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My spouse and I have a recurring problem. I will try to talk about my day, which may include a tough problem that has been frustrating me. Before I've even had a chance to explain what is going on, he will offer solution, which may or may not solve the problem. We then up arguing over whether the solution will work or not, and he gets mad that I'm criticizing his advice, and I get frustrated because I didn't even want advice; I just wanted to share about my day! Whether I agree or disagree with his advice, he expects me to simply thank him (and presumably drop the topic since it is now "solved"). He claims he doesn't care if I actually act on the advice, but he doesn't want to discuss it after it's given. He doesn't understand why I object to this arrangement, despite my repeated attempts to explain it, and I'm unsure how to change that.

What I actually want when sharing a frustrating problem/experience is some empathy, for him to understand and be aware of what I'm struggling with, and for him to generally show that he cares and is interested in what is going on in my life. It's the same thing I want when sharing any experience with someone I care about. The fact that it's a problematic experience instead of a happy one is irrelevant. If I want advice, then I'll ask for it, but typically the problems I'm talking about are complex enough that there's no easy solution (or I'd have figured it out myself).

The things I've tried:

  • Modeling the response I want when he shares experiences/problems with me (which he has confirmed he enjoys more than me giving him advice, but it hasn't changed his behavior towards me)

  • Flat out saying I'm not looking for advice and just want him to listen when he tries to give it, but that causes him to withdraw from the conversation completely

  • I have tried repeatedly to make my desire for him to listen instead of problem solve explicitly at the beginning of the conversation, and he flat out refuses. I also have tried telling him the problem solving is making me feel worse, and that listening is what I need to feel better. He thinks it's absurd.

  • Quickly dismissing the "solution" so we don't get fixated on that instead, but he doesn't like being dismissed either

  • Keeping any problems to myself, but that causes a different sort of tension

  • Having a conversation where I try to understand why he's upset and also have him understand why I'm upset, but it quickly devolves into insults and snarky comments

It's especially frustrating because I feel like the first method should work, especially because he acknowledges that he doesn't want advice either, and he prefers me responding the same way I'm asking him to respond. We want to be treated the same way! But when I ask him to return the favor, he responds with "that's just how I am, if you give me a problem, I'll solve it". I get it, we're both engineers, we're both wired to solve problems when we see them. It's extremely hard for me to bite my tongue and not try to help him! But I do it because it makes him happier, and I just want him to return the favor.

How can I get my spouse to listen thoughtfully when I talk about a problem before summarily dismissing it with a "solution"? I don't mind the advice itself, I mind the not letting me finish, not attempting to understand how I see the situation, and then not wanting to discuss the advice given.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – HDE 226868 Sep 10 '17 at 23:10
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    @Mick nope, if I say "the windows are dirty" then it's probably just an observation. At worst I'm thinking "I should probably clean the windows." He will often take it to mean "how dare you let the windows get so dirty, you should have cleaned them weeks ago, get on it!!" Which is clearly silly because we're equally at fault for dirty windows. But nice try assuming we both follow gender stereotypes. – Kat Sep 12 '17 at 2:26
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    {comments deleted - lots of them - 86} We can't move them into the chat room, so they're going to be deleted as of HDE's link to chat. – Catija Sep 12 '17 at 3:07
  • @Mari-LouA We've been married for a year and together a few years longer than that. I'm in my late 20s and he is mid 30s. We don't have children. I don't think he has ever given a helpful solution without listening to the problem first, but he can be helpful when he does listen. I'm not sure any of that is relevant, though – Kat Oct 10 '17 at 21:33
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    @Oleg the top two answers both provided an insight that I needed. I've accepted the one that gets to what I suspect is the root of the issue: he doesn't understand what it is I want or how to do it. I've taken it for granted that because I know how to listen emphatically, that he should too. I'm going to have to be specific on what I want and give him opportunities to practice without judging him for struggling with it. I'm not sure how to do that without offending him, though, so I'm still stuck. – Kat Oct 10 '17 at 22:36

18 Answers 18

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I am one of those engineering males and married to an engineer, so I am rather familiar with the situation you describe (In fact, I had to check a few of your specific examples to make sure you weren't actually my wife before posting!!).

My personal opinion is that the kind of interaction you are looking for is something that's easier for female engineers than male engineers. Engineers in general are trained to solve problems, so both parties are going to have that gut desire to fix things. However, if we look at the gender stereotypes, females are expected to have that listening skill. It's less prevalent in the male stereotypes. As such, it is more likely that you were expected to pick up some of those skills as you grew up, while he is more likely to never have picked them up in the first place.

Whether those gender stereotypes are good or bad, this suggests that you may be asking for a skill that he doesn't have, and he may not even recognize that he's expected to have. It's something that you can't write requirements for. These are frustrating to deal with because people in these positions typically put blinders on to prevent them from seeing it (source: I may have done this in the past / may still be doing it now).

How to broach the topic is personal, so you'll have to fit it into your own life. However, I can share a few tidbits that were useful for helping me, and you can take from them as you will:

  • Create artificial small tasks. "Listen to me rant for up to 10 minutes, then we can stop and go do something else." The greater task of "becoming a better listener" is incredibly daunting. This means there's a likelyhood of him wanting to deflect. By setting up small goals, you give him something with clear requirements to take a swing at. Make it clear when you're entering and exiting this timebox. It'll make it easier on him.
  • Ensure he can succeed at those tasks without lifting a finger. This is the silly part, but I think it turns out to be rather important. He needs to understand that you will be grateful if he can just shut up and devote 10 minutes of his day to supporting your needs for something other than solving problems. Obviously there's a "better" win case where he listens actively and truly helps you, but make sure that all he has to do to "pass" is shut up and listen until the timebox for your rant has passed. This sounds like it could be a counter productive rule, but in my experience, the need to not fail at something important can be strong enough to scuttle the entire experience. From the sound of the example solutions he is providing, I think he may be doing just that. As a male engineer, I can assure you that not solving these problems for 10 minutes is enough of a challenge.
  • Try hard to harvest the positive emotions out of this timebox, and to let the negative ones die when the timer expires. It's a magic art that takes a lifetime to learn (at least), but if he starts to pick up on the fact that positive results from this timebox continue to apply later into the evening, he'll be more likely to try to invoke positive emotions from you within the timebox. Likewise, if he finds you are respectful enough to let the negative ones go, he's more likely to experiment with solutions outside of the norm.
  • Be patient. That's not to say you haven't been patient, but it'd be foolish to fail to include this bullet point because it's incredibly important. Learning the art of listening is indeed a lifetime endevour, and some male engineers (like myself) are starting into the game very late in their life.
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    I've accepted this answer because it gets to what I suspect is the root of the issue: he doesn't understand what it is I want or how to do it. I've taken it for granted that because I know how to listen emphatically, that he should too. I'm going to have to be specific on what I want and give him opportunities to practice without judging him for struggling with it or making him feel like he's failing at it. I'm not totally sure how to go about implementing a solution (as you said, it's personal what works), but it points me in the right direction and gives me hope we can solve it. Thanks! – Kat Oct 10 '17 at 22:39
  • I have tried several times to ask him to simply listen instead of problem solving, and his response is "I did listen, now here is what you should do." I've tried repeating that I really don't want a solution, I only want him to listen. I can't figure out how to communicate that "listening" is not "hearing someone speak until you have an opinion and then voicing that opinion." He says he is not going to simply listen without giving input, period. Any ideas? – Kat Dec 20 '17 at 1:33
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    @Kat Why wont he listen without giving input? It looks like he sees a trade-off here, where listening is only worthwhile if he gets to solve the problem at the end. If you're at a point where you're saying "doing X would make me happy" and he's saying "I wont do X," then we're going to have to dig deeper. I presume he has his reasons, and understanding them would help in the process of working around them (or through them, if they're stupid reasons). – Cort Ammon Dec 20 '17 at 1:47
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    Full disclosure: If the situation is to the point where he won't do things that he knows will make you happy, and wont budge from that position, this might start falling into marriage counceling's domain. I am not worthy of being called a marriage counselor, by any means! – Cort Ammon Dec 20 '17 at 1:48
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    I wonder if there's a workplace metaphor that you can use to help out. I'm a software engineer, and in our field, we have something called "rubber duck debugging." Literally, you take a rubber duck, and explain what the code is supposed to do and what's breaking to it. The rubber duck never offers a solution, but it's astonishingly effective at re-organizing things in your own mind and helping you find solutions. I don't know what kind of engineer your husband is, but something along those lines might help open up the communication channels. – Cort Ammon Dec 20 '17 at 2:36
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I am like your husband, and I am also an engineer. We are expected to fix things. It makes us happy because our brains are wired that way. Also we think that is what is expected from us when people come with problems, that fixing them will help them since fixing things is our job.

That is the engineer part of him taking over his way of thinking, tell him he is also something else: a husband. He goes into "fixing mode" so quickly because he wants to help you, because he wants you to be happy.

You have to remind him that to be happy, what you need is for him to listen, just listen; that just staying quiet is the solution to the real problem, which is that you are sad. It will take time, it is hard to let other people learn by themselves when you think you can reach the solution more quickly, so just remind him that listening to you is the way to make you happy.

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    Interesting perspective. I might have to try the "I need you as my husband and not an engineer" line. It comes across as less critical and more accepting of who he is. – Kat Sep 8 '17 at 17:21
  • I have tried repeatedly to make my desire for him to listen instead of problem solve explicit at the beginning of the conversation, and he flat out refuses. I also have tried telling him the problem solving is making me feel worse, and that listening is what I need to feel better. He thinks it's absurd. Any ideas how to convince him this is a reasonable request? – Kat Dec 20 '17 at 1:39
  • Kat, then you should tell him to stop being selfish. He is full filing his own desire to fix things, as i said in my answer, doing that makes us engineers happy. Ask him flat out, what is the purpose of fixing the problem. Helping you or him knowing that he can solve it. He will of course choose the firsts. Then tell him that your real need is him to listen. That you can solve the problem on your own. Of course this is a trap question, but it will reinforce the idea of him listening with his own words. Also, every time he deviates, steer him back into listening mode. – Salvador Ruiz Guevara Jan 5 '18 at 15:45
  • Hey, could you add what you told to OP in your last comment into your answer? – Ælis Dec 18 '18 at 15:57
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What I actually want when sharing a frustrating problem is some empathy, for him to understand and be aware of what I'm struggling with, and for him to generally show that he cares and is interested in what is going on in my life

Empathy is:

Identification with or understanding of the thoughts, feelings, or emotional state of another person.

One way of showing this level of understanding is to imagine yourself in a similar situation and discuss what you would do.

What that means is, your husband is going to give you advice, because he's able to empathize with you. He is attempting to fully understanding your situation and he's giving you suggestions, sharing his experiences in the hope that he can help you overcome the challenge.

What it sounds like you want is Sympathy:

A feeling of pity or sorrow for the suffering or distress of another; compassion.

From reading your question it doesn't sound like you actually want him to put himself in your shoes. It sounds to me like you want him to acknowledge your suffering with something like:

That sounds like a difficult situation, I'm sorry that [problem] is happening.

With that said, let me be clear that it's OK to want pity and it's OK to give pity...in moderation.

There's a word for people who wallow in pity refusing to be introspective enough to find a solution for themselves, or who won't listen to others advice. The word is "helpless".

Have you ever had a friend who always complained about their significant other but refused to break up with them?

Have you ever known someone to complain about every little problem in their life without even making an attempt to avoid those problems?

Such people are helpless.


With that said, I'm not suggesting that you are helpless. However, it's important to acknowledge that your husband is attempting to be helpful. He's attempting to empathize.

He's hearing you have problems, and then you're telling him "It's not about the nail". As a solutions-oriented person, I fully understand his perspective.

So, the real question to ask is: what do you want from him?

You expect to have a conversation with him of some sort, what is the outcome that you want from that conversation?

If you want a little pity after a hard day's work, tell him about how the day made you feel and don't mention any of the specific nitty-gritty details.

You: Hey, I had a rough day today. I spent it struggling with a challenging situation at work and I'm feeling tired and frazzled.

Him: I'm sorry to hear that, do you want to talk about it?

I'm going to stop this conversation here. Notice the "I'm sorry to hear that" part? That's pity. Perfectly acceptable regular and healthy levels of pity.

The next "do you want to talk about it" is a high probability follow up. Remember: he's solution oriented. If you talk about details he'll want to address those details. Saying "Yes" here leads to him trying to propose answers to your problems. It's perfectly OK to respond with "no".

You: No, I'd rather not get into the details right now.

Him: Ok, I hope tomorrow goes better. Do you want to snuggle and on the couch and watch a movie?

If you want to connect with him on an emotional level, you need to keep emotions at the center of the conversation.


If you're in a difficult situation and you feel the need to vent out your frustration, details and all, you need to expect that your husband will try to work out a solution. Instead of giving your husband the details, try writing them down for yourself. If you have a pet, tell your pet.

In the programming world, this is called "rubber duck debugging". It may seem a bit goofy at first but it works wonders and a rubber duck will never judge you, nor offer unsolicited advice.

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    @Kat, "I say [I'm] struggling to get requirements out of a client" why are you telling him this in the first place? He doesn't need to know about requirements, and once you tell him about these requirements he's going to tell you how to fix that small problem, because solving a big problem involves breaking it down into smaller easy problems. Focus on telling him how you feel: "I'm struggling with a client and it frustrates me" is going to have a completely different reaction. – zzzzBov Sep 8 '17 at 18:36
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    @Kat, also, be aware that in your first comment you've shifted the goalposts. You started by saying "I'm struggling to do requirements gathering", so his reaction with that information is "try this tool to gather requirements". You then counter with "stakeholders can't agree on requirements or priorities" which is a different problem that amounts to "stakeholders are indecisive and are preventing me from doing my job" which has an entirely different solution. This change in the problem comes off as special pleading. – zzzzBov Sep 8 '17 at 18:45
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    Rather than frustrate him with a game of whack-a-problem where he can't find the underlying issue because it keeps moving, don't bait him with details. – zzzzBov Sep 8 '17 at 18:46
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    @Kat, "I don't try to push thoughtless solutions on him" that was your choice. Have you considered that he might welcome constructive feedback when he shares his problems with you? The golden rule fails when personal preferences differ. – zzzzBov Sep 8 '17 at 18:52
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    @Kat, I can see you're getting frustrated with this discussion, so I won't belabor the other fiddly bits. The primary point that I was trying to get across is that the language you use will significantly impact his reaction. I would like to encourage you to try telling him how you feel while avoiding the temptation of telling him about the actual details of the problem, as you've pointed out, even minor details are enough to distract from what you want to be the focus of the conversation which is you and how you feel. – zzzzBov Sep 8 '17 at 19:01
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I have to say I used to be a really poor listener for years. I found later that you need to be the one your SO has chosen to be their attentive, well-meaning ears. Love (and age) helped me, so this is based upon personal experience. As well as readings, like the ones below, taken from one of many links on the web:

Choose the right place and time.

Finding a time and a place where you're both relaxed can be a crucial part of communicating effectively. It's really hard to listen to someone when there's lots of background noise or other things competing for your attention. It's not just about what you say and how you say it, but also where and when. It's useful to plan to have a discussion at a specific time and place.

If you've always picked the after-hard-work-solving-problems-and-after-dinner-during-digestion time, your spouse won't likely be in the proper mood and won't take it as a chance to be nice to you. He might be still at work, so he needs to change his mind to back home: different time, different environment, different person, different approach.

Make time to talk and listen.

Lots of the time when we're having a discussion, we're just waiting for our turn to talk. We're hearing what they're saying, but we're concentrating our response: that's not true, that's really annoying me, I could easily fix this, why doesn't she does just that?. This is understandable: no-one loves hearing something they disagree with. But in order to truly understand your partner's perspective, you really have to pay attention and take it in.

If your spouse is already thinking about solving your problem, it won't obviously work. You may find it useful to use the following simple pattern: one person talks, the other listens and then paraphrases back what they said: what it sounds like you're saying is.... And then switch.

Practice

Communication is a skill and it takes practice to get good at it. If you want to develop your ability to communicate as a couple, you'll need to build positive habits into the way you talk and make a real effort to stick to them. Some days you'll be better than others, and some days you won't manage it at all. But if you persevere, you will find that, over time, your ability to say what's on your mind and listen when your partner tells you what's on theirs, does get better.

It's a routine. You maybe have to seat down, and start talking, but not about your day, about your marriage. It seems like your spouse may not understand the why's and how's you need. And what he needs. Get out of the actual routine, change it, just to start with something different. Instead of using always the lunch/dinner time, you need to both agree on a specific place and specific amount of time. Start small, think big.

Why wouldn't you schedule, say, a half-an-hour span, on saturday/sunday, and go to the park, or have a drink after a nice movie, and spend those 30 minutes to listen to each other? Change the rules, make new ones. Talk about it, and improve what needs to be: the time, or the place, or the schedule, or the subject. Your goal is to reach a fair share. And have it to grow...

It's all about marriage counselling, and it's a lot of readings, efforts, and time. Both sides. Your have to be patient, and explain again and again, and he has to be patient, and bite his tongue.

Yelling at him may work, as others have mentioned, but it's not just what I like to share with a SO...

Kat (OP), said later, in a comment, exactly what I needed to phrase in my answer, with the perfect words: I need my husband and not an engineer.


Yellow text has been taken or quoted from this:

  1. 5 communication tips
  2. why it's important to be good a listener
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This sounds like a problem that can be solved

Hey, your husband likes solving problems; maybe he can help solve the problem of his own tendency to try to solve problems when a solution isn't being asked for. He should know best what will work for him. Catch him at a time when neither one of you are stressed and talk about this very subject, but this time, allow him to come up with ideas for solutions.

Learn the concept of "holding space"

Learn about, and teach your partner, about the concept of "holding space." Here is a short article, written by a man and intended for men with the same issue: A Man's Guide to Holding Space.

Holding space goes beyond listening because it requires us to hear the other person, have empathy and not make make the situation about us by trying to ‘give insight’ fix or ‘offer advice.’

Once he learns that holding space "is a thing," and that there are patterns and practices involved in holding space, a good engineer will find ways to adapt his behaviors to the patterns. It's possible he doesn't know what you mean when you tell him you just want him to listen emphatically, and seeing or reading about how others do it could be very instructive.

Try to be positive

Solving problems, instead of immersing yourself in the emotions they cause, is actually a positive attitude. Try to appreciate that positivity, even when his advice isn't very good. At the very least it is proof that he is actually listening-- you can't solve a problem you haven't heard-- and remember to have gratitude. There are many partners out there who will just pretend to listen when they honestly don't care, so you're lucky in that respect.

You can still ask your partner to change the way he interacts with you, but never forget to be thankful for whatever compassion he is capable of giving in his own way.

  • Yes!! I had never heard the term "holding space" before, but that article very accurately describes what I want. Even if you are offering help because you really want to ease a burden, it can come off as self centered and dismissive. I will try to get him to read this. I'm sure I haven't explained what I actually want well, and that it's frustrating for him. I've never felt his attempts to help were compassionate, but maybe I have been looking at it wrong. Thanks for your perspective. – Kat Sep 9 '17 at 1:29
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In general, men are fixers. They are often very poor listeners. We sometimes don't recognize that the "solution" to a given, detailed problem isn't in fixing the problem, it's in listening to the frustration created by the problem.

Some men never learn this; some take a long time; some, once the light bulb goes on, catch on immediately.

The solution? Try to explain to your husband you just need some willing ears to hear the frustration of what you're describing, not an engineer to design a solution to what's being described. It's a totally different kind of listening skill.

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    Hey, OP said: "I have tried repeatedly to make my desire for him to listen instead of problem solve explicit at the beginning of the conversation, and he flat out refuses. I also have tried telling him the problem solving is making me feel worse, and that listening is what I need to feel better. He thinks it's absurd." -> So, do you have any other solution to try to fix this issue? – Ælis Dec 18 '18 at 16:01
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    The OP's problem ultimately boils down to this: "How do I make (someone else) do/behave/act (a certain way)?" The reality is you can't. The more you expect the other party to change to your expectations, no matter how reasonable, and they don't, the more hardened each party becomes to the other. The only things one can affirmatively control are their own expectations and reactions. Should the husband be more empathetic? Of course. But neither you nor I have the power to change him. – David W Dec 20 '18 at 14:08
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My dad always used to say "the issue is never the issue". I think the fact that your husband is giving unsolicited advice is not the issue. It's the fact that you have tried to correct this and find a compromise and he's just told you "this is how I am". In other words, you've told him he's causing you pain and he's unwilling to stop. This is a red flag. Other examples you give paint a picture of this being a theme, not a one off. He obviously has good qualities (right?) or you would not have married him in the first place. But he's told you he won't change and you should take him at his word, if only because that makes planning for the future easier.

My suggestion is to find unilateral ways of dealing with this.

  • You've already mentioned the easiest which is to not discuss these things. But this isn't the kind of relationship you want so this is not a good suggestion.
  • You may try going to a relationship counselor solo. S/he will have a perspective that strangers on the Internet like me won't.
  • Don't tolerate snarky comments and name calling. Once he goes ad hominem in an argument he's stopped trying to be a problem solver.
  • Under the assumption that things may never change, decide if this is the kind of relationship you want to spend the rest of your life in.

I agree with @Discord that this could be a sign of depression on your husband's part. You may want to consider if/how you would bring up that possibility with your Husband.

I am in a demographically very similar marriage. I can tell you though that relationships don't have to be this way, no matter what the gender stereotypes say.

  • He has been on meds for depression since I met him. He seems to think they are working. He is more... caring in general if he goes off them for some reason though, so maybe it's contributing. I'm not sure what to possibly do about that, though. And the snarkiness and name calling isn't all him. We both escalate things without meaning to, somehow. But yes, he does have many good qualities. Compromising just isn't one of them, apparently. – Kat Sep 9 '17 at 0:27
  • Ah, I think I would give a different answer knowing about his depression. Depression is a tough disease, especially on the loved ones. I would encourage you to seek a professional for yourself or the both of you. – Jay Vdw Sep 9 '17 at 1:00
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I've been on both sides of this problem. Growing up with a single mom, she would try to give me advice to solve my problems, when all I wanted was someone to hear me out. I had the same struggles with getting frustrated. As a spouse, I've found myself falling into the same habit; When my wife is venting about her day, I find it difficult not to come up with solutions for her issues. I also work an IT Help Desk, so I'm getting issues all day that I need to find solutions too.

What helped me was to examine exactly where this behavior was coming from: It was behavior I had learned as a child, and it was behavior that I used on a daily basis. I needed to realize just how deeply-seated this behavior was before I could start trying to turn it around.

What you're going to need is LOTS and LOTS of patience, and to have open communication with your spouse about the issue. The issue needs to be raised in a calm matter, outside of the behavior that's occurring. That is, you can't bring it up when both of you are already frustrated from having it happen. If you can discuss it calmly and rationally without bringing negative feelings into it, you can begin to work on it.

However, because this problem-solving behavior is so ingrained, it's still going to take time to work on it. Your spouse is going to have to go against a very strong learned behavior, which takes time. After you've had your calm conversation, the next time this behavior occurs, you need to point it out without blame or frustration, and work on correcting it from there. Even something like "Okay, you started giving advice again, but let's start over and have you just listen" should work.

The key is that your need to work on this outside of when the disagreements are occurring. Otherwise, the negative emotions (frustration, criticism) are going to keep getting tied in with this behavior, and that's bad for both of you.

  • I think you are right about talking about it when both of us are calm. I waited until I was calm last night, but he obviously was still upset. I'm not sure if it will matter though. I've tried asking if he's open to doing other things differently while we were both calm and it went pretty badly. Example: We often have lunch together, but it's always him texting me right when he wants to go. So I asked him if he knew in advance when he was going to go to lunch, hadn't even made a request for him to text me early, and he totally blew up about it. – Kat Sep 8 '17 at 15:42
  • I've had issues like your husband is facing as well, "blowing up" when changes in routine or plans came. (It really hit home to me when my spouse said she felt like she was "walking on eggshells" around me. That behavior was related to depression and anxiety that I was suffering from. – Discord Sep 8 '17 at 15:51
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There are two separate problems at work here, and I think you may be part of one of them. And I'm going to disagree with the other answers and say that you also have a problem with empathy.

The first is that he's interrupting before you've finished, which presumably means you haven't fully explained the problem, and hence his "solution" is missing key features. My partner is particularly bad for this. I've found that I need to be as brutally blunt as telling her "you're interrupting me again", in those exact words, before she realises what she's doing. In any other situation, this would be me being extremely rude. In this situation though, it's the only way to stop her worse rudeness when she literally starts talking while I'm mid-sentence and derails the whole topic.

The second problem though is what you see as "caring". If your partner sees you upset or stressed about something, the natural tendency is to want to help. This is gender-neutral. Of course if your work is something he knows nothing about then he can't help, but otherwise his inputs could be valid. You actually aren't asking for him to "listen" though, because listening involves absorbing what you're saying and being one half of a two-way conversation. What you say you want is for him to pick up on the emotional content of "I'm stressed" but to literally not listen to a word you say. If you are simply expecting to talk at him and he just sits there like a lump, I'm afraid that's not a very good model of a relationship either. You're describing wanting an audience for you acting out, not a listener.

He certainly may need to work on how he presents his "solutions". If he starts "you should..." then he's going about it wrong. But asking "have you tried...?" is fair game. You know he's been listening, and he cares about what you're talking about, but it's respectful to you as the person who's actually responsible for solving the problem.

3

This is such a commonly recurring problem, yet so hard to fix!

I had indeed found myself offering to my ex-girlfriend suggestions and advices that were, now in the hindsight, essentially half-baked. We've had instances where discussions on certain problems escalated quickly into arguments (not really insults), with both of us feeling that the other is being insensitive.

We knew we both loved each other dearly and didn't want our relationship to suffer because of such (trivial?) issues, that can really be avoided to a large extent with a bit of restraint and consideration. We devised a way, and decided to pen down and exchange 4-5 suggestions on behavior improvement that we wanted to see in each other. The suggestions, after a brief discussion, would then be combined to form a consolidated Agreement Proposal (of course, nothing legal about it).

I'll share a couple of things that were a part of the proposal we both agreed upon:

  • Being considerate about talking the things out that any of us wants to discuss, with an attempt to be subjective about the matter than the individual.

  • Providing constructive feedback without hesitations — whenever necessary — and being receptive to the same if it comes from the other end.

  • OUR RELATIONSHIP should always be on top of everything.

Important: Do not cite specific examples of any previous situations in this "agreement" proposition.


I would also like to add one final suggestion... And I admit, this may sound a bit like compromising sometimes. However, if it works with someone, then it might truly have far reaching effects.

An emotionally charged confrontation with a smart person doesn't usually achieve the desired goal of making them realise that they were on the wrong foot. The reason being: in the light on an argument, for someone who's generally calculative and smart, their gut instinct takes over. This further means that ego starts preceding the reason and emotional sensitivity is shown the door.

The suggestion therefore is:

Politeness (on your part), in the most heated situations, holds the key to make a smart person realise that they were being wrong.

For instance:

After their rant / unnecessary advice is over, or if it has escalated into arguments and name calling, try to keep your rage under control and with a very soft tone, you could say:

I only wanted you to listen to me, {{Name}}.... as a friend, as a {{spouse / partner}}.

If spoken with real feelings, this is something that can suddenly strike them hard on the inside... with a realisation that... they indeed need to do something, but with an objective to actually fix their own behavior, and not the problems / world.

And then, to prevent the situation from reaching the tipping point, possibly defer that conversation for that time, with a humble request / assurance to get back to it next day, giving both the parties enough room to reflect, cool-down and start anew.

 


Hope this sounds reasonable and can be used to some extent. All the very best!

3

This is a difficult one, as you are basically asking your SO to go against a hardwired "feature" of most men.

My wife and I have an agreement after the same issue came up early in our dating relationship. After she has talked about a particular problem / experience she has difficulties with, I will ask her whether she wants me to do anything about it (advise or action).

If no, the conversation will take its normal course. If yes, my advise is given, and she will take it into consideration if she wants.

It sounds forced, but after 13 years it is now a quite natural part of our communication "protocol".

  • Hey, could you tell us how the OP could actually introduce this idea to her husband? Any suggestion as to how this conversation should go in order to have the request taking seriously? – Ælis Dec 18 '18 at 14:38
  • Also, please keep in mind that OP said: "I have tried repeatedly to make my desire for him to listen instead of problem solve explicit at the beginning of the conversation, and he flat out refuses. I also have tried telling him the problem solving is making me feel worse, and that listening is what I need to feel better. He thinks it's absurd." – Ælis Dec 18 '18 at 16:14
2

Focus on the (or at least before) aspect of your question. Give up on 'instead'.

I am quite similar to your spouse in this regard. My wife is quite similar to you in this regard. We have had exactly the same issue as you. We have arrived at a place where both of us manage to communicate and meet in the middle, without the need for one or the other of us to change as fundamentally as you seem to wish your spouse to change.

I consider listening to someone's problem and not doing my best to help them solve the problem to be rude. To my mind, if there is a problem, a solution is needed. Everyone who is effected by the problem (or empathises with someone who is) should contribute to this solution.

This IS your spouse empathising. In his mind, saying "oh that terrible, poor you" is about as useful as sending your hopes and prayers to people effected by a hurricane. It's nice, but they would probably prefer some food and water. He is saying that he agrees your problem is bad, and that he cares enough about you to want to help.

It might not look like empathy to you, but it is how your spouse shows empathy. You two are speaking different languages. It might be easier for you to learn how to understand 'problem solving empathy' than it would be for him to learn to speak 'listening empathy'.

Focus on the positives. You have a spouse who is taking the time to discuss these things with you, and he is doing his best to empathise with you. He is doing this because he loves you. If someone he didn't care about complained to him about a problem, he would simply give a quick "that sucks" and move on without making an attempt to help solve the problem.

With that said, there is the (or at least before) aspect of the problem, which you can help your spouse work on. Assuming he's an technical type, he should be used to doing this at work, and it shouldn't be against his nature to do this at home.

Point to the below advice.

“If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” - Albert Einstein

This advice (focus on problems first, solutions last) is mirrored in similar sayings in virtually all good tech/consultancy companies. See here for advice on why you should never ask users of your software what solutions they want. You should identify problems with them.

Leaping to solutions before hearing, understanding, and asking questions about the problem will not work in business, and it will not work at home.

Do not try to convince your spouse not to offer solutions. Convince him to hold off on proposing solutions.

This will help:

  • Your spouse will arrive at better solutions, which makes him feel like he helped more, which will make him feel better.
  • Your spouse will arrive at better solutions. Occasionally, some of these solutions might actually be a good idea, and better than anything you'd thought of to that point.

and most importantly,

  • Will allow you more time for you to discuss the problem with your spouse listening intently/asking questions, without interrupting with solutions.
2

I wish I could share the video we watched during marriage class. It's a drop dead simple ringer. It works like this, paraphrases.

Husbands,

  • When our wives have a problem, we want to fix it.
  • When we tell our wives about a problem, we want them to fix it.

Wives,

  • When their husbands tell them about a problem, they want them to accept it and feel sympathy.
  • When they tell their husbands about a problem, they want them to accept it and feel sympathy.

It goes on to state that as husbands we should be willing to listen to a problem, and not try and fix it. The old joke of just going "yep" is likely to get you in less trouble then trying to actually fix the problem.

It also states that wives, need to be more action taking then they feel like they should be. When the guys say they're thirsty, what they really mean is that they want you to go get a drink for them.

It was said in jest, as a joke, in a funny way that I can't carry across here, but I (as a husband) always remember it when my wife starts to complain about something that has gone wrong in her day.

I suggest you see a similar video, or just have him read this thread. It's not that we don't want to help. It's that we don't understand that "fixing it" is going "yep, that does sound tough" and not going out and moving the boulder ourselves.

  • Hey, maybe you could provide some links in order to help the OP and show what sort of video you are talking about? – Ælis Dec 18 '18 at 14:35
1

In my experience, when people talk about problems, they often have the solution in their minds but need to vent their emotions first.

I expect you've heard the joke about a consultant being someone that you pay to tell you what you already know, but in essence, they do this by listening carefully and presenting the information in a form that the client can use. Sometimes all they do is affirm a decision that has already been made.

If your spouse responds to humor, you might be able to express your need for a "consultant", and ask for their help as a partner in making it work.

If your spouse doesn't respond to humor, you're probably best off looking for a new spouse. ;)

  • 1
    Hey, could you edit to add more details as to how OP could ask for this "consultant" in order for their spouse to understand what is needed of him? – Ælis Dec 18 '18 at 13:32
  • Also, OP said: "I have tried repeatedly to make my desire for him to listen instead of problem solve explicit at the beginning of the conversation, and he flat out refuses. I also have tried telling him the problem solving is making me feel worse, and that listening is what I need to feel better. He thinks it's absurd." -> In the light of that, do you still feel your solution will work? Could you edit to tell us why? – Ælis Dec 18 '18 at 16:00
1

In short, you wish to change your husband. From experience, I can tell you that he very likely does not want to, nay, can not change this aspect of his character. It is not about him being stupid, non-emphatic or whatever.

While the currently highest-voted answer asks you to tell your husband just to listen, I'll go one step further: you already know how your husband will react. Then the logical step is to avoid saying what will lead to disaster, isn't it?

Instead, tell him how you are angry, frustrated, tired or whatever it is that came from your frustrating problem you tried to solve. Don't even mention that problem. He cannot fix what he knows nothing about. Your relationship will not be worse off just because he doesn't know first hand what you did today.

Be prepared, when you tell him that you are frustrated, that he might try to give you hints on how to get less frustrated though... but being an engineer, you know that that reaction is coming. Maybe there are things he can do to make you less frustrated (what do I know - cook something for you, whatever).

Maybe, just maybe, he is simply not the right person to dump your daily problems on. Yes, you have a relationship, yes, there are many reasons for you two to be together, but maybe you need someone else for this kind of talking; and concentrate on finding ways to talk with your husband which do not involve presenting problems that trigger him to help you.

  • Don't you think the husband will ask "why are you frustrated"? What would you suggest OP to do then? – Ælis Dec 18 '18 at 13:23
1

Share a sign between the two of you that you want him to engage listening and not fix things

Every comment has made all of the points about how engineers are trained to fix things and it's hard to switch off, so I'm going to skip that and get to my advice.

Agree on a sign, maybe a gesture, or some form of contact (Holding hands works if you're sitting down, putting your hands on his shoulders at the start of the conversation works if you're moving around) that between you, means "I want you to listen and not fix now". Just make sure you don't accidentally condescend when you agree on the sign, it's probably easy to sound like you're teaching a dog, you're both adults here.

  • 1
    Hey, could you edit to tell us how to avoid doing "accidentally condescend when you agree on the sign"? Maybe add an example of phrasing? – Ælis Dec 18 '18 at 13:53
  • Also, how could the OP make there husband agreeing on that knowing that OP said: "I have tried repeatedly to make my desire for him to listen instead of problem solve explicit at the beginning of the conversation, and he flat out refuses. I also have tried telling him the problem solving is making me feel worse, and that listening is what I need to feel better. He thinks it's absurd."? – Ælis Dec 18 '18 at 16:14
  • @Noon not sure if it's worth an edit, because there's no one answer for everyone, but in general, discuss the issue as a way to communicate something, avoid any allusions to you ringing a metaphorical bell to make them behave. – Faceplanted Dec 18 '18 at 17:34
  • Also @Noon, it's not true of all relationships, but bringing an active solution to the table can be more acceptable than trying to actually convince someone of your point. "Just try this for me" allows wiggle room in the other persons mind for you to still be wrong, but them to play along to keep you happy, and if it does make you more happy, they might see that in a way that discussion and argument won't make them see it. – Faceplanted Dec 18 '18 at 17:36
1

Being a computer programmer myself there used to be a time when I went into the problem-solving mode that's about giving advice. Today, I have a different way to have a conversation. When I'm not conversing to solve a problem or to exchange ideas on an intellectual level I'm listening for the sake of having an authentic connection with the other person. As the conversation progresses I feel whether the feeling of being connected gets stronger or whether the conversation moves into the banal realm of small talk.

This means that I ask questions that are likely to further the feeling of being connected. When hearing the problem about a coworker I might ask for the specific emotions. What did you feel in that moment? What do you feel now about the situation? What do you feel inside your body?

As I ask the questions I pay careful attention to how it affects the emotional connection we are having. Do my questions make our interaction deeper, or do the distract from the moment we share together? Not every question succeeds into going in the right direction, but the important thing is to notice which questions help to further the nice feeling of connection and which don't.

The "problem" I attempting to solve is that I want to feel a deep connection within the conversation and I chose my words to optimize for solving that "problem".

Authentic relating exercises, Circling, Active Listening, Radical Honesty and Nonviolent Communication are all practices that helped me to develop a toolkit of questions I can use in a conversation to "optimize" the conversation. I personally found it very valuable to learn practices like that in a structured environment at workshops.

This mindset of using different conversation tools to achieve the result I want completely removes any need on my part to offer suggestions of how a problem might be solved because that's not what I'm optimizing for.

There's nothing you can do to force your boyfriend to change but you can suggest him to switch his mindset and you can go to workshops together to get him comfortable with new conversation skills.

1

Note: There are a lot of great answers here, and while I feel Graham's is the best, his answer includes many personal antidotes that felt wrong to augment when I tried to edit it. He declined my request that he incorporate some of the information provided here to make his more comprehensive. So here is yet another answer, cobbled together the best ideas I've seen here:

Graham astutely points out, you may also have a problem with empathy. As zzzzBov mentions in his answer, what you have actually asking your husband for is 'sympathy' not 'empathy'. It sounds like you are just dumping your day on your partner, which Anne Daunted, points out, may not be something he enjoys.

Why he's interrupting you: Since 'sympathy' comes from a state of emotionally distance, your husband isn't feeling engaged with your conversation, and thus is looking to end it as quickly as possible by immediately offering solutions.

You probably have some friends that do the same thing to you. Do you really enjoy the process of listing to that to that friend that's always complaining? or do you only really talk with her because you know it's safe to complain back?

To break the pattern, you either need to get better at turning your day into a more entertaining story, or be more clear about what 'the problem to solve' really is as as Lamar Latrell suggested in his answer. For instance, if you are having a bad day, you could joke about all of the things that went wrong (which should make it obvious to your husband that you aren't looking for advice). Or, if you want emotional support instead of the ability to just recount your day to someone, don't just ask for him to listen, ask for 'emotional support'.

Being emotionally supportive can require a lot of energy on your partner's part, thus, as Christian mentions, employing some non-violent communication skills here can be very helpful. To start, try to always to ask for permission to start the conversation first, as he may not be in the mindset / mood to be able to be present for you at the moment. If he says he is busy, you need to respect that, but can ask for when a good time to talk might be. Similarly, as noted in the graphic below, try to get in the practice of making request by coupling your emotions to observations rather than assigning judgement or blame to anything thing that happened in your day. You can incorporate this practice into your ask by saying to your partner "A lot of things happened at work today that made me feel [upset/out of control/angry], I need some emotional support right now, do you do you have time to talk?"

enter image description here

More about Non-violent communication can be found here: http://www.nonviolentcommunication.com

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