Teach a robot to handle grief/anger from SO

alty1234alty1234 Registered User new member
Two questions about this that are kind of from opposite directions. But first a little background:

So I've been told many times by family members and definitely my SO that I'm pretty emotionless. As in I don't really have any reactions to news, I describe every movie I see as pretty good or ok, and I'm generally not very excitable/emotional/etc. To be clear I feel like I experience the same emotions as everyone else, I'm just not so great at sharing them.

Anyways recently my SO has been going through an increasingly bad situation with the health of a close family member and I feel like it's becoming a problem. I should also be clear that while this person is close to them, as in it's one of their parents, they don't really have the best of relationships with them. Still it's your parent, and things like this are going to be very hard. The thing is, I don't really know how to act or what to do when I talk to them. I feel bad and I want to be supportive but I mostly just end up saying "that sucks" pretty much ad nauseam. I'm also really bad at the whole just listening versus offering advice thing. I'm just never sure when I should be trying to make them feel better, or just empathizing, or just listening. I'm not really sure where I'm going with this first question, but I guess just any general advice on how other people have acted in this situation would be good. Or advice on things not to say? Anything will probably help.

There is also a second complication that is making things really hard. Things have not historically been great for my SO's parent in terms of doctor care. Mistakes were made, excuses were given, and my SO's parents have had some pretty serious repercussions from this, including this current increasingly dire health situation. While I can certainly acknowledge the shittyness of what happened in the past, I also know that being a doctor is hard, and medicine is not some perfect science. In fact I have several close friends who are doctors/becoming doctors. The problem I'm having is that my SO is becoming increasingly angry with all of the doctors, and has resorted to home/internet diagnosis second guessing. I feel really uncomfortable with the general doctor bashing, but I also feel like it isn't really an acceptable time for me to defend them. I also think it will be nothing but worse for my SO to become angry with the doctors, or to try and make their own diagnosis to check up on the doctors. It just doesn't seem healthy but I really don't know how to approach that without seeming like I am unsupportive. Also, there are legitimate grievances with some past experiences and it's always a good idea to fight for more attention from doctors who can be spread thin. So I guess my question is should I say anything? Or should I just let them express their grief however they want and just try and be supportive? I really hate how bad I am at this stuff.


  • flowerhoneyflowerhoney Registered User regular
    edited May 2013
    If one of my relatives was in poor health and all my SO could say is "that sucks" I would be preeeeety upset

    There's honestly no advice you can give your partner right now. There's nothing you can really say to make them feel better and since you haven't experienced this you can't really advise them either.
    What you CAN do is act like a supportive partner and be a good listener. Being a good listener doesn't mean giving advice, it just means listening to what the other person has to say and not judging them. Sometimes the best thing you can say is "I'm here for you and I care about you". You can just listen and empathize.

    Its okay that you're bad at expressing your feelings, there's nothing wrong with that. Its bad if you aren't making an effort to give your partner the full support they need and making sure they KNOW that you're doing your best. It might not even be bad to ask your partner what they need from you. If you're doing your best and putting effort in then no one can ask any more than that of you!

    Your partner's anger at doctors makes sense and this seems like a delicate time when their feelings might be particularly intense. If it really bothers you, you can ask that maybe they say "my parents doctors are bozos" instead of "all doctors are freaking bozos". My parents are both physicians so when people go off on how doctors are all crooks I tend to get a little sore =P

    flowerhoney on
  • AnomeAnome Registered User regular
    I've been in your SO's situation and one thing to know is that, if they (wow, impressive avoidance of gendered pronouns) are anything like me, they understand that your lack of overtly emotional responses isn't a sign of not caring, just a character trait. One thing that might help you immensely would be to ask your SO to explicitly tell you when they are seeking advice and try very hard not to give any unless you are asked. You may both forget a few times initially, with you giving unasked for advice or them wondering why no advice is forthcoming when they want it but haven't asked, but in the long run it'll be worth it. Alternatively, ask if they want advice before offering it. Make it clear that their saying "no" is a perfectly valid option.

    Hugs are often a good option when you don't know what to say. "That sucks" isn't so bad, either. "I'm sorry," or "how can I help?" or nice gestures like making a nice dinner or watching their favourite movie with them to take their mind off it could be good ideas if they seem to be dwelling on things they can't change. Give them time to voice their worries, but staying on an endless treadmill of grief isn't good for anyone.

    As for the doctor bashing, my mom got into this quite a bit in the last few weeks of her mother's life. It was somewhere for her to focus her anger and hurt. It seems quite common - who wants to accept serious or terminal illness in a loved one? It's up to you to judge, but a gentle "they're doing their best" may be a way to lightly defend the doctors without starting an argument. If there was previously an issue of incorrect diagnosis, I can certainly see why your SO might be so eager for that to be the case again. Really, having doctors as an outlet for their feelings might not be such a bad thing as long as they don't start arguing with treatment decisions and/or trying to convince their parent to switch to alternative medicine. Then it may be time to try to explain that the doctors really do know what they're doing and it's important to let them do their work. You say you have doctor/future doctor friends, maybe they have some advice for talking to people who distrust doctors?

  • ceresceres When the last moon is cast over the last star of morning And the future has past without even a last desperate warningRegistered User, Moderator mod
    There are lots of ways to be there for her and be supportive without having to SAY anything.. finding ways to show her you're thinking of her and you're there. I am terrible at saying things, but I have the ability to sit and exist while nodding my head in sympathy down. I mean the second I open my mouth it's all over, but if I stick to existence I find it's usually okay.

    The reason for that is that a major pet peeve of mine is misdirected anger/blame. When I get mad I like to make sure it's at the right thing, and so it really bothers me when someone decides to take their rage out on the shift supervisor when it's obvious to me that the decision that made them so angry was made by some suit over in corporate. So I very much understand your frustration about the doctor thing. All doctors are not at fault... just the ones who were. But probably no one wants to hear about that right now. Probably if you don't want everyone to hate you until this is over you're best keeping it to yourself, at least with her family. You may be able to gently point this out to her, but anger is a stage of grief, and if it's the stage she's on she's going to be angry at something. That something could just as easily be you as anything, so maybe tread lightly for a little while.

    And it seems like all is dying, and would leave the world to mourn
  • ihmmyihmmy Registered User regular
    "how can I help?" will put you miles ahead. Maybe they just need to rant while you're there to hold them. Maybe they're too stressed to do the dishes and would really appreciate if you just helped extra with chores for a little bit. Maybe they need you to drive them to a firing range so they can release all their frustration. Just put it out there. Hell, if it helps, put out the caveat that you're not always great with this, so guidance as how you can help and make this stressful time a little less heinous is helpful.

  • alty1234alty1234 Registered User new member
    Thanks for everyone's responses so far.

    I'm a little worried about the "how can I help" approach? It seems like a really good idea but I tend to be pretty ambivalent about things and in the past my SO has gotten upset about me not really having my own ideas. Like we've had issues about me always saying "Let's just do whatever you want to do". So I'm a little worried that it will be taken as kind of a cop out but maybe I'm over thinking this.

    Also, is it weird that most of the conversations are one way? Like my SO will have these long explanations about what's going on, what they think about what's going on, maybe some of what their feeling, and my responses are mostly a couple of sentences trying to empathize. I don't really ask questions because I'm afraid it will comes across as me second guessing what they are saying. Except things like "are you doing ok?" or something similar.

  • ceresceres When the last moon is cast over the last star of morning And the future has past without even a last desperate warningRegistered User, Moderator mod
    In this situation it's not weird. It might not be great if it's all the time though.

    And it seems like all is dying, and would leave the world to mourn
  • flowerhoneyflowerhoney Registered User regular
    Its not weird. This really isn't a conversation per se, its really just your partner venting out their feelings and working through the situation and you being a good listener
    Questions aren't always second guessing! Sometimes answering questions can help understand a difficult situation

    I can see why you might be worried that asking is a cop out, but you aren't really saying "lets just do whatever you want" you're saying "how can I best support you?". Still though if you don't want to do that then I would just try to make it really clear that you're there for them emotionally. You can do this any way seems most natural to you. A card? Small gestures? I dont know.
    If your heart is in I'm sure whatever you do will let your feelings come through though!

  • YoSoyTheWalrusYoSoyTheWalrus Registered User regular
    My advice would be to go with asking questions to mix up the general "that sucks" and "I'm sorry" type comments, but trying to ask them in a way that is more explicative instead of confrontational. Go deeper into the story your SO is telling. So, asking what your SO has found on their internet diagnosis, asking how that compares to what the doctor said, perhaps asking if they've asked another doctor, but spacing all that out with supportive and agreeable comments. Look for details you can ask more about (don't nitpick, just ask and then move on). The general "trick" is to express that you are being both empathetic and putting some critical thought into it (which you are), with a heavy emphasis on the empathy.

    Your job here is really to be on your SO's side more than anything. IMO It's really not the time to interject your empathy for your friends in the medical field as well. They will be okay, they are doing their jobs just fine without you, but your SO needs you at this moment. I say this as someone who works with and is friends with many doctors - they will be okay, and your SO running in with an internet diagnosis is probably not going to make any difference to them. A later, less emotional time may be more appropriate for a discussion about the drawbacks of WebMD. You will have a different job, later, of helping your SO get through the anger process.

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