This is a real rarity for me, a post aimed at men, inspired by some recent unspecified events that happened to someone other than me. Specifically, this is a post to help young men learn how to cope with a woman who is in distress. So many men struggle with this, when it actually requires a relatively straightforward strategy. However, it is not one that comes naturally to most men, so it must be learned.
First, some warnings about what NOT to do:
DON’T tell her she shouldn’t feel that way. This is a very common male response to female distress. She is distressed about something that he thinks is silly and he can’t understand why it bothers her, so he says, “You shouldn’t feel that way.” It doesn’t matter if he says it bluntly or very diplomatically. What she hears is “Your feelings are stupid and therefore you must be stupid too because if you weren’t you wouldn’t feel that way.” It is surprisingly difficult to suddenly stop feeling an emotion that is already raging through your consciousness, by the way.
DON’T tell her you know how she feels. A close female friend might be able to get away with that, but not you. It might be tempting to tell her about some experience of your own which you see as being analogous to hers, but please resist this temptation. There are some things that you simply will never relate to if you’re a guy. Like that time when I was in college and I had a guy friend who was kind, gentlemanly and thoughtful. However, he also believed that I was inferior to him mentally for no reason other than that I was a girl. His condescension enraged me. No man on this planet could have claimed to understand how I felt without risking his continued existence.
DON’T tell her how the problem is all her own fault or how she can fix it. If the problem is indeed her own fault and brought on by her own actions, I promise you she doesn’t need you to point this out to her. Her anger at herself is probably one reason she is in so much distress. Unless she asks you specifically, never ever offer her a solution. This falls under the category of “I am trivializing your problem by telling you how easy it is to solve so you can stop being so silly.”
DON’T spout sappy platitudes or, worse yet, preach. This falls under trivializing the problem, with the added wallop of making her feel guilty for not being spiritual enough to rise above her misery. Platitudes to avoid include, but are not limited to: “Everything happens for a reason. This will lead to something better. Someday you’ll look back and be glad this happened. If you have faith God will reward you. You just need to trust God. Let me quote you a Scripture verse that’s been helpful to me.” And my personal favorite, “Discouragement is a sin.”
So now that you know what NOT to do, here is a simple three-step approach that is likely to be much more successful.
First: Acknowledge her distress. Even if you don’t understand it, even if you think she has no real reason to be upset, acknowledge it. “I can see you’re really upset.”
Second: Sympathize with her. Express compassion. “I’m so sorry.” Depending on your relationship with the woman in question, a hug might be appropriate at this point.
Third: Pray for her if you are comfortable with this and if she would appreciate it. If you don’t think she wants you to pray aloud on the spot, then just tell her you will pray for her. If she is the kind of woman who believes in prayer, she will appreciate this and will count on it, so be sure to mention later that you have been praying for her. Alternately, you can offer a designer caffeinated beverage and/or chocolate.
See, isn’t that easy? Acknowledge. Sympathize. Pray. It’s a simple sequence that has a higher chance of success than most of the things men are likely to try.