Having a girlfriend who is upset can bring your mood down as you try to help her feel better. Although it is a characteristic of human nature to want to console someone, knowing what approach is effective isn't always easy for the upset person to communicate to you. In the book "Studies in Applied Interpersonal Communication," social psychologist Brant R. Burleson explains that when emotional support such as consoling is effective, it can have enduring benefits for the recipient. These benefits, he says, can include increased feelings of closeness to the person who is the source of comfort.
Apply skills of active listening. When your girlfriend is upset and feels comfortable with you, she will likely want to share her feelings with you. Active listening, explains the University of Colorado, requires more effort than ordinary listening. Instead of the more common approach to listening, active listening is accomplished by focusing all of your attention on the person who is upset. After your girlfriend has expressed her feelings to you, the active listening approach is further used in clarifying what she has said. Active listening works to facilitate trust and the ability of someone to be more emotionally open and expressive.
Use a gentle touch through a warm hug or a simple hand on your girlfriend's shoulder while consoling her. Dr. Tiffany Field of The Touch Research Institute explains that skin-to-skin contact has therapeutic value by reducing levels of stress hormones and improving immunity. While none of these might be your intended goal in consoling your girlfriend, they can increase your closeness. Additionally, that seemingly ineffective touch can help your girlfriend withstand stress better in the future. In return, you too can gain psychological and biochemical benefits from using touch as a means of consoling your girlfriend.
Provide emotional support without also attempting to "fix" whatever your girlfriend feels is "broken." Dr. Scott Williams of Wright University explains that despite the best of intentions, offering advice to someone who is upset is actually an insult. He continues by adding that attempting to provide a solution takes the responsibility and autonomy away from your girlfriend, inferring that she isn't capable of creating her own solution or outcome. Even if there is an apparent solution, your girlfriend may not be prepared to implement it and your suggestion can cause her to become emotionally defensive. In the rare instance that in the midst of being upset your girlfriend asks for advice, err on the side of being less concrete and instead, use active listening to help her determine a solution.
Console your girlfriend in a place that is quiet and private when she is upset. Being in the company of other people can cause your girlfriend to feel trapped and even more upset. When you recognize that your girlfriend is feeling strong emotions, take her to an area or room where she can process her feelings privately. If a room or similar space isn't available, consider sitting with her in the privacy of your car. Don't leave your girlfriend alone, however. Even if she doesn't feel like talking, your presence can also provide her with comfort.
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- Harvard Medical School: 11 Ways to Comfort Someone Who Is Grieving
- Wright State University: Listening Effectively
- Studies in Applied Interpersonal Communication: 10 What Counts as Effective Emotional Support?: Explorations of Individual and Situational Differences
- University of Miami: The Magic of Your Touch Health Benefits of Touching Proven for Infants, the Elderly and Those In Between
- University of Colorado: Active Listening
Maura Banar has been a professional writer since 2001 and is a psychotherapist. Her work has appeared in "Imagination, Cognition and Personality" and "Dreaming: The Journal of the International Association for the Study of Dreams." Banar received her Bachelor of Arts in psychology from Buffalo State College and her Master of Arts in mental health counseling from Medaille College.
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