They say that men are fixers. What I see in the therapy room tends to support that notion but not exclusively. I encounter many women who also tend to be problem solvers and problem fixers. And what’s wrong with that? Nothing at all! I mean really, if that’s the worst thing people will say about you, you lived a pretty good and caring life most likely. The people on the other end of the spectrum could learn a thing or two from you as sometimes they spend too much time lamenting and give up on a problem before all the possible solutions have been explored.

The problem with problem solvers is what happens when they try to solve a problem that is unsolvable (try saying that three times fast!). When you run up against that situation in which there is no way to make that bad thing go away, what do you do? This is where problem solvers often run into trouble. Almost as if by instinct, when they can’t find or implement a fix, they back away. They back away because they feel useless, they don’t know what to do, they don’t want to be exposed as incapable, it’s too painful, or they recognize there is nothing to be done so what’s the point of staying around the thing.

Unsolvable problems come in all shapes and sizes. Chronic illnesses, terminal illnesses, physical limitations, psychological limitations, lack of access to tools, not enough time, inevitable consequences and many others are things that we might qualify as unsolvable. Yet, in each of these is a person who is struggling with what they cannot change and in many cases, hoping someone can be there with them while they stare that reality down. Here is where you problem solvers can learn something from those on the other end of that scale.

I do this as a therapist and many do this because it is just who they are. What we do when we encounter an unsolvable problem is that we stay. We lean in. We accept the pain and breathe through it. We encourage the struggling one to talk if they need to talk or we sit with them quietly if that is their need. We make it safe for them to vent, cry, discuss or whatever else seems to be important. We don’t offer unfounded claims or platitudes that sound good when we say them but really can hurt more than they help. We are not afraid to show how we feel but always are careful not to make it about us.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not easy stuff. All of us at our core want bad things to stop and good things to come again. Certainly, it’s sometimes just what the doctor orders to have someone come in and fix all of the fixables. But when that work has reached its end and all that remains is the sad and difficult reality of what does not lend itself to a solution, the fix, if you will, is presence. Be there. Lean in. Stay.