How To Comfort Someone You Love When You Haven't a Clue How
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my 28 years of life (I know, who the heck do I think I am giving “profound” relationship advice at my age), it’s that people are complicated. We’re also sometimes clueless. But the good news is that’s something we all share in common, and, hopefully, that allows us all some grace when we’re doing our best to support someone we love — even when we haven’t a clue how.
I’m sure you’ve heard the oh-so-overused phrase, “Relationships take work.” And I think we can all agree that they do, but this phrase isn’t just referring to reigniting that spark back in your relationship or the thrill in a friendship. It means working to truly try to understand the core of who someone is — their wants and needs, their baggage no matter how heavy, and how they communicate and express themselves. By doing so, you can understand how to speak their language and better understand how to be there for them when times get tough. Basically, the relationships and friendships you truly care about require you to become an investigative therapist to some degree. I know, the lack of a professional degree definitely shows at times.
But the best of relationships are worth these deep dives, no matter how scary the unknown territory may feel and no matter how lost you are. As women, society ingrains in us that we are required to be the nurturers at all times. So, we should naturally have the answers or proper actions when someone we love is in emotional turmoil. When we feel disconnected from that expectation due to our lack of confidence in how to handle a situation, it can turn into a mess of unnecessary (and unfair, might I add) guilt.
So, what are the first steps? What do we do when someone we deeply love and care about is going through emotional turbulence and we haven’t a clue how to be there for them? Start with these four things. They’ve never steered me wrong.
I know, I know. This is obvious, or is it? When your loved one is actively talking about their hardship, how often do you find yourself already formulating a response or solution in your head before they’re finished? More often than not, I find that when I truly listen, it’s not even always an actual solution they’re looking for. So, my head-talk is already preventing me from diving deeper into understanding their psyche and what the true root of their pain is. It might not be the actual hardship itself, but feelings of isolation, fear of the unknown, guilt for being unable to navigate the situation, etc.
So, Linda, listen. Because oftentimes the best way to support someone is just allowing them the opportunity to be truly heard.
Don’t Offer a Solution
Speaking of jumping right to solutions — don’t. While of course this varies from person to person and situation to situation, if you haven’t a clue what the best solution is, don’t offer one. It’s not your job to have all the answers, even if you are a nurturing goddess and the queen of uncovering the best road maps down treacherous trails. And if you’re (cough, cough) actively listening — are they even asking you for one? Both men and women tend to be solution-oriented, so you may be fighting your natural instinct to start brainstorming a way out of the storm.
But remember, it’s not about you. It’s not about you feeling the pride of a job well done because you thought of a way out of their pain. It’s about truly understanding what it is they’re seeking from you during this interaction (investigative therapist, remember?). I find that usually, when someone is in distress and comes to me about it, it’s because they just want to feel like they’re not alone in their pain, anger, frustration, etc. Which leads me to …
Assure Them They’re Not Alone
This is one of the biggest and most impactful things you can do to help someone else’s emotional well-being. No one wants to feel like they’re lost at sea by themselves. So when you don’t know what to say, sometimes a simple “I’m here with you. You’re not alone, and I love you” is enough. Seriously. A little goes a long way here, guys. And to add to that thought …
Truly ‘See’ Them
While letting them know you’re there and they’re loved is important, so is acknowledging what they’re going through and the toll it’s taking on them. Ever since my fiancé and I moved into our fixer-upper home and experienced myriad stressors from it, I have found this element to be the most important. In the past, our fights often stemmed from him feeling like I wasn’t acknowledging the stress he was taking on with such a huge project. A majority of the time, he was required to play general contractor and avoid his day job work because I just didn’t have the knowledge to be able to take over certain projects. He’s the Chip to my Joanna. And managing all of these tasks, while he had to actively avoid his passion that was his work, was extremely frustrating. So when those frustrations came out, I was at a loss, because I didn’t know what the solution was or how I could help.
But what I learned was that he wasn’t actually upset at me because I couldn’t “be the solution” by taking over those tasks for him. He was upset because I wasn’t acknowledging everything he was juggling and the mental and emotional distress that it was causing him. My “positive outlook” and passing phrases of “everything will be fine, we’ll get through it” felt like a brush-off to him. I wasn’t taking on any of the stress he had to. So, of course my outlook was different. Of course I could easily say that. When I finally understood it was a matter of me recognizing his efforts and truly “seeing him,” everything changed.
So my words changed, and I began to say things like, “I see how hard you’re working and all the stress this is causing you. That has to be really hard. Please know I’m here for you, and let me know if there’s any way I can help ease the load.” Our relationship has grown so much stronger ever since.
We’re all human, and we’re all doing our best. Just remember, your best is good enough. It is not your job to make someone feel better, but I guarantee you if you put these tips into practice, you’ll at the very least lift some of the weight.