Being There

Our loved ones are special. They are the people who brighten our days and hold our hands when life gets rough; they are the people who love us for who we are, on our good days and bad days.

How we treat our loved ones matters. How we treat our significant other, our friends, our family, and all the other people who bring beauty and color to our lives–our co-workers, our neighbors, our online friends–matters. Often, simply loving someone is not enough; we must treat them with love, as well.

However, we really don’t learn how to do this in school. As we grow up, we learn how to treat other people by watching the various relationships around us, and through media such as TV, movies, books, and the internet. Sometimes, we grow up in rather toxic environments, and media can do a poor job of depicting healthy, productive human relationships, and thus we consume the wrong ideas. Often, we can love someone, and still have a poor understanding of how to treat them.

This topic is very important to me because I spend a lot of energy doing my best to respect and support the loved ones in my life. I think that if we all do our best to honor those we love, life can feel more rewarding and more positive. Emotions are not practical, and they are not convenient, but we are emotion-laden creatures, and rather than work against our feelings, we should strive to work with them, which involves learning about how to handle them in ourselves and others.

This article is about how to communicate with your loved ones, and how to be a better friend to those you love who need you. For your reading, you can picture a specific loved one, like your boyfriend or husband, or you can picture various loved ones and how these scenarios could apply to each one individually.


Listen

Ironically, being successful at communication also means being a good listener. Solid communication occurs when both parties are speaking meaningfully and listening deeply.

When our loved one speaks to us, we need to listen. Good listening involves eye contact and neutral body language. We should be in the moment with them and listen to everything they have to say, allowing them the opportunity to say what they need to without interrupting them or replying right away. When someone speaks to us, we should not immediately think about what we will say in response, because then we are distracted from what the other person is saying; in that case, we are not truly listening. We should also not be shaking our head, rolling our eyes, or emoting any other standoffish or defensive body language that may discourage the other person from opening up to us.

These guidelines may be more important in some scenarios than others; for example, if we are having a casual conversation with our friend, perhaps our body language will be more aggressive if we are both venting about a frustrating situation. However, if our significant other approaches us and says that they are feeling bummed out, we should be employing our best listening skills.

Good listening is respectful, and it demonstrates to our loved one that we value what they say and that we are doing our best to be a good communicator.

Words of Affirmation

Maybe you think, “I told my friend I loved her last week; why should I tell her again this week? She should know that I love her.” Perhaps you think it is clear how you feel, and so therefore there is no need to speak it. This may be true for some relationships, but out of all the people I’ve spoken to in my life, I have found that it is the littlest affirmations that can go the farthest, and one cannot go wrong by using them generously.

Please. Thank you. I appreciate you. I love you. I’m glad you are here. I miss you. I’m happy to see you. Good morning. Sleep well.

I think sometimes as adults, we forget about manners. We get caught up in our bills, our job, our household chores, and we forget how to treat one another the way that grade school children are taught: Treat others the way you would want to be treated. Manners may seem like an unnecessary formality, but they carry a level of respect that is not entirely lost in our culture. For example, if we forget to say “please” to a loved one, then what we say may come off as a demand; maybe we say, “The plants need watered,” and perhaps this loved one is already feeling under-appreciated, and this rude demand further perturbs them. Or, we forget to say “thank you” after a friend does us a favor, and the friend is not a mind reader, and may think that their favor was not appreciated, even if we were just distracted and forgot our manners.

Nobody can read our mind, so even if something seems obvious to us, it may not at all be obvious to our loved one. Of course we are thankful for them! But from their perspective, we may have merely blown them off.

A lot of times, when people get comfortable with each other, manners start to fall to the wayside. Lovers burp in front of each other, friends call each other crude nicknames, family teases each other. That’s all fine if everyone’s okay with that, but there’s a basic level of respect and appreciation that we need to treat our loved ones with. Maybe your girlfriend releases an exceptional burp and you thank her for gracing your presence with its mighty roar. You know, the small stuff.

When Someone Tells You How They Feel

I’ve also noticed that a lot of people don’t know how to respond in a more serious situation when a loved one tells them how they feel. Perhaps a friend will confess, “I just feel so hopeless,” and their friend says, “Well you shouldn’t.” Does that hopeless friend feel any better now? Probably not. The hopeless friend probably feels even more hopeless.

When somebody confesses their feelings to us, the first thing is that we should actively listen to them. Then, when it’s our turn to say something, the next thing we should do is validate their feeling or let them know that we are really hearing them. We get told a lot how we should or shouldn’t feel, and regardless of what anyone else thinks of how we feel, it’s our feelings. Our feelings are always valid, even if they are misguided.

So when someone confesses, “I just feel so hopeless,” a couple ways we could respond are, “I hear you,” or “I’m listening,” or, “I can understand that,” or “I am sorry that you are feeling that.”

We also tend to make assumptions about how other people feel, which is a bad habit. Just as other people are not mind readers, we are also not capable of reading others’ minds, and so while we might be very close with our loved one and think that we know how and what they are feeling, we do not. So if someone we love tells us that they feel hopeless with no context, we should really ask them more about this instead of making any assumptions.

“What makes you feel hopeless?” “When do you feel hopeless?” “What do you think about when you feel hopeless?” These are great questions to further explore the nature of our loved one’s feelings and to demonstrate that we care about our loved one by trying to get a better understanding of their perspective. If we merely said, “You feel hopeless? That’s rough,” and moved on, they may feel as though we are not prioritizing them, and then they would feel possibly more hopeless. When someone tells us how they feel, it is an act of bravery and an attempt to connect with us, and if we don’t treat that with respect, it may cause them a lot of hurt and perhaps create distance in this relationship. Sometimes someone just needs someone to talk about their feelings with and they will start to feel better.

Remember that when someone tells us how they feel, it doesn’t matter if we agree with it or not. How someone else feels is entirely up to them; they feel the way they do because of how they grew up, what they’ve been through, and how they see the world. We could think that they are wrong for feeling that way, but that doesn’t matter. It is their life, and their choices. We need to validate their feelings first, and ask a couple questions. Maybe we think they’re wrong for how they feel, but then after they talk about it for a couple minutes, we realize, “Oh yeah. I can see how she may feel that way.”

If you feel that you have something enlightening to tell your loved one, after they have discussed their feelings, then it’s best to form it in as another question to help them work through it. “Have you looked at it from another point of view?” “When do you feel hope?” “What do you think you could change that would make you feel hope?” “Have you thought about all the other times you felt hopeless and made it through?”

Perhaps by asking these questions, our loved one will realize that their hopelessness is mostly tied to one specific issue that they could resolve, or maybe they will begin to see their situation from a different light, and begin to work towards a solution. Either way, the loved one will probably feel infinitely better just having spoken about it with us, and grateful that there is someone in this world who they can connect with about their troubles. It’s so reassuring to know we have someone who loves us, even despite our problems.

At the end, we can say something like, “I love you and I believe in you,” or we can invite them to come to us in the future if they feel hopeless again, or we can say any other sentiment that we want our loved one to know.

A loved one is not a replacement for a therapist, so if our loved one is really struggling, perhaps they should seek professional assistance, but also if we truly love someone, we should make every effort we can to respect them and support them in big and small ways. Paying someone dear to us the courtesy of hearing their troubles and constructively talking about it can greatly increase the quality of all of our lives. Because then when we are struggling with our own issues, our loved one will probably be more motivated to return the act of love and care.

Expectations

Of course, while I sometimes live in a world of ideals, I understand that many people are not as emotionally oriented as I am. I dedicate a lot of my energy to loving others, paying attention to how other people feel, and growing my relationships with others. I understand that this is not necessarily a priority for other people as it is for me, and that’s okay to an extent, but I want to assert that I think caring about other people is incredibly important. Now, more than ever, we need to invest in our community and come together with other people to create bonds, solve our problems, and strive towards progress. And I think that this can only be achieved if we understand how to treat one another with courtesy, especially our loved ones, who we owe so much for making our lives more beautiful and wholesome.

Perfection is a high standard, and so we shouldn’t expect that our loved ones will always be in a good mood or in an optimal head space to give us the time and respect we deserve. We should cut our loved ones some slack, but we should also let them know how we want to be treated. We can communicate with them on how we would like them to handle us in certain situations. We could say something like, “If I fall into an episode of depression, I need you to tell me you love me and then give me some space.” A lot of times our loved ones want to help us, but they don’t know what we want from them. We need to be clear about our preferences, and be lenient if they are not perfect—-lenient to an extent, though. If we feel that our loved one is not making us a priority the way that we prioritize them, then perhaps we should have a conversation with them, and maybe invest a little less in that loved one for now.

Relationships are giving and receiving, and because of their reciprocal nature, communication is paramount and respect is necessary. I also believe that compassion plays a strong role in any relationship, because I believe that to love someone truly, we need to understand them. Have compassion and try to understand others. The plethora of relationships we have with other humans in this life are so miraculous and so abundant, and we should cherish and nurture those people and relationships.


I believe that it is so important that we are there for the people we love, and also people in general. Sometimes the difference between life and death is just a good friend, and you never really know the extent of someone’s struggles until they open up about it. Today, we can be so distracted with social media and preoccupied with the ordinary tasks of each day, that we don’t truly see or pay attention to the people around us who feel isolated or like they need someone’s uninterrupted attention and love for just ten minutes out of the day. Our loved ones enrich our lives and hearts, and so I hope you will be, like me, willing to step up and be there for anyone in our lives who needs a hand.

Thanks for reading!


For more articles like this on Slanted Spines, visit the Mindful Living page!

I will be writing more Being There blog posts, so stay tuned!

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