There some things you should never say to someone who’s stressed. I learned this the hard way, because my husband has a very stressful job. He deals with the public every day and does his best to help with the problems people bring to him. But he’s a dentist, so sometimes, getting through the problems involves some pain.
When we were first married, he would come home and tell me how this patient or that patient got upset with him or told him how much they hated the dentist. I would begin my attempt to cheer him up by saying some of the things you should never say—I just didn’t know that yet. I’d always use two words that actually aren’t helpful. They don’t help when I say them to my husband and they don’t help when I say them to my children. Here are those two words, and a few more that all wives and moms should stop saying.
After my husband would give a litany of reasons why his job is the worst ever, I would start many of my “encouraging” remarks with the phrase at least. At least you have a good job. At least you’re your own boss. At least you don’t have to work in the hot sun all day. Hmm. And I wondered why he never seemed to feel better after we talked. I realized that “at least” appears to minimize his problems, and nobody wants their problems minimized when they come to you to vent. I’ve learned to replace “at least” so I can do better at giving my husband the support he needs. Now, I empathize instead: “That does sound exhausting.” Or, I’ll listen with full eye contact and nod at regular intervals.
When people feel defeated, they don’t want to hear how you overcame your challenges. There’s a time for that, but it’s not when they’re at their lowest. They don’t want to hear about an issue you had that’s similar to theirs. For example, if they’ve just told you about their medical diagnosis, you don’t want to one-up them with a story about your medical issue and how you overcame it with a fabulous attitude.
“Things happen for a reason…”
Yes, it’s okay to encourage your husband and children by sharing your faith—but at the right time. When your daughter tells you she didn’t make the debate team, it’s best to listen and offer comfort by letting her know you understand her heartache. I try not to immediately say something like, “Well, this may seem horrible now, but God says he has a plan to give you a wonderful future.” Initially, you’ll just want to offer comfort and empathy. An old proverb says it’s unwise to sing cheerful songs to someone with a heavy heart. It’s better to offer comfort first.
“I told you so.”
My son plays baseball and he caught the eye of college scouts. Of course, not understanding the long odds of playing professionally, he put more emphasis on athletics than on academics. My husband and I told him he still has to study hard because he could get injured. Well, he did get injured, and now his grades matter a lot more. Yes, this would be the spot where I might blurt out, “I told you so.” But if I did say that, it would only add to my son’s disappointment.
What other words or phrases aren’t helpful when a loved one is having a tough day?