We all need some comfort sometimes, especially in these days.
Comforting someone you love shouldn't be hard, right?
And yet, the question how to comfort someone sometimes seems just like rocket science.
So I thought this week I'll give you some inspiration how to be more of a comfort to those around you.
Before we dive in, look at Joey and Christine's situation and see if you've experienced something like that at some point in your life (or possibly, quite recently...).
Joey and Christine's apartment seems to be getting smaller...
Joey and Christine have spent the past two weeks together in their cramped 1-bedroom apartment. For the most part, things have been going well. But Christine feels their misunderstandings and conflicts are increasing by the day.
She worries a lot now about the future. Her elderly parents live in a different part of the country, about two hours away by plane. As an only child, she used to visit them on a regular basis. But obviously her parents are on their own now.
She also worries about her husband’s health – Joey has had asthma since childhood and she has nightmares every night of him contracting Covid-19 and the local hospitals being out of ICU beds and ventilators when things get bad for him.
She also worries that their employers soon will start to lay off people.
Joey is taking the current crisis in a more easy-going way than she is. Part of her is happy that he doesn’t seem to be as depressed as she is, but part of her also feels his upbeat views are just not realistic.
Whenever she voices her worries and concerns to Joey, she feels like he is not taking her seriously. He belittles her, saying things like “Oh Christine, don’t take it so hard.” Or he might say, “Don’t stress out too much about this. This, too, shall pass. Just think about the fun things we’ll do when this is all over.”
But Christine doesn’t feel heard. She is getting more and more anxious and distressed. Much to her chagrin, she is also getting increasingly angry about Joey’s being so light-hearted and not taking her seriously in this situation.
Joey is stunned and somewhat concerned over Christine’s increasing hostility toward him. Who knows how long this will go on and how long they’re going to be stuck in their apartment together? How are they going to make it through this time if they can’t even get through an ordinary conversation anymore?
Comforting someone isn't always easy, despite your best intentions
You’ve probably been at the giving and receiving end yourself. Have you been in a situation when you desperately tried to help and to find the right words, and it just did not work? Or when you shared your grief with a trusted person and the conversation left you bitter and utterly misunderstood, although you know that person would only ever want the best for you?
Comforting someone else isn’t always that easy, even though in these times it’s more important than ever.
How you word your statements can make a world of a difference to the person you’re talking to. So how can you make the most of your helpful intentions?
To give true comfort, show that you accept your loved one's feelings
One key to increasing the chances that your loved ones actually will feel supported by what you say is validation.
Validation occurs when you recognize and accept someone else’s feelings and thoughts. You don’t have to agree with them, but you are showing that you care and that you recognize what they are going through.
Here's what NOT to say
You can invalidate your partner’s feelings in many different ways. You can do so by judging your feelings, by belittling them, by blaming them, or by minimizing them. So how does that look like in a conversation?
Here’s a list of things you should NOT say, because they invalidate your love one’s feelings:
- This is not worth getting so upset about. We can’t do anything about it anyway.
- Stop feeling so bad about this.
- Just don’t think about it.
- By now you really should have gotten used to the situation.
- Just make the best of it.
- You are just overreacting.
- Why are you always making the worst of every situation?
- I don’t even want to talk about it.
And here's WHAT to say
So now that you know what not to say, let's face the much harder part. What SHOULD you actually say?
The key is to validate your partner’s feelings and thoughts. Remember, you do not have to agree with them in order to validate their feelings and thoughts. All that is needed is that you convey to them that they are heard and that you take them and their concerns seriously.
How do you do that? Figure out what your loved one is feeling and show them that you accept the way they’re feeling and thinking.
That also means that you give your loved one your full attention. If you’re pretending to listen while you’re working on your laptop or attempting to read a magazine at the same time, that doesn’t cut it! Show them you take them seriously and care about them by giving them your full attention!
To validate your loved one’s feelings, try saying things like:
- I am sorry you are feeling that way. I am worried about you because you are so distressed. Is there anything I can do to help?
- I can understand that you are distressed because our entire future seems to be truly unpredictable in this situation.
- Yeah, I find it pretty distressing as well.
- Your feelings are normal.
- I think a lot of people are feeling this way right now.
I think your loved one isn’t that far away right now. Go and try it out.
And let us know in the comments or by email if it worked for you, or if you’ve found anything that worked particularly well. We're rooting for you!
Here's the article that inspired me to write this post:
Tian, X., Solomon, D. H., & Brisini, K. S. C. (2020). How the Comforting Process Fails: Psychological Reactance to Support Messages. Journal of Communication, 70(1), 13-34.