How Do We Help Those We Love Make Hard Decisions?
Is someone you love in the middle of making a difficult choice?
"We need a larger home to accommodate our growing family. How can we come up with the amount needed for a down payment?"
"I haven't been very successful in college. What else can I do to get a higher paying job?"
"We want to have children, but need to wait until we are financially stable."
"I received my contract today. I am not sure I want to sign it."
Life is full of tough choices. When we are at our best, facing hard decisions is both time consuming and exhausting. We have to look at all the options, our own desires, and what we "feel," and then hope that we choose the right thing.
If those we love are facing tough choices, there is much we can do to assist them without actually coming out and telling them what to do. We don't want to take the responsibility of their own lives away from them.
The most important thing is simply to be there. Our unconditional love becomes a support network giving strength when the going gets tough, providing an anchor of safety and security. With our presence, we provide:
- A listening ear
- A sounding board for the exploration of options
- A mirror that reflects desires, hopes, and passions
- A word of encouragement that things will get better
- A smile of satisfaction and support when a decision is reached
These are discussed at length in the following paragraphs.
A listening ear
Listening is the greatest act of love we will ever experience. When we set aside our own preoccupations and listen earnestly to our loved ones, we open the door for them to solve many of their own problems. The key elements of effective listening are as follows:
- Look at the person who is speaking, making eye contact, when possible
- Nod your head or make vocal indication that what is being said has been heard
- When there is a break in the flow of the speaker's words, reflect back the emotions that have been conveyed or summarize the information received
- Allow the person to validate the perceived understanding of the information or give additional clarification
- Give the person space and time to come up with new ideas or inspiration on how to solve the problem in their own way
Listening is an active process. It requires our full and undivided attention. We cannot be doing something else and listen effectively. Our concentrated effort is needed to understand what is being said, the feelings or emotions conveyed, and the desires or intents of the listener.
Some people would call this type of listening empathy. We put ourselves in the shoes of the other person and try to imagine what it is like to be them for a moment. As we do so, the eyes of our understanding are opened, and we see from their point of view.
Once we reach this level of understanding, however, our first thought is to give advice. telling the other person what would be in their best interest. This is the worst thing that we can do! If we step in and control the outcome, we close the door to future growth opportunities.
It is much better for us to step out of the way and let the person explore their options, come up with new ideas, and make their own plans. This type of action allows for the most significant growth to occur. Our job is to act as a sounding board, helping them to see the possible consequences of future actions, and then accept and love them while they go forward with their plans.
Do you find it difficult to withhold judgement when loved ones are making difficult decisions?
A sounding board for the exploration of options
Difficult decisions are hard work! They require us to consider many aspects of different variables and how changing them will affect the desired outcome. It may take more than one listening session, and the sessions may be lengthy, at best.
Patience is required when our loved ones are making choices that will affect their life's work, family status, desires, and ambitions. We cannot hurry these things, as doing so will only bring disastrous results.
Often, our values come into question when our loved ones are considering choices that we don't want them to make! Our ability to withhold judgement, and allow them to to explore, question, and eventually accept these values for themselves may make the difference between them being a part of our extended circle or ostracizing them from future contact!
Seeing ourselves as a sounding board for exploration helps our loved ones look directly at the extended consequences of their choices, and make decisions that will be in their best interest. When we reflect back to them what they are choosing, we often help them to look at their options with new eyes.
Even though we counsel with others, we must take the responsibility for our actions. Some try to go through life without making their own decisions and blame others when all does not go as well as expected.— Robert D. Hales
A mirror that reflects desires, hopes, and passions
We provide a great service to our loved ones when we reflect back to them what they are saying to us. It allows them to see themselves more clearly, as well as the consequences of their future actions. We reflect back the emotions that they are expressing and summarize what we understand that they are meaning with what they have said to us.
Initially, we may think that this action would be counterproductive. On the contrary, it is the very thing that will make them rethink what it is that they plan to do. The following conversation between a parent and adult child illustrates this point.
Adult Child: We don't plan on having any children.
Parent: You are not sure if you are ready to have children.
Adult Child: Children cost money. They are a lot of work!
Parent: You are concerned that when you have children, you won't be able to afford the things that they need.
Adult Child: Right now we are barely making ends meet, and both of us are working. We just don't think we can afford to add any children right now.
Parent: You feel that before you can have children, you want to be financially secure.
Adult Child: Not only that, we would like to have a place of our own. We want to be able to have a yard for them to play in, and bedrooms to give them privacy. We want to give them things that we didn't have when we were kids.
Parent: You feel that you were deprived as a child because you didn't have the things that you wanted.
Adult Child: When you put it that way, it makes me sound like I'm an ungrateful snob! I don't know. It just seems like we had to struggle so much when we were growing up. I know if wasn't easy for you!
Parent: No, it wasn't easy, but we worked together and grew together. Everything we have now, we built it from hard work and effort.
Adult Child: That is just it! We don't want to have to struggle and work so hard to make ends meet. There has got to be a better way!
Parent: It sounds as if you have given this a lot of thought. I can see why you would feel that way. It is not easy being a parent. Having children before you are ready would not be good for them or for you!
Adult Child: It is not that we don't want children. We just want to think this through before we go forward with it.
A word of encouragement that things will get better
Encouragement builds us up and gives us the strength to move on. When our loved ones are going through the process of making difficult decisions, our encouragement provides them with the additional lift that they need to keep going when the going is tough.
Encouragement lifts our spirits and helps us to feel better about ourselves. Difficult decisions weigh heavily on our feelings of self-worth. We often question whether we are good enough, smart enough, or strong enough to make the right choices. Encouragement strengthens our feelings of worth and gives us incentive to keep moving forward. The table below lists phrases we can use to provide encouragement:
You are strong
I can see you are struggling
You can do it
I love you!
You are tough
I am here for you
You are able
I like to see you smile
You have talent and ability
I have time to listen
I am sure it will get better
You are thinking hard about this
I know you will make it through
A smile of satisfaction and support when a decision is reached
We may not agree with every decision that our loved ones make, but allowing them to go through the decision making process gives then personal power to make something of their lives. If what they have chosen is not in harmony with what we believe, we still need to allow them the freedom to experience the consequences that they have chosen.
Our smiles and hugs tell them that we are here for them, no matter what. We love them. We care what happens to them. We express concern when we don't agree with what they have chosen, but we cannot take over their lives and run them in the way we think is appropriate.
Perhaps the most universal regret dying patients expressed was that they wished they had spent more time with the people they love.— Dieter F. Uchtdorf
Life is much too short to nurse grudges and increase rifts between us and those that we love. When we are on our deathbeds, these things will have faded far away, and we will only wish that we had taken more time to be with our loved ones.
Giving unconditional love takes time. Our ability to be patient and listen as our loved ones work through the difficulties they face brings great dividends in the long run.
© 2016 Denise W Anderson