Death. Divorce. Job loss. Words that make us cringe. And words that creep into the walk-and-talks and lunch-dates with those we love most.
And when life-shaking events happen to our loved ones we want to be comforting, loving and supportive. And so we dole out, "I'm sorry," "It'll be OK," and "Hang in there."
All good sentiments.
But according to a couple of psychiatrists: Stress can cause illness. Through the extensive research of Holmes and Rahe we see the link between someone we love going to jail and the flu that keeps us "locked-up" at home for two weeks.
Our bodies become weakened when hard things happen.
But communicating love is a super-power anecdote. And strangely there are few better ways to verbally convey love then by asking a question.
So, what does the transmission of love through a question sound like? Here are a few examples:
Your friend tells you her mom died
Instead of saying, "I'm sorry," ask, "How are you feeling?"
For close relationships consider questions such as, "How long have you known?" or "What are your next steps?"
Your brother tells you he's getting divorced
Skip right over "I'm sorry," "What a relief," or "You'll find someone else," and go for the relationship building, "How are you holding up?"
For extra-tight relationships you could even ask, "How did this come about?" or "How are the kids doing?"
Your friend's husband loses his job
Instead of saying, "I'm sorry," "What a pain," or "He'll find another job," go directly to, "How are you doing?"
If you're bosom buddies you may want to ask, "When did you find out?" or "How do you get back up after something like this?"
And the great thing about these questions is they work for most situations. Whether a loved one is facing a cancer diagnosis, bankruptcy, imprisonment, a move or the prospect of an empty nest — each question communicates: I love you. I trust your choices. I'm here for you.
To make this experience ultra-positive for all involved, consider the following:
Ask when you have time to listen
If you don't have time to listen to their answer, don't ask a question. Instead, consider saying, "I love you so much. And I want to be there for you. Can we plan a time to talk when I can give you my full attention?" Commit to a time and then follow-through.
When you ask a loved one a question, allow time for their response. This is especially helpful when someone is in shock as their mental processing can be delayed. Silence isn't a bad thing. Silence can create space for loved ones to feel their feelings.
Tears are OK
Sometimes we feel we've done something wrong or hurt someone more when our question is the precursor to tears. Most tears come because there is a feeling of safety. Remember you're not asking questions to solve your loved one's problems. You're asking questions to show love. And listening through tears can help them through the healing process.
The tone of your voice and the speed of your speech can also convey love. Speak softer and slower.
Communication is significantly non-verbal so put your phone in your purse, look your loved one in the eyes and give hugs or a gentle touch to their arm to covey love.
Loving comments piggybacked with questions can also work to express your love and concern. Consider saying, "I sure love you. How are you doing?"
Giving unsolicited advice is not helpful during hard life experiences. If you feel you'd like to give advice, always ask for permission by saying, "I've had a thought about your situation. Can I share it with you?" If you have been given the green light to share your advice, say, "I was wondering if you have considered ... [here's where you put your advice.]" Asking in this way shows that you know your loved one is capable and is the owner for their problem.
We all need to feel loved. And we all have hard experiences hurled our way. Your efforts to ask your loved ones questions binds your hearts together, which can help counter life's blows. And strong bonds are important because love always is the answer.