The other day my wife was sitting in the living room in a chair while my eight year old son was on the sofa. She looked deep in thought with what I interpreted to be a touch of her concern on her face so I said to her “Hey hon, is everything okay?” she looked up and puzzingly replied “Yes, why.” I told her I thought she looked like there was something bothering her. She assured me again everything was fine.
That’s when our eight-year-old said “C’mon mommy, if you don’t tell us what’s wrong we can’t fix it for you.”
I chuckled to myself because at eight years old, my son was already showing signs of his father’s ailment: he wants to fix everyone.
What I’ve learned after many, many trials and errors is when there actually is something bothering my wife and she elects to tell me about it, she isn’t looking for advice on how to solve the problem and she isn’t asking me to jump in and fix whatever is bothering her.
She’s a smart and successful woman – she can handle herself. What she’s looking for at those moments is some one to listen; someone to practice empathy.
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feeling of others. Care taking and reactivity are the qualities of someone who wants to fix everyone’s problems but that isn’t the solution.
Listen, empathize and wait for their permission to ask for help.
That’s how you can really help.