It’s hard when someone you love is hurting. It can make you feel helpless, and even put you at a loss for words. When I was younger and faced with a partner’s pain, I would put so much pressure on myself to say and do the right things that I would end up experiencing what I can only describe as emotional paralysis.
Instead of helping, I would avoid the situation altogether, and that just made things worse. With the help of a therapist, I learned how to offer support in times of emotional crisis.
Listen without Offering Advice
Keep in mind that your partner might simply need someone to listen. I know it’s tempting to want to fix everything, especially where love is involved, but sometimes the advice you offer can sound more like a lecture or make your partner feel as if you’re minimizing their feelings.
Take some time to allow your partner to vent. It’s okay to sit with negative emotions for a little while—in fact, it’s healthy.
Ask What’s Needed
If it’s clear that your partner does need help, rather than offering advice based on your own life experiences, ask what’s required of you in the situation. Give your partner the power to request the kind of support that works for them.
Sometimes what’s needed is beyond any partner’s scope, and that’s when a trained therapist might need to be called in. Remember, it’s not your job to fix everything, and trying to do so could actually harm your relationships.
Refrain from Identifying
“I can so relate to that” or “ When that happened to me, I did x, y, and z” might seem supportive, but they’re just lines that minimize your partner’s experiences and emotions.
Show empathy by saying things like, “I see how this is really upsetting you” or “I’m sorry you’re going through this.” These keep the conversation focused on your partner, rather than making it all about you.
Use Distraction Sparingly
Consolation and distraction might produce similar results, but they’re not the same thing. Consolation is made up of all the things I’ve mentioned: listening, respecting your partner’s needs, and acknowledging their pain.
Distraction doesn’t allow for the pain to be processed, but rather delays having to deal with it. There are times when distraction is the best option, particularly when you and your partner are in a situation where emotions are best kept under wraps. It can also give you and your partner a little break from the intensity.
The best kind of distraction is something quick and unexpected, like a silly joke or a gift. I wouldn’t recommend seducing your partner at a moment of emotional turmoil, unless it’s clear that’s what they want.