How to offer words of comfort

I have been uplifted by everyone’s support and kind comments after my last post on my failed IUI – not just here but on my other blog. You all certainly knew just the right thing to say to me to make me feel better. It is wonderful to know that there is a place where you are understood and your feelings are validated. I think this is so important as Dr Robert Leahy points out in a recent article in the Huffington Post

 The most important thing in talking to someone who is upset is to communicate that 1) you understand they are upset, 2) you care about how they feel, and 3) you respect their right to have their feelings.

Leahy then goes on to break down into categories what not to say to someone who is upset.

  1. Minimizing. This is the style where you treat your partner’s concerns as trivial: “It’s nothing. Why are you making a big deal out of it?” You are trying to tell them that their feelings are not related to anything real or important. So, the message they get is, “My feelings don’t matter to you.”
  2. Rationalizing. You treat your partner’s concerns as evidence of their irrational and distorted thinking. You try to argue away their concerns. This is a specific kind of minimization, and it sends the same negative message: “Your feelings are based on nothing real. Get over it.” 
  3. Competitive complaining. In this little game you don’t want your partner to “win” by being the one with the biggest complaints. So you start bringing up your own: “You think that’s bad? I think I might lose my job!” Again, your partner feels there is no room for her feelings. You matter more. 
  4. Fixing. If your partner has unpleasant feelings, you jump in to try to solve all the problems. Laying out your well-thought-out plan, you get frustrated when she doesn’t buy into your solutions. This makes her feel less understood and she thinks, at times, that you are patronizing. 
  5. Defending. In this scenario you treat your partner’s emotions as a personal attack on you. If he is upset, you feel that you are to blame, so you turn it into a trial and start defending yourself. This goes nowhere; you get more angry and dismiss his feelings. 
  6. Stonewalling. In this case, you just withdraw. Feeling frustrated listening to her feelings, you withdraw, become silent and sullen and may leave the room. Now she is all alone, feeling abandoned.

 What To Say

Consider some of the following. Would you like to hear any of this when you are upset?

  • “I know it must be hard for you feeling this way.”
  • “I can see that it makes sense that you would feel down, given the way that you are seeing things.”
  • “A lot of times you may feel that people don’t understand how hard it is for you.”
  • “You must be thinking that this really down feeling is going to last a long time. It must be hard to feel that way.”
  • “I want you to know that I am always here for you.”
  • “I don’t want to sound like I don’t want to hear about your feelings. I do. But if there is anything that I can do to help you feel better, please let me know. Your feelings are really important to me.”


Maybe we should send this guide out to our friends and family as a handy reference guide next time we are struggling with our feelings and emotions around our treatment!


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Womb For Improvement
    Feb 09, 2011 @ 19:13:38

    I totally agree with what not to say. But not with all the ‘what to say’s’. If someone said to me: “I can see that it makes sense that you would feel down, given the way that you are seeing things.”

    I would assume they meant “You are seeing things in a totally irrational way so of course you are feeling down. Man up!”


  2. Blathnaid O'Keefe
    Feb 10, 2011 @ 08:45:47

    I am giving this to my husband to read!


  3. Angela
    Feb 10, 2011 @ 17:03:46

    This such a basic lesson in communication, it should be taught in schools! I had an interesting experience recently where I had to tell a male friend about something I wasn’t happy with. I got myself all worked up, expecting him to get angry or defensive or to tell me why I was wrong, so much so I was in tears because I didn’t want to damage the friendship. When I finally told him, he nodded and said, ‘You’re absolutely right. Give me 10 minutes to finish what I’m doing and we’ll sort it out.’ I was flabbergasted! What, I’m actually… RIGHT? Well, yes, of course I am – but he AGREED? It was an eye-opener to me in terms of what male / female communication could be and made me very aware of where I’d been selling myself short before. Thanks for the reminder, Marie. ax


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