Allow your partner to vent with wild abandon.
(Reading Time: 5 Minutes)
“I feel like I’m trapped! I need to let off some steam! I want to stand on top of a mountain and scream obscenities like a wild woman!”
These were the words I spat at my husband last weekend. The pressures of homeschooling two kids during a pandemic, trying to juggle work, and a new German Shepherd puppy all got a bit too much.
He looked me calmly in the eye and sat down in the comfy armchair we have in the corner of our kitchen. He opened his hands.
“I’m ready. Please begin.” Said his body language.
After 14 years of marriage, he’s used to me. It no longer scares him when I need to purge emotionally. Like a raging torrent, it comes pouring out of my mouth like a river about to burst its banks. He sits patiently, nodding now and then. He’s learned over the years that this is nothing to do with him. He doesn’t need to take any of it personally. Half the time, he can’t recall what I said.
Afterward, neither can I. I feel a sweet sense of relief. My mental muscles feel like they’ve been twisted and turned, stretched, and snapped back again. It feels good, like that limber feeling you get after a workout or a long walk in the countryside. Calm restored.
To be fair, I do the same for him too. When we first went into lockdown here in the UK and had to shut his business, he felt out of control. His ranting was frequent for a while. Granted, it’s different than mine. More like a spluttering tap that groans and spurts out dirty water in stops and starts, following a distant rumble in some ancient pipe. Then it stopped. Once the lines had a clear out, the tap went back to its smooth normality. The water flowed freely again.
This is a vital part of our marriage. It’s a significant expression of love that we have for one another. We allow each other to flex fully. To go out on a limb, release the lid of the bell jar and, if necessary, scream. We can be totally exposed and vulnerable with one another, be at our most ugly. Then, once done, we get back on with it. Never for it to be spoken of again.
Emotional Confidentiality is a Basic Human Right.
Having the freedom to vent emotionally in a safe space is a basic human right. It’s healthy. It’s freeing. It’s good for the soul. Even the quietest of introverts need to be allowed to let rip.
The gift of emotional confidentiality says, “Go for it. Be free. Run wild through the dark forests of your mind and tell me about it. I’m here with you. I’ve got your back. You are safe. I love you.”
Ideally, this should be a reciprocal arrangement. Often, the listener needs to elicit it and open the door. Look out for clues. Spot the signs. Give them permission.
Then pull up and chair and let them blow. Safely. With you there with them. Just listen. Don’t wait to speak. Listen.
There is a fine art to creating the kind of safe space that you need to facilitate this.
Here are the key ingredients.
Be Fully Accepting
Show ‘unconditional positive regard’. Humanist psychologist Carl Rogers used this term in his client-centered therapy. This means showing the other person that they have your complete support and acceptance no matter what they say. There are no conditions attached. Nada.
This is the highest expression of love that you can show your partner.
Showing unconditional positive regard allows your partner to be truly free. It’s not possessive. It’s done solely for the benefit of your loved one. It allows them to express their own feelings, thoughts, and experiences without fear of judgment or retribution.
Allow them to be emotionally naked, drop their pretenses, and vocalize their worst thoughts and feelings. Let them know that even then, at their most vulnerable and exposed, that you still love and accept them.
Creating the space for your partner to truly be free is a relief. It’s a balm for the soul. It’s truly humbling to be with a person whose actions tell you “No matter what, I still love you.”
Create a Vacuum
Safety and confidentiality are essential. To fully flex, your partner needs to be able to speak without limits.
Let them blow off steam until there is nothing left to give.
When they are done, check that they are OK, discuss anything they want to talk about, and close the door. Fully.
Unless they initiate it themselves, the products of their purging do not need to be revisited. Ever.
Don’t try to collude further down the line. They don’t need you to justify their thoughts. Even if done with the best intentions, they will still feel that you are throwing it back in their face.
Once the door is shut. It stays firmly closed. Forever.
Understand That This Was ‘In The Moment.’
Your partner’s words may be extreme, emotional, hurtful even. However, accept that this was ‘in the moment’ and not a signature tune of their life. It’s not a reflection of who they are.
Like heat from the back of the refrigerator, we all need an opportunity to let off a little steam. Give them permission.
Like digging for diamonds, there’s a lot of meaningless material that needs to be excavated to get to the most valuable thoughts. The stuff that matters.
The venting is the removal of the excess. The waste and spoil.
Once they have found their thought nuggets, they’ll likely need to polish a little. Be gentle and help them do this. Ask non-judgmental questions.
No Matter What, It’s Confidential.
No matter how bad things get, don’t ever use the material against them further down the line. Ever.
Always be the bigger person. Even if you split and they end up rolling around in the mud, yelling and slinging obscenities.
Calmly walk away. You will feel better. They will miss you even more.
Know the Difference Between Thoughts and Behaviors
We all have ugly thoughts. Thinking is not the same as doing.
Don’t overreact if their venting seems extreme. Once the pressure has been released, they’ll calm down and return to their usual self.
Knowing that you created a safe space for them to be genuinely free will create a deep and profound bond.
Relationships aren’t built on perfection. They’re built on “No matter what’.