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During times when your partner expresses feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or simply exhausted from the day to day obligations, how do you historically respond?

Take a moment to reflect on the communication that occurs within your relationship.

If you were being brutally honest with yourself, is there a possibility that your behavior mirrors any of these reactions?

  • Simply ignoring expressions of frustration and continuing on with whatever it is you are doing
  • Feel the need to defend yourself and respond by detailing just how much worse things are for you in the present moment
  • Provide a quick and seemingly obvious solution to the issue at hand

Although these responses may feel valid and represent an accurate portrayal of what it is you are feeling, the reality is that your partner is seeking more from you in those times of imbalance. So much so that if she is continuously met with this type of reaction, chances are she will begin to feel rejected, judged or alone. 

Far too often, women express that they feel disconnected from their partners; that they experience moments of isolation and loneliness because their partners don’t seem to listen or even care about what it is they are enduring.

The reality is that this is probably not an accurate representation of your feelings towards her. But why then does she have this perception?

It is a biological truth that woman are naturally more aware of the presence of others. Women notice, analyze and interpret other people’s reactions and are very aware of how their own presence is perceived in the eyes of those around them. The female brain seeks out a response, to help gain clarity into themselves and whether or not their emotions and experiences are valid.

The female mind is wired to assess all verbal and nonverbal cues during interaction – making them acutely aware of how invested someone is in what they are saying. Have you ever been in a conversation with your partner and she stops mid sentence to ask if you are even paying attention to her?

Chances are, something in your behavior is triggering her mind to identify that you are not fully invested in the conversation. Are you watching television or looking at your phone while she speaks? Are you not maintaining eye contact or turned away from her?

An integral element to any healthy relationship is that each individual is able to provide validation and empathy to their partner. 

Simply put, it is the act of helping someone feel heard and understood. Regardless of whether or not you share the same beliefs or perspectives, it is essential that we feel as though our partner at least empathizes with our experience.

But, what ultimately occurs when your partner continuously feels dismissed and disregarded by you?

She will seek support and understanding elsewhere.

Think about your own relationship. Does she seek solace and comfort from you, or does she tend to reach out to friends or family to process what is occurring?

If it is the latter, then chances are your partner has learned that you are unable to provide adequate support and validation for her experiences of stress, frustration or sadness. So because it is inherently within her to need that validation, she will seek out the assistance from others.

What to do now:

The male brain is wired very differently than that of it’s female counterpart. When a situation arises, the male brain tends to focus on a solution rather than dedicate energy to processing the emotion associated with it. 

In those moments when your partner feels overwhelmed or emotional, a solution is the last thing she needs to hear. So it will be on you to fight the urge to minimize or even attempt to fix her problem. What she wants is to feel validated, supported and heard. Once that occurs, she may be more open to hearing what solutions you have concocted, but if you offer that advice too early, it will only make her feel more judged, overwhelmed and frustrated.

Being mindful of your own behavior is a key element to improving any relationship. When it comes to interacting with your partner, the work is in identifying times when she appears disregulated. Regardless of what your opinion may be, focus first on supporting and empathizing with her experience.

Stop what it is you are doing, look your partner in the eye and listen to what it is she has to say. When she is finished, a response as simple as, “that must be really difficult to be dealing with, I can understand why you feel so overwhelmed,” is all it takes. The work is in simply connecting to her experience.

It may sound a bit “high maintenance” to have to cater to some of these intricacies, but the reality is that being mindful of what your partner needs during times of distress will ultimately strengthen your connection, increase affection and intimacy, and improve her ability to provide validation for you when you are feeling disregulated and overwhelmed yourself.

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Nikki P. Woods, MSW, LCSW

Nikki Woods is a highly-sought after licensed clinical psychotherapist and founder of the Navesink Wellness Center in Rumson, New Jersey. After earning her Masters Degree at New York University, Nikki dedicated her career to studying the intricacies of the developing female mind. In her practice (both locally and globally), she empowers mothers to better support their daughters’ development, and assists young women in channeling their own voice – one built on self awareness, acceptance and love.

Her intuitive and insightful approach helps clients gain a greater sense of self worth, pursue life goals, improve relationship dysfunction, establish a more defined identity, and celebrate their own unique assets and capabilities. Her work has been featured in top publications such as Forbes and Inc. She works with patients both locally in Rumson, New Jersey as well as globally via her remote psychotherapy offerings.