Being able to communicate with your loved one is essential for a meaningful relationship. Knowing what is going on in their lives will allow you to support them in the best way possible. However, communicating with your loved one may not always be an easy task. Perhaps you find that your words and advice are always falling on deaf ears or that you have trouble getting your loved ones to open up to you. Here are some guidelines on how you can create that safe space for your loved ones and build stronger relationships.

1. Empathise and validate their feelings

It is possible sometimes that your loved ones think that their feelings are not taken seriously. Their problems may seem small and unimportant compared to everything else that is going on in the world and in your lives but what matters is that it means a lot to them. Even if the “problems” aren’t real problems to you, their feelings are very much real. Caring for what they care about shows that you care. You do not want them to feel like they can’t share things with you because they think you won't understand or that it is too insignificant for you to care about.

One practical tip would be to use phrases like “I see where you are coming from”, “that sounds terrible”, “are you ok?” when they share. Remember, it is possible to validate their experience and feelings without agreeing with their behaviour.

2. Listen without judging

Your loved one may make mistakes or do the things you told them not to. Hold off the “I told you so” and avoid reacting in anger and criticism. You do not want them to stop confiding in you because they are afraid of the backlash. Stay calm and first show that you care before correcting them so they know that it is out of a place of love. Make space for their emotional experience before advising them on how they should have approached the situation.

3. Pause on the advice

Busy schedules and how we are at work may have programmed you into quick problem solvers. However, sometimes what your loved ones need may not be a solution but a listening ear, someone to share their frustrations and thoughts with. Take time to hear them out, being empathetic and without judgement, before asking if they would like to know what you think.

You might not need to solve every problem that comes immediately. Take a step back and see if you should give your advice immediately or wait, in order to give them time to cope with their feelings first. You can also ask questions and allow them to arrive at the solution themselves. This will help them grow in character and maturity while improving their problem-solving skills. 

4. Find your own safe space

It would be very challenging for you to listen and care if you are all pent up with negative emotions too. Find your own safe space, whether it be with friends, family or a therapist. If you bottle up all your emotions, you might end up venting it on them. Learn how to regulate your emotions and practise self-care so that you will have the capacity to support and listen to them.

5. Lead by example (Modelling)

If you want your loved ones to open up to you, you have to be willing to open up to them too as children imitate what they see. As a caregiver, you might have the tendency to be the strong one in the family. However, this isn’t healthy for you or your loved one. It is okay to be vulnerable and honest about how you are feeling rather than keeping up a strong front. This will show your loved ones that they can be the same with you. Sharing some of your own problems and experiences can even bring your loved ones comfort as they will know that they are not alone and others have gone through what they are going through now.