interruptions — nonverbal affirmations only), and touch (supportive hug, etc.) do the most good initially. Reserve suggestions about possible solutions until a later time when your partner thoroughly feels you cared enough to listen to how they “feel” instead of trying to correct how they “think.”

  5. Just last night I was telling my husband of an issue with our grown daughter, in the middle he wanted to jump in and tell me the solution. We have been married 38 years and I still often have to remind him he doesn’t have to “fix” everything. I calmly told him to please listen to the whole story and then I’d like his input. And he does have great input. The listening part is SOOO important

  6. Thank you for this article. I will share with my husband ASAP. I would share everything with him, but not so much now and I miss that part of our relationship.

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