“I’m fine” doesn’t always mean what you think it means. When used this very particular way, the word “fine” could mean “good enough” or it could mean “upset and not ready to talk about it”. So… how do you know whether you’re hearing one and not the other?
Over a typical week, most of us say “I’m fine” an average of 14 times. Yet less than 20 percent are, for lack of a more fitting term, real. (That’s because of the wonderful/annoying nuances of context.) On the one hand, we could try to explain why this happens. But we’ve decided to go with another approach, which is to ask again.
The Ask Twice Campaign
The premise of the Ask Twice campaign is to help everyone be more supportive in their relationships by spreading awareness and understanding that “I’m fine” doesn’t always mean “I’m fine.”
Much of the campaign is meant to educate people so that they’re more supportive partners in their relationships, whether that’s with a colleague or a close friend or a romantic partner or a family member. Or more specifically, helping people to recognize “I’m fine” as an emotional snooze button indicating that you need to wait a moment, read the room, and then ask again.
From Platonic to Romantic
The Ask Twice campaign’s marketing focuses on friends (or “mates,” since this movement originates in the UK) although the same philosophy can be extended to romantic partnerships as well: “In successful marriages, partners give each other emotional support,” which becomes the foundation of a successful relationship. Because giving support to your partner is intrinsically an expression of appreciation, fondness, and other positive emotions.
Romantic relationships represent, at least in part, a willingness to share one another’s emotional burdens. In these scenarios, being a supporter helps your partner but also helps you. Your relationship will grow stronger as both parties benefit from being in a safe space in which to anchor and share emotional burdens.
How to Be More Supportive in Your Relationships
To give effective support after you ask twice and encourage your partner to open up you have to be ready for what comes next. Effective communication is the key although we’ve put together a handful of tips to help you make sure that your partner feels heard, respected, and loved.
Step 1: Always Take Them Seriously
Your partner might be embarrassed, ashamed, nervous, or even scared when they open up to you for the first time. They have a good reason to have kept silent up until now and when they let it out they put themselves in a vulnerable place.
Remember that what sounds trivial to you might be eating them away. When your partner vents, they reveal things that they can’t discuss ordinarily and can feel exposed. You can make sure they can feel comfortable as they share just by listening and acknowledging that they are hurting.
Step 2: Listen and Think
Practical advice isn’t always the answer when someone vents. So you don’t have to feel helpless if you don’t have all the answers or an immediate solution. It’s natural to want to try to fix the problem that hurts your partner. But sometimes people just need someone to listen.
It can be enough to tell them simple things like “thank you for telling me” or “that sounds difficult.” Those sound like meaningless platitudes, but just listening is more than enough for some people.
Step 3: Ask Questions
Questions keep a conversation going. We use them to show the speaker we hear them and want to continue to engage with them. Asking things like “how can I help?” shows them that you still care. They might not have an answer. And that’s okay! You can still tell your partner that you still love them and are here to support them through this difficult time.
Step 4: Don’t Try to Fix it
This one fits right in with number two on our list. As their partner, you might feel obligated to take care of them. You can try—but you should not take on that burden by yourself. We have therapists, counselors, and doctors for good reason. They make their careers out of help—separated by professionals to protect themselves.
Even if you have the training to help, your compromised professional judgment means you should treat your partner only after you exhaust every other possible option. Some feel that kind of patient-provider relationship is unethical, so you could even threaten your career.
Step 5: Increase Your Knowledge
If your partner mentioned a specific diagnosis or problem to you it means they went far enough in their journey to seek help. You can show them that you care and provide stronger support if you take the initiative to learn more about it.
There are a couple of different ways to learn. You can ask them questions, you can join them in meetings with their providers (if they’re comfortable with that), or you can do your research. You can also try to relate. Everyone has loved ones who suffer through similar things. You might have even gone through something similar. But be very careful with this tactic. If you approach this topic without extreme care it might seem like you decided to change the subject back to you in your partner’s moment of vulnerability.
You might mean it as a way to show that you understand. But in a compromised emotional state they might interpret it as a sign that you don’t care about their problem and aren’t interested in truly helping them. When that happens, you hurt them and your relationship, because they’re less likely to open up to you again.
There’s Support & Understanding at Silicon Beach Behavioral Health
Whether you’re looking for support for an emotional disorder, help with a codependent relationship, or treatment for a substance use disorder, Silicon Beach Behavioral Health has your back. We offer a variety of in-house clinical, therapeutic, and holistic support options to those in need.
For more information about our services and programs, contact us at Silicon Beach Behavioral Health today.