When Women Say "I'm Fine"...
Updated: Sep 29, 2019
Such a typical, even comic situation: a guy asks his visibly upset female partner if she is ok, and the response is “I’m fine”. Or they ask if anything is wrong and she replies “It’s nothing”.
Men seem to fear this “fine” response, it annoys them and leaves them confused, perplexed and at a loss about how to proceed further. Sometimes they choose to keep asking until they fish an honest response, or they withdraw because they recognize it as a sign of trouble, or they take “I’m fine” at face value and believe it, thus not pursuing any further explanation from their woman- which undeniably leads her to get even more upset, even angry at them…
It may sound surprising to some, but in fact there are things you can do to encourage your woman to be more real and authentic with her interaction to you, instead of just replying this threatening three-worded phrase…
Oh women! Such mysterious creatures, you may proclaim. To detangle the mystery of “I’m fine” though, one has to go one step closer into a woman’s psyche and understand what urges her to pretend she’s fine, when she’s most definitely not.
All of us like to present our better sides to the ones closer to us, especially at the beginning of intimate relationships. We exhibit our shiny Personas, we wear a well-polished mask of all our brighter Parts in order to attract our potential partners and maintain this attraction later on. This is natural, we all do it.
Is this lying? Yes and no. Well, in some way it is- since we avoid showing All of Ourselves- we withhold or hide the Shadow parts, our weaknesses, the sides of ourselves we are neither proud of nor happy about. Yet we are confident about showing our good parts, so it is not completely lying… It is concealing the whole truth about ourselves.
Showing our darkest sides entails being vulnerable with the other, and the path towards vulnerability is not straightforward but rather wiggly and steep. Depending on each individual, it may take a while until we dare and show our weaker sides. One needs to feel safe, appreciated and accepted first, before daring to show any sort of weakness to the other.
Admitting you are not fine actually means being vulnerable, presenting yourself as an honest human being that has boundaries, that occasionally struggles, that sometimes hurts, that can not handle everything without complaint, that has negative emotions and emotional reactions, that can even come across as strangely complicated sometimes.
This vulnerability may come in contrast with the bright, confident, strong, resilient, amazing, happy side that we are used to present to the outside world.
Therefore, a woman may say she is fine, because she is ashamed and embarrassed to admit that she is not.
She may be ashamed you will not understand her, you will judge her as being overly sensitive, dramatic, overreacting and exaggerating. She may think she is not allowed to be completely herself in front of you.
Fear of rejection and abandonment
Fear of rejection and fear of abandonment are closely linked to shame. A woman may say she’s fine, because she is afraid she will be rejected by you if she is honest about what is troubling her.
Maybe your previous interactions have implied this already to her, or the past experiences may have played a crucial role in whether she would dare to admit weakness.
For instance, think of a time that she did tell you what was wrong, only to be discouraged by your response to her. Maybe you put her down, judged her as being just emotional or did not take her seriously.
Often, when we feel criticized and judged, we may later be afraid to “be shamelessly ourselves”.
The relational environment may not be considered as safe anymore, and so we are choosing to wear a mask and pretend to be someone different than ourselves.
“Yes, but that’s her problem, not mine!”- perhaps you protest.
Like with anything that happens within a human system, it is an interaction, an interplay of each of the two people’s own history and their in-between communication.
The woman stating that she is fine may be in fact worried that she will be rejected, made fun of, or even abandoned if she admits any different.
If you suspect this to be the case, then affectionate encouragement and support might help a lot.
Passive-aggression and attention-seeking
It is already obvious that in most cases, a woman that says she’s fine is actually nothing but fine. If she would be fine, then she’d probably choose different words, such as “I’m doing great”, although of course her tone of voice is also a clear indicator on whether she’s being honest about her current state of mind, or not.
A woman may not only be ashamed and afraid to express how she really feels if she is upset, she may in fact be passive-aggressive and aiming to get her man’s attention when she says she’s fine.
In this scenario, she is probably not just upset, but also irritated, annoyed and angry. She may know that an argument will evolve if she expresses what is really on her mind, so she doesn’t, and instead she says she is fine.
However, indirectly and passively, she may be starting an argument herself, since the phrase "I'm fine" may be aiming to manipulate her man's attention towards her without directly stating what is wrong.
In this case, "I'm fine" is really a sign of impeding trouble.
If this does not succeed, if you overcome her sign, it is unfortunately likely that she will pout or go completely silent until you really get that there is something going on with her, insist in asking, and eventually the tension will resolve sooner or later.
There are situations when none of the above apply. It can also be likely that your woman really is not fine, but she also does not feel ready nor willing to mention what is the problem. It is completely alright if someone does not want to share what is troubling them at any given moment.
Perhaps she is well aware that an unnecessary argument will start, if she expresses what is really on her mind, and she would rather avoid that. Maybe she is in the process of self-regulation, and she prefers to handle it by herself and let it go, instead of mentioning something that she also recognizes as minor/ silly/ insignificant that could cause a conflict that she is not prepared to withstand.
No matter what is the actual cause that makes a woman say she is fine, this is still a much-dreaded phrase that can generate frustration, resentment and tension in a relationship or friendship- from both sides.
If left unattended, the woman in question might feel disappointed, angry, misunderstood and alone.
The other party of the interaction (be it a man or another woman) may feel frustrated and annoyed as well, or confused about what action to take.
The solution to this problem is authenticity.
If you think about it, perhaps coming as close as possible to ourselves is among the most crucial tasks we have as humans. I personally consider it an uttermost purpose. This includes both getting to know ourselves on a deep level, and being able to present ourselves to the outside world fearlessly, truthfully and originally.
In my opinion, any friendship and relationship in general benefits the most, the more real it is. Clarity and transparency in relationships guarantees quality, on many different levels.
Clarity in communication, expectations and boundaries of both parties ensures a better understanding of the other and a better capacity to relate to them as honestly and profoundly as possible. Yes, truth hurts sometimes, but in my view, it is better to know exactly what you are dealing with than to be blindfolded.
Dear women who tend to proclaim you’re fine when you are not:
Dare to be vulnerable and honest
No-one likes to be in the role of the mindreader, or to attempt and slowly fish information out of you. Next time when you are tempted to say you are fine, why don’t you try to say what’s on your mind? What is the worst that can happen really? Your partner/ friend might be annoyed, frustrated or sad by what they will hear, but on the other hand; they will get to know and understand you better, instead of wondering about what is bothering you and making up scenarios that may have them sinking in doubt and guilt.
Dare to be direct
Many people dislike long and detailed analyses and conversations about difficult issues and would much rather know what is the issue at hand in a simple, direct and structured way. This can be a challenging task to achieve since it requires self-awareness and introspection, so it is better to have first practiced the skill of exploring what upset you on a deeper level, and what is the most negative thing the situation made you feel about yourself.
For instance, if your partner spends a lot of time with his friends and you think he is not making enough time for you, the issue at hand is really his upcoming night out- but how this makes feel. “I feel neglected and I would like to spend more time with you too” is much more effective than proclaiming the real problem is his upcoming evening out with the guys.
Quit the blame-game
When challenging situations occur in relationships, it is very easy and even automatic to start accusing the other- but this is actually a recipe for destruction. Practice making “I-statements” instead of placing priority on what your partner did “wrong”, with an emphasis on how this makes you feel and think; you have much better chances of being understood and listened to carefully and attentively if you choose to not accuse your partner, but rather focus on yourself.
Admit it if you just don’t want to share
Sharing is caring, you know that already. If you are really not fine but would rather handle it by yourself, than address, process and resolve the issue with your partner/ friend, I promise you things will be much easier if you just say so. Next time, try to honestly express that something is indeed troubling you, but you would like to keep it to yourself for now. Emphasize to your partner that you don’t want them to insist on the issue, and then let it go until you have worked it out on your own.
Observe what is happening in your mind, give yourself credit for recognizing it, and then imagine your thought is a balloon that you let go off your hands. It is not something that is worth ruining your time together any longer.
Dear receivers of the “I’m fine” response:
Show up with your full presence
It can help a lot to simply express to your woman that you are there for them if they want to explain what is wrong. Underline that they are safe with you to tell you what is bothering them.
Let it go if they don’t want to share
Kindly but firmly express your own boundaries; explain that you do not intend to insist if she doesn’t want to tell you what is wrong, and let her be if this is the case. It is an unusual practice for many men, but you can try telling her how her attitude actually makes you feel (e.g. confused). Sometimes giving a simple hug or an affectionate touch may be enough for her to feel just a bit better.
Ask what would make things easier for her
It is likely that her mood greatly affects yours, therefore the sooner this is resolved, the better for the both of you. Focus on the possible solutions. Ask her in a direct and caring manner if there is anything you can do to help her, or what does she need in this moment in order to allow herself to move on unobstructed with your time together.
For both sides, authenticity will go a long way. Don't worry if you don't always succeed in practicing it- as long as you commit that you will direct your efforts in becoming as authentic towards yourself and others as possible.
"Authenticity is not something we have or don't have. It's a practice-- a conscious choice of how we want to live. Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It's about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen."- Brene Brown