Three Things (Part 2)

Posted on December 13, 2012


When my daughters were growing up, I used to tell them (mostly tongue-in-cheek) that when a man tells you a story he is looking for one of three responses (after all, we are fairly simple creatures).  If you can figure out which of the three he was looking for and give it to him, you will always have a happy marriage.  I was mostly joking (and kind of not).

The three possible responses are…

  1. Poor Baby.
  2. You’re wonderful
  3. Everything is going to be alright.

As with so many things said in jest, there is an aspect of truth to it, and it applies to both genders.

Poor Baby.   This is not meant to be condescending, but rather an acknowledgement of the difficulties that each of us face in our daily lives. The point here is not to literally say the words, “poor, baby,” but rather to convey an understanding and empathy for our partner’s struggles.  It has been observed that human beings endure suffering substantially better if at least one other person knows what they are going through.  As I cited in a previous post (Marriage Relationships: Secure Attachment Relieves Pain), researchers found that subjects had a reduced stress response and reduced perception of pain if they had someone present holding their hand as compared to when subjects were alone.  Even holding the hand of a stranger reduces stress and pain.  The effect is more pronounced if the subject was holding the hand of a spouse.  We human beings fare much better with someone present to enter into our experience and empathize with our struggles.

You’re Wonderful.  Most of us are the heroes in our own stories, but we still need our cheerleaders.  We need people in our lives that see the good in us and believe in us.  It is particularly helpful if those who are closest to us are also our biggest fans (and painful when that is not the case).  When we share about something that we accomplished, the longing of our hearts is to be affirmed by our mate.  Often when couples get into negative cycles of interaction, one or both partners are coping with an underlying fear that they can never get it right or be good enough for their partner.  In the post on the Gottman’s Four Horsemen (see Four Negative Patterns That Predict Divorce), we looked at the damaging effects that criticism has on relationships.  “You’re Wonderful” is the opposite response.  It is affirming, edifying, and strengthening.  Again, it is not about the specific words that are said, but about conveying the idea to your mate that you think he or she is great.

Everything is going to be alright.  Problems look big from up close.  The way we see the problems we face can be like one of those optical illusions on forced perspective.  When we are standing right next to our own problems they can seem overwhelming.  They cast a long shadow over our lives.  One of the great things that partners can do for each other is to bring perspective in times of stress.  When one starts to imagine the disasters that might ensue during a difficult time, it is comforting to have a spouse to whom one can turn for comfort and support.

Each of these responses is about empathy, entering into your partner’s experience and making him or her feel understood.  It is also about building up your partner, choosing to be a source of comfort and support.  Also in the true sense of the word, partner, it is conveying “We are a team.  We are in this together.  I see you.  I believe in you.  I am here for you.  We will be okay.”

“I work with individuals, couples, and families to help develop secure connections
and craft manageable solutions.”

More information is available on my website  I am also available for speaking engagements, seminars, and retreats

Scott Wood is a registered marriage and family therapist intern (IMF67385) and is supervised by Dr. Melinda Reinicke, Psychologist (Psy11011).