Mr. Fix-It

Word of warning: When your significant other is upset, DON’T TRY TO FIX ANYTHING! This cautionary tale is written from my own personal experience, as I wasted several years of my marriage attempting to soothe my wife with solutions. I’m here to say it does not work. Don’t do it!

Imagine, if you will, a hypothetical situation (that may or may not have happened in real life): I’m at home alone, relaxing. Everything is perfect. The house is calm and quiet, exactly how I like it. Then, all of a sudden my peace is disrupted by the sound of the front door slamming. I hear booming footsteps and forced sobs from the next room, indicating clearly that my wife wants me to know she is having a bad day, and subsequently, my good day is about to turn bad unless I can somehow turn things around.

I find her sitting in the kitchen, livid, with tears streaming down her face. She tells me about something upsetting that happened earlier at work. I don’t know what to do so I offer suggestions about how she might fix the problem she is experiencing. And even though my plans and ideas seem to make sense to me, she begins sobbing even harder and shouts, “STOP TRYING TO FIX EVERYTHING! YOU NEVER LISTEN TO ME!” Instantly my feelings are hurt, a fight breaks out, and my day is officially ruined.

Sound familiar?

One day it came to me, as I was once again failing to fix her, that I really wasn’t trying to make her feel better. Truth is, I just wanted her to stop crying and complaining so I could go back to the peaceful experience I was enjoying before she barged in. I mistakenly believed she might leave me alone if I gave her a good enough solution.

This realization dramatically changed how I now deal with my wife when she is upset. Instead of fixing her, I’ve found it much more beneficial to just accept her and meet her where she is—to simply be with her, attend to her pain with compassion and patience, and allow space for her frustration to pass. The funny thing is accepting her is actually way easier than trying to fix her, and I’ve found this approach deescalates her mood much quicker.  

Here’s the kicker: The same is true for thoughts. To illustrate this, let us now imagine I’m at home alone, relaxing. Everything is perfect. My mind is calm and quiet, exactly how I like it. Then, all of a sudden my peace of mind is disrupted by a painful memory that seemed to come from nowhere. The thought then generates other painful thoughts along with feelings of fear, panic, and tension. I sense my good day is about to turn bad unless I somehow make the bad thoughts and feelings good again. I find, however, the more energy I put into fixing them, the stronger and more painful they become.

It’s much easier to simply accept thoughts and feelings exactly as they are. Just be with them and allow them space to come and go without labeling them as good or bad, right or wrong, acceptable or needing repair. When the effort to fix thoughts and feelings is dropped, all the energy that was once squandered on fixing can then be used for living a contented, mindful, tranquil life that isn’t dictated by the whims of thoughts and emotions.