Imagine that the person that you love is upset about something—her job, his health, her feelings about the relationship. Let's say she is worried about her health, worried that she might have some terrible illness—and that even if you think she is going to be OK, you want to comfort her, make her feel better. What are the worst ways and best ways of talking? What should you say, and what should you avoid saying?
Let me give you a hint. The most important thing in talking to someone who is upset is to communicate that 1) you understand they are upset, 2) you care about how they feel, and 3) you respect their right to have their feelings.
What Not To Say
Let's start with the biggest mistakes in talking with your partner. For convenience, I've broken them down into six problematic styles:
Minimizing. This is the style where you treat your partner's concerns as trivial: "It's nothing. Why are you making a big deal out of it?" You are trying to tell them that their feelings are not related to anything real or important. So, the message they get is, "My feelings don't matter to you."
Rationalizing. You treat your partner's concerns as evidence of their irrational and distorted thinking. You try to argue away their concerns. This is a specific kind of minimization, and it sends the same negative message: "Your feelings are based on nothing real. Get over it."
Competitive complaining. In this little game you don't want your partner to "win" by being the one with the biggest complaints. So you start bringing up your own: "You think that's bad? I think I might lose my job!" Again, your partner feels there is no room for her feelings. You matter more.
Fixing. If your partner has unpleasant feelings, you jump in to try to solve all the problems. Laying out your well-thought-out plan, you get frustrated when she doesn't buy into your solutions. This makes her feel less understood and she thinks, at times, that you are patronizing.
Defending. In this scenario you treat your partner's emotions as a personal attack on you. If he is upset, you feel that you are to blame, so you turn it into a trial and start defending yourself. This goes nowhere; you get more angry and dismiss his feelings.
Stonewalling. In this case, you just withdraw. Feeling frustrated listening to her feelings, you withdraw, become silent and sullen and may leave the room. Now she is all alone, feeling abandoned.