“I’m hungry,” says my roommate.
I jump up. “I can make pasta, or slice up some chicken, or—”
“I’m not asking you to fix it. I’m just stating a fact,” he replies, grinning indignantly.
Humans do this ALL. THE. TIME. In just the past week, how many instances can you recall where someone has made a comment about their state of being (i.e. feeling hot, hungry, frustrated) and you immediately jumped into ‘helper mode’ and started trying to make things better? I suspect more than one. It’s not an unusual reaction—we want to help. The problem is, when we leap into ‘solving mode’ before checking in, we’re not giving the people we’re trying to help a chance to use their voice and ask for what they need. We’re also assuming we know what they need.
Part of meeting people where they are is giving them a chance to check in with themselves and decide what would be most helpful or appealing in a given situation. One of my colleagues, Kate McCombs, points out in a post on her blog that empathetic communication and resisting the urge to fix can have a hugely positive impact on intimacy in a relationship (all relationships, not just romantic ones!). Her go-to question has become, “Are you wanting empathy or strategy right now?” I might expand the question to, “Are you wanting empathy, strategy, both, or something else entirely?” This does a few important things. It lets the person having the experience know that you’re willing to be present for them, and that you care enough to not just dive in and start giving advice. It also gives them the opportunity to take a breath, sit with that question, and decide what would be most helpful in the moment.
For folks who are looking for a more indirect communication tool, this one is for you. My friend Janine created this incredible product called WARM, a sex toy warmer. It does exactly what it says, and I love it. I think the coolest thing about the WARM is the way that she and her sweetie have started using it to enhance their communication. She shared with me that they (like so many couples) sometimes struggle with being on the same page for who wants to get sexy and when, so they came up with a neat hack: if one of them (let’s say it’s her this time) is in the mood for sexy fun times, she’ll pull out the toy warmer and place it on his pillow. Her partner now has three choices: if he’s a yes to sexy times, he puts his favorite toy in the WARM pouch and turns it on. This indicates a yes for sexy times. If he’s supportive but not looking to be engaged, they put her favorite toy in the WARM pouch and put it on her pillow. This indicates that he’s willing to be there and be supportive while she takes care of her own needs, but doesn’t want to be super involved. If he’s not at all in the mood to be around sexual energy, he puts the pouch away. I’ve met so many folks who feel shame when they say no to sex with a partner, and this is a fantastic way to work around those feelings, while simultaneously growing more comfortable stating your preferences.
In the context of cannabis, I also see this ‘fixing’ habit quite often. “Ugh I’m so stressed!” “Here, this will help!” Person B then proceeds to hand person A some kind of joint or tincture or edible. We’re skipping the essential step that Kate highlights—checking in to see if they’re looking for solutions, or if they’re just expressing their frustrations about the day. Additionally, as people have different reactions to different cannabinoid and terpene profiles, it’s possible that the thing that you’re handing them might make things significantly worse, rather than better. Asking something like, “How can I be supportive right now?” gives people the chance to ask for what they need. And if they’re drawing a blank on ideas—some folks struggle with knowing what to ask for—you can say, “Would it be helpful if I listed some options?”
The more we can resist the tendency to assume we know what’s best for another person, the more we deepen our connections with one another in a fully autonomous, authentic way.
Let me know if this is a hack you might apply in your own life!