couple counseling, marriage therapy, marriage counseling

What to say when your partner vents

When couples here the term – siding with the enemy, they usually respond with “we don’t have any enemies”.

But an enemy can be anybody that your partner is venting about.

It may be someone they’ve been offended by, or someone that they complain about.

What do you do when partner vents? When they are obviously distressed or just needing to process things out loud, do you say nothing or give a dose of reality so they can snap out of it?

When your partner complains, hold the space.

How? by siding with them rather than taking the opposing position.

Here’s a typical scenario-

Sally’s boss challenged her. He didn’t treat her very well. He actually ripped into her in front of her colleagues at work. He challenged her, questioned her knowledge about a particular project and he queried the statistics she put before him.

And to make matters worse, he didn’t even do it with respect.

That’s not a very pleasant experience for anyone!

Naturally, Sally was offended. And when she came home, she complained to her partner and told her story with emotion. Her version of what happened is all that mattered. She was angry, annoyed, humiliated, confused and she vented. The words rushed out of her mouth but she managed to hold back the usual tears.

She needed someone that understood what was going on inside of her.

To her shock and horror her partner’s response to the venting episode was –

You’re overreacting.

I’ve met the guy.

He’s a logical and reasonable.

He probably have something important to tell you.

Sally did not get what she needed from her partner. So she continued … she kept on talking. She talked even faster and with more emotion. She vented some more  and more and this time she even upped the anti against her perceived enemy.

What did she want?

She may not even have conscious awareness of what she wants. But inside herself she may secretly be wishing for a connection moment with her partner.

Here’s how she continued –

You know, he’s trying to get rid of me. He just doesn’t like me. I know they’re downsizing. And he just doesn’t like me. He doesn’t respect me.

How did Sally’s partner respond ?

Look! you’re probably paranoid.

You know, it’s may not be as big as you’re making it out. And you need to get a grip.

Here‘s the number one killer of marriages and relationships of all types right here. Siding with the enemy at this crucial moment when a person needs empathy and understanding is a big No-no.

  • Do you think that Sally would have been pleased with that response?
  • Do you think this is a moment of bonding between the couple?

Well just forget it!! Sally said, and she got up and walked away.

That was Not a holding container.

A holding container is an experience where partners are bonding over a conversation.

When your partner is hurt her, allow them to express their hurt and pain. Help them to think through solutions, and to invite your opinions if needed. Give them space to process.

Human bonding

A bonding relationship occurs when we are on the same side. I’m not saying you have to agree with everything, that’s not possible when you have 2 human beings in a relationship with two different brains.  It’s not about agreeing, but it is about validating.  The main rule here is don’t side with the enemy.

How do you apply this rule:

If your partner is venting or talking about somebody that’s caused them pain, hurt or misunderstanding. Your job is to stay with your partner by validating their experience.

You don’t have to agree. But you have to give them the feeling that you’re with them.

That means that you validate their reality, you validate their emotions. To them it will feel like you’re together on one side and there is a common enemy on the other side.

You are now on the one side.

It’s the two of you against the enemy. And that’s a beautiful feeling in relationships when you feel your partner has your back. They’re with you. They’re not on the other side.

So please validate your partner’s feelings when they complain to you,  don’t side with the enemy.

Uniting against the threat keeps you bonded.

That happens every in the world.   Even in the military or the sporting field, people unite in a group with a common goal against a particular threat. That makes the group bonding stronger. It creates unity and a mentality of we are in this together – you feel together. So you work harder for the team.

The conversation and the team spirit will come to a grounding halt if tell the venter that what they feel is wrong or their experiences is wrong.

Telling your partner that they overreacted and that you know better because the enemy is logical, reasonable and a great person is making your partner wrong for having a different experience. That’s really not useful.

Don’t problem solve.

Your partner can solve their own problems. Problem-solving is not useful unless you’ve been invited.

Don’t provide your unsolicited solutions.

It’s natural to want to fix problems or to want to make your partner feel better when they’re expressing pain.

It is a tendency we all have because when we see somebody in pain of course we want relief. But is it your relief or your partners that you seek?

You may feel great solving problems, it may be natural and normal to you, but your partner may feel unacknowledged and unreceived.

If your partner is venting, your job to hold space.

Let them complain, understand, validate them and their reality, validate their emotions and express your understanding. That’s it.

Often people just want to vent. They want your ear to listen, and maybe even a shoulder to cry on.

If your partner has asked you for advice on how to fix a problem or to help  find a solution, that’s your invitation. Now you can give all the advice you want. Otherwise you’re not invited. Don’t go there.

Let your partner know that you understand what they’re saying.

Here are a few ideas on what to say:

  • That makes perfect sense why you’re upset.
  • Hey, that sounds terrible.

Notice no one is saying you have to agree with their perspective and make them right.

I agree that’s how you see it, is what you want to communicate.

It’s their perception. It can’t be wrong.

You might even say,

  • I’d be stressed too or

How about saying

  • That would have hurt my feelings too

It really is just about acknowledging where your partner is and validating their feelings.

When you side with the enemy, you are automatically on the other side and you’ve created a rift between you. There is no holding container and there is no safe space between you.

Your relationship needs protecting. Threats are everywhere and it’s your job to protect your relationship by siding with your partner against the enemy.

If you want to hear more about talking tips and tools for couples.


Let's build your better relationship.

Iman Iskander is a Couples and Marriage Counsellor with a relationship therapy  practice in Sydney. She is passionate about helping couples improve their love and lives through practical, science  based  strategies that work.  She specialises in repairing a couple’s  interaction, building lasting mindful relationships and she holds engaging skill building workshops in Sydney CBD.

Iman believes that you can thrive and with each person thriving, we as a community can thrive. We are the same in our difference.

Let's build your better relationship.

Reach out and contact me now for a free 15 minute chat to see how I can help.

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