lightbulbs and hammers

David Cutler for the Chronicle

Anxiety blocks connection. This maxim holds true in all relationships from lovers to parent/child to co-workers. I know this to be true based on experience and research. Worry takes away safety and energy. If we do not feel at ease, our brains are essentially hijacked. We can’t think or love at a quality level.

When and where advice is welcome

As a writer and personal coach, I’ve done a lot of research on the subjects of relationships, personal development and neuroscience. Admittedly, when I see an opportunity to apply this accumulated knowledge, it is difficult to hold back. In my coaching and writing practices, the information is generally well received. In all other relationships, not so much.

How can I say this nicely? You need to be quiet

My boyfriend recently shared information regarding a subject important and dear to him. I was thrilled he shared openly with me. My first impulse? To prescribe steps to make it better. He then proceeded to tell me, as diplomatically as possible, how he would prefer I just listen when he shares about such issues. He said he understands I’ve read and learned a lot about the subject, but if I want him to continue to share, I need to simply listen.


I’m not going to lie. I felt cut off and frustrated, at first. But then channeling my inner Stephen Covey (Covey was so wise), I decided to “seek first to understand”. I asked my boyfriend questions to get history on the subject. As I learned more, I had more empathy for him. I had more clarity about how this was not something that could be fixed with a few calculated steps.

I let my natural reactions surface. I tried to look him in the eye as we talked. I squeezed his hand as we held hands.

This seems familiar

I remembered how I felt when past partners told me what to do and how to improve my ways. I felt small. I felt inferior. I felt anxious and broken.

I had wanted to feel loved.

Had years with fixit partners rubbed off on me? Do I now feel like I always know the better way to do things? Uh… sometimes. I know checking up on someone and questioning their abilities erodes trust. I’m going to have to check myself.

When the heart and ego are involved, safety and non-judgmental reactions are the most valuable resources to provide. Reassurance and comfort ease anxiety. They loosen the knot in our stomach and allow us to let our guard down. Even with my coaching clients, I have to earn their trust before they consider undertaking the challenges I give them.

The last thing I want my guy to do is stop sharing with me. I know I have to earn his trust by not solving issues and just loving and listening to him. I can offer reassurance by consistently being there for him. I can offer safety by reminding him of all the positive relational experiences we have.

A full and well-resourced person has the energy and desire to work on personal growth. If we feel supported, we can venture out and try new things and then return to our safe haven.

He gives me a feeling of safety. I never feel judged or small with him. I’ve never had such reassurance with a partner. I will strive to do the same for him.

What is your first instinct when someone tells you their worries? Are you a Mr./Ms. Fixit? How could you be more comforting and present? Do you ever want someone to solve your problems?

If you’d like help learning how to build trust and reassurance with your partner please contact me for relationship coaching.