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When People You Love Face Problems

Watching someone you care about deal with a major problem is every bit as daunting as trying to solve it yourself. And far too often, that’s how we respond—by trying to solve it ourselves. Then there are two problems—the original challenge and the relationship that needs to be patched back together.

It’s not easy watching a loved one struggle. As parents, grandparents, and spouses, our dearest desire is usually to make the hurt go away…now. That most noble intention can get us in a lot of trouble. In an effort to “help” we sometimes offer advice that isn’t wanted, assume we have answers when we don’t even grasp the extent of the problem, and leave the person dealing with the adversity feeling even less competent about handling it or more alone in the daunting thing they face.

Lately, a lot of this has to do with being unemployed or underwater on a home mortgage. But we can make similar messes on a wide range of challenges, all with the sincerest desire to help.

Well? What can you do? Just standing there makes you feel helpless.

A few things to remember:

Dealing with adversity is essential to personal development. Much as we don’t like to see them having to deal with difficulty, those we love will never become more than they already are if they never get to face real challenges. Even if that person wants you to solve the problem, staying on the sidelines until he/she at least tries is wiser in most cases.

If you jump in–and many of us are even worse about this with our spouses—the person who really owns the problem is denied the chance to prove he/she can solve it. Give that loved one room to try to deal with it before you rush to the rescue. This ranges from finding a missing sock to targeting a new life direction. Try to remember it’s not your problem.

Offering unsolicited advice is insensitive. Period. “You should….” “If I were you…” and other well-meaning directives can be extremely frustrating to the person with the challenge. The idea that we have a “right” to do that because of our role in the relationship or the positions we’ve held that relate to the issue is just plain naïve. If you’re not asked to help, jumping in just gets in the way and makes what the person is trying to do harder.

But giving advice is so easy…and watching someone struggle is not easy for most of us. We know things they could benefit from and can do things they need to get done. Even so, it’s better to wait until asked—for advice, for information, or to suggest solutions.

Ask questions that respect that person’s efforts. If you do end up in a conversation about it, try questions like “Have you explored ____?” or “Is there any way that ____ could make a difference here?” The words “you should” and “why?” don’t belong in the lexicon for these kinds of conversations.

Do a little sincere cheerleading when you can. Reminding the person of what they have already accomplished and are good at is most likely the best gift you can give in this instance. A little is better than a lot though.  Laying it on too thick comes across as insincere.  Less is definitely more here

Being empathetic and finding a positive spin for a rejection can reduce the sting. (“That sucks. But there’s a job that’s an even better fit out there and you’ll find it.”) Going on and on about how unfair the world is and how stupid employers are because the loved one is still unemployed is not helpful.

Recognize when it has become your problem. Sometimes, what starts out as someone else’s problem becomes yours because of how the solution is being handled. If you agree to fill in until your kids can find a replacement daycare arrangement and it’s been three months, you need to speak up. If your unemployed spouse is spending more time on video games than the job search, there’s a problem that is yours to deal with. Don’t hide from those. But don’t assume the original problem and the new problem are joined at the hip in how you address it. Being responsible is way different than being unemployed.

People have more confidence when they’ve experienced solving their own problems successfully. Letting that happen instead of getting in the way with what you think will make things better is the highest form of love. It’s not easy. Do it anyway.

 

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