4 Ways NOT to Comfort Someone

I had a tough year last year. A year ago, I stepped in to help care for my elderly father. He had been in an assisted living facility, but he took a turn for the worse when he fractured his back. For the next six months, my sister and I were by his side. We had regular visits, made healthcare decisions, sold his house and sat next to him as he slowly lost strength. He passed away in July.

At first, I was relieved. It had been emotionally draining and it seemed like I could move on. Then, I was overcome with grief.

For the last six months, I have had a very difficult time concentrating. I haven’t been able to write this blog. Much of the time, my mind has been foggy and unclear.

At my church’s Christmas eve service, I was impacted in a new way by how God, in the form of Jesus, came to be with us. That’s one of His names, Immanuel, God with us. He came down to join us in both joy and sorrow.

My experience has made me rethink how to be with others. How do we, as marriage mentors, join people in their struggles?

I know that grief is a trauma to our physical and emotional system. Grief impacts us not just with death, but with any kind of loss. Grief can come into play in relationships. We grieve the loss of trust, loss of innocence, loss of closeness, etc.

The skills of being with someone apply in any setting where someone is experiencing emotion, whether comfortable or uncomfortable emotion.

I can be a pretty open person. When people have asked how I’m doing, I’ve told them that I’m not doing well. I recognize that some people don’t really know what to say. They want to be encouraging, but they are uncomfortable with my discomfort.

This same thing happens to people when they admit their marriage isn’t doing well. Others want to help, but they don’t know what to say.

Here’s four poor behaviors we can do when someone is hurting.

Reassuring Statements

I know that others want to be encouraging. Their hearts are in the right place, but reassuring statements don’t really help. Some of these statements can be used in any type of difficult time.

“I know how you feel.”
“You’ll get through this.”
“God has a plan.”
“Time heals all wounds.”
“At least is wasn’t worse, it could be…”
“You still have…”

While all these statements sound encouraging, they don’t express that you are WITH them. They don’t communicate that you are willing to suffer alongside of them.

Trying to Cheer Someone Up

I get that when you see someone in pain, it’s easy to want to make them feel better. It’s not helpful to try to say something to take away your friends hurt. It’s far more helpful to be compassionate and share their hurt.

Humor can be misapplied in this setting. Can humor be used sometimes? Of course, especially among friends. However, any humor that dismisses their hurt or pain probably isn’t what they need at this moment. Because, it really is dismissing their feelings.

Dismissing Their Feelings

Many people are afraid of feelings. It may be fear of their own feelings or uncomfortableness in hearing someone else’s emotions.

Any type of statement that encourages people to ignore their feelings is not very helpful.

“Don’t feel bad, you still have…”
“Be strong for the kids.”
“Pull yourself together.”
“You need to get on with life.”
“She wasn’t right for you.”

Grievers, whether grieving from death or from loss in a relationship, NEED to process their emotions. They need to go through, not around.


Many people are uncomfortable with the emotions being expressed. They don’t want to dwell there.
So, they try to interrupt and change the topic. “That sounds tough. Hey, did you watch the game?”

I know my temptation is to intellectualize emotions. Instead of allowing a person to experience their emotions, this is replying with something that dismisses the emotion by moving it to reason.

“Be grateful for what you had.”
“It was for the best.”
“God will never give you more than you can handle.”
“Research says…”

These statements are well-meaning, but often jump to advice that wasn’t asked for and may even be dangerous.

There are a lots of poor behaviors. What does help is to be with someone in their pain.

Tips for Marriage Mentors:

  • Be WITH someone – walk alongside of someone that is in pain by being there with them.
  • Be comfortable with uncomfortable feelings – it’s helpful for people to process their emotions by expressing them.
  • Avoid poor behavior – Avoid any behavior that dismisses, shuts down or doesn’t accept where someone is at.