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How to Really Help a Loved One

When our loved ones are struggling with a stressful situation, it’s hard to know what to say or what to do. We don’t want to offend them or make them feel uncomfortable. Or maybe the truth is we don’t want to make ourselves feel uncomfortable, because we have a hard time sitting with anyone’s pain (including our own).

So, sometimes, even though we yearn to help, we do nothing.

The pandemic has also made it tougher to reach out. Maybe you’re not traveling (or leaving your house that much, in general). Maybe you’re trying to survive while working remotely and caring for your kids. Maybe you’re barely holding it together.

While supporting a loved one, of course, takes time, intention, and energy, it doesn’t have to be big or complicated. Here’s a list of possible questions and phrases you can say, text, or email. Some do involve seeing loved ones in person. But if that’s not possible, you can always order groceries (through companies like Shipt or Instacart), send a care package, send a card, or use video chat.

  • What do you need in this moment?
  • What do you need from me?
  • Would you like me to listen, share my experience, or give you advice?
  • Would it help you to talk to a therapist about this? I’m happy to help you find one (and maybe go with you to the appointment).
  • How can I help you this week?
  • What do you think about this situation?
  • What are you telling yourself about this situation that might not be helpful?
  • Would you like me to help you brainstorm some solutions?
  • How are you feeling about the situation?
  • Would you like me to help you take your mind off what’s going on? We can take a walk, go out for lunch, or ….
  • Tell me more about what’s going on and what’s bothering you.
  • Why do you think you’re feeling this way?
  • What can I do around the house to help you?
  • What’s one thing I can take off your plate right now?
  • I’m happy to drop off a meal tonight. I can leave it by the door (unless you’d like me to come in).
  • I’m so sorry you’re in immense pain.
  • I am here for you.

Of course, you need to make sure that you actually listen to your loved one. That means not interrupting them and not fiddling with your phone. It means not talking about your own experience (unless your loved one asks you to share how you felt, what you did, and how you overcame a difficult time). It means practicing sitting with your own pain, which sharpens your ability to tolerate others’ pain.

Ultimately, it means not making assumptions about what’s really bothering them and what they’re going to say next. Which means having a completely open mind (which also isn’t focused on that email you need to send and those tasks you need to finish).

In short, get genuinely curious. Think of it this way: Your goal is to discover what it’s like to be your loved one in this moment. And really that can start with a few simple words: What are you feeling right now?

Photo by Kevin Gent on Unsplash

How to Really Help a Loved One

Margarita Tartakovsky, MS

Margarita is an associate editor at She writes about everything from taking compassionate care of yourself at any weight, shape, and size, to coping healthfully with difficult emotions. Her goal is to give readers practical, empowering tips to better their lives, and to remind you that whatever you're struggling with, you're never, ever alone.

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APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2020). How to Really Help a Loved One. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 8, 2020, from


Last updated: 21 Jun 2020
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