Many people have asked me recently how to be present for their loved ones, how to listen well, and what to say in response to some very challenging feelings.
First, know that it does take real effort, skill, and patience to sit and be present with another in distress. Our impulse is to help, to relieve them of the pain by doing something, planning a response, plotting a course. Unfortunately, for the distressed, that’s rarely step one.
Our best bet is to be real and authentic. Say, “I’m here to help you; let me know how. Whether it’s sitting with you, hugging you, listening to you, or in silence. I am here and you are safe.”
Validating what is shared, recognizing the right and the reason to feel that way, is very important. Whether or what to do about it comes later. Right now, it’s identifying the distress and understanding it; again, this might happen silently at times. This is processing, mulling, considering, reviewing, often seeking affirmation, confirmation, validation.
And if this proves too difficult, that is ok. We can’t all be what our partners need at any given moment. Sometimes it’s best to say, “I’m struggling to be the support you need right now, and I’m here to help you find it.”
Here’s an article by Robert Leahy, Ph.D. with further ideas and suggestions on what to say to a loved one and what not to.