Skip to main content

How Do We Help Those We Love Make Hard Decisions?

Denise speaks from her own experience. She has had many trials and difficulties in her own life and seeks to help others through theirs.

Our unconditional love allows us to meet people where they are, accept them without judgement, and then help them to become better.

Our unconditional love allows us to meet people where they are, accept them without judgement, and then help them to become better.

"We need a larger home to accommodate our growing family. How can we come up with the amount needed for a down payment?"

"I haven't been very successful in college. What else can I do to get a higher paying job?"

"We want to have children, but need to wait until we are financially stable."

"I received my contract today. I am not sure I want to sign it."

Life is full of tough choices. When we are at our best, facing hard decisions is both time consuming and exhausting. We have to look at all the options, our own desires, and what we "feel," and then hope that we choose the right thing.

If those we love are facing tough choices, there is much we can do to assist them without actually coming out and telling them what to do. We don't want to take the responsibility of their own lives away from them.

The most important thing is simply to be there. Our unconditional love becomes a support network giving strength when the going gets tough, providing an anchor of safety and security. With our presence, we provide:

  • A listening ear
  • A sounding board for the exploration of options
  • A mirror that reflects desires, hopes, and passions
  • A word of encouragement that things will get better
  • A smile of satisfaction and support when a decision is reached

These are discussed at length in the following paragraphs.

Life gets tough when we have to make decisions that affect our own and our family's future.

Life gets tough when we have to make decisions that affect our own and our family's future.

A listening ear

Listening is the greatest act of love we will ever experience. When we set aside our own preoccupations and listen earnestly to our loved ones, we open the door for them to solve many of their own problems. The key elements of effective listening are as follows:

  • Look at the person who is speaking, making eye contact, when possible
  • Nod your head or make vocal indication that what is being said has been heard
  • When there is a break in the flow of the speaker's words, reflect back the emotions that have been conveyed or summarize the information received
  • Allow the person to validate the perceived understanding of the information or give additional clarification
  • Give the person space and time to come up with new ideas or inspiration on how to solve the problem in their own way

Listening is an active process. It requires our full and undivided attention. We cannot be doing something else and listen effectively. Our concentrated effort is needed to understand what is being said, the feelings or emotions conveyed, and the desires or intents of the listener.

Some people would call this type of listening empathy. We put ourselves in the shoes of the other person and try to imagine what it is like to be them for a moment. As we do so, the eyes of our understanding are opened, and we see from their point of view.

Once we reach this level of understanding, however, our first thought is to give advice. telling the other person what would be in their best interest. This is the worst thing that we can do! If we step in and control the outcome, we close the door to future growth opportunities.

It is much better for us to step out of the way and let the person explore their options, come up with new ideas, and make their own plans. This type of action allows for the most significant growth to occur. Our job is to act as a sounding board, helping them to see the possible consequences of future actions, and then accept and love them while they go forward with their plans.

When we listen, we empower others to be better people.

When we listen, we empower others to be better people.

A sounding board for the exploration of options

Difficult decisions are hard work! They require us to consider many aspects of different variables and how changing them will affect the desired outcome. It may take more than one listening session, and the sessions may be lengthy, at best.

Scroll to Continue

Patience is required when our loved ones are making choices that will affect their life's work, family status, desires, and ambitions. We cannot hurry these things, as doing so will only bring disastrous results.

Often, our values come into question when our loved ones are considering choices that we don't want them to make! Our ability to withhold judgement, and allow them to explore, question, and eventually accept these values for themselves may make the difference between them being a part of our extended circle or ostracizing them from future contact!

Seeing ourselves as a sounding board for exploration helps our loved ones look directly at the extended consequences of their choices, and make decisions that will be in their best interest. When we reflect back to them what they are choosing, we often help them to look at their options with new eyes.

Even though we counsel with others, we must take the responsibility for our actions. Some try to go through life without making their own decisions and blame others when all does not go as well as expected.

— Robert D. Hales

A mirror that reflects desires, hopes, and passions

We provide a great service to our loved ones when we reflect back to them what they are saying to us. It allows them to see themselves more clearly, as well as the consequences of their future actions. We reflect back the emotions that they are expressing and summarize what we understand that they are meaning with what they have said to us.

Initially, we may think that this action would be counterproductive. On the contrary, it is the very thing that will make them rethink what it is that they plan to do. The following conversation between a parent and adult child illustrates this point.

Adult Child: We don't plan on having any children.

Parent: You are not sure if you are ready to have children.

Adult Child: Children cost money. They are a lot of work!

Parent: You are concerned that when you have children, you won't be able to afford the things that they need.

Adult Child: Right now we are barely making ends meet, and both of us are working. We just don't think we can afford to add any children right now.

Parent: You feel that before you can have children, you want to be financially secure.

Adult Child: Not only that, we would like to have a place of our own. We want to be able to have a yard for them to play in, and bedrooms to give them privacy. We want to give them things that we didn't have when we were kids.

Parent: You feel that you were deprived as a child because you didn't have the things that you wanted.

Adult Child: When you put it that way, it makes me sound like I'm an ungrateful snob! I don't know. It just seems like we had to struggle so much when we were growing up. I know if wasn't easy for you!

Parent: No, it wasn't easy, but we worked together and grew together. Everything we have now, we built it from hard work and effort.

Adult Child: That is just it! We don't want to have to struggle and work so hard to make ends meet. There has got to be a better way!

Parent: It sounds as if you have given this a lot of thought. I can see why you would feel that way. It is not easy being a parent. Having children before you are ready would not be good for them or for you!

Adult Child: It is not that we don't want children. We just want to think this through before we go forward with it.

When we listen, we realize how vital our relationships really are to us!

When we listen, we realize how vital our relationships really are to us!

A word of encouragement that things will get better

Encouragement builds us up and gives us the strength to move on. When our loved ones are going through the process of making difficult decisions, our encouragement provides them with the additional lift that they need to keep going when the going is tough.

Encouragement lifts our spirits and helps us to feel better about ourselves. Difficult decisions weigh heavily on our feelings of self-worth. We often question whether we are good enough, smart enough, or strong enough to make the right choices. Encouragement strengthens our feelings of worth and gives us incentive to keep moving forward. The table below lists phrases we can use to provide encouragement:

"You" messages"I" messages

You are strong

I can see you are struggling

You can do it

I love you!

You are tough

I am here for you

You are able

I like to see you smile

You have talent and ability

I have time to listen

You rock!

I am sure it will get better

You are thinking hard about this

I know you will make it through

A smile of satisfaction and support when a decision is reached

We may not agree with every decision that our loved ones make, but allowing them to go through the decision making process gives then personal power to make something of their lives. If what they have chosen is not in harmony with what we believe, we still need to allow them the freedom to experience the consequences that they have chosen.

Our smiles and hugs tell them that we are here for them, no matter what. We love them. We care what happens to them. We express concern when we don't agree with what they have chosen, but we cannot take over their lives and run them in the way we think is appropriate.

Perhaps the most universal regret dying patients expressed was that they wished they had spent more time with the people they love.

— Dieter F. Uchtdorf

Life is much too short to nurse grudges and increase rifts between us and those that we love. When we are on our deathbeds, these things will have faded far away, and we will only wish that we had taken more time to be with our loved ones.

Giving unconditional love takes time. Our ability to be patient and listen as our loved ones work through the difficulties they face brings great dividends in the long run.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2016 Denise W Anderson


Denise W Anderson (author) from Bismarck, North Dakota on July 17, 2020:

The support we provide to our spouses is critical to their feelings of self-worth. Whether or not they are "right" or "wrong," we can give love and support. They will eventually come around to what is best when we allow them to experience the consequences of their choices. Taking these consequences away breeds ill feelings, and puts a rift between us. I am glad that you made the choice to support your husband. It will bring you closer in the long run. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts.

peachy from Home Sweet Home on July 10, 2020:

When my hubby makes hard choices, all he wants is a full support and words of encouragements. Whether he is right or wrong, I need to support him so that he could proceed his decision without fail.

Denise W Anderson (author) from Bismarck, North Dakota on May 04, 2016:

Thanks, Stella. When we listen, we help people to feel like they are worthwhile, that they are important to us, and then, they are much more willing to share what is really in their hearts. I appreciate you reading and commenting!

stella vadakin from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619 on May 03, 2016:

Thanks for some very good advice and hope to use it. Listening is the first step.

Denise W Anderson (author) from Bismarck, North Dakota on April 12, 2016:

Thanks, Glenn, I hope that it helps! Take care, and thanks for stopping in!

Glenn Stok from Long Island, NY on April 12, 2016:

In reference to your reply, Denise, I like that idea of reflective listening. I do that too, but you added a very useful additional point - to show them what the consequences are to the choices they insist on making.

It's just a matter of asking them what they think the consequences are and let them figure it out for themselves. That way it doesn't come across as judgmental.

I'll have to try that the next time I get into a predicament of someone asking for help without wanting to hear the truth.

Denise W Anderson (author) from Bismarck, North Dakota on April 11, 2016:

I have had that happen as well, Glenn. It is difficult when people come to us for help, and then don't like what we have to say. You are right in that there is not much that can be done. I don't think that I would offer encouragement if they are making destructive choices, either. That would be enabling self-defeating behavior.

I like to use the reflective listening technique. We reflect back to them what they are thinking about doing and it gives them the opportunity to look it right in the face and see what the consequences of that choice might be. I have met people, however, who do not respond to this technique, but for the most part, I find it useful.

There will always be those in our immediate or extended friends and family circle, who will do what they will, in spite of our unconditional love, our efforts in their behalf, and our desires for their well being. These are the truly tragic circumstances that can and will break our hearts.

I like to keep the door open, that when this happens, we can step in, help pick up the pieces, and move on. We never know what it will take for someone to have a change of heart, and finally see the light. We want to be ready and willing to help if and when it does happen.

Glenn Stok from Long Island, NY on April 10, 2016:

I think you covered all the bases here with how to help loved ones make difficult decisions. Listening is sometimes the best we can do since I find many people have difficulty taking advice anyway. And as you said, this leaves things open for the other person to think about the options available.

When people come to me for advice, I always start by asking them if they want help. But even then, I've had experiences where they say "yes" but then get upset when I offer options that they don't like. They usually turn to destructive options instead and there is nothing we can do about it.

This is where I have difficulty with simply offering encouragement. When someone insists on needing acceptance for destructive behavior, I find it best to back off and just leave them alone. There's nothing we can do to help some people.

But if a loved one is intelligent enough to analyze all the options they have, then nonjudgmental encouragement works well, especially with usage of the "you" and "I" messages you listed. That can be very helpful.

Denise W Anderson (author) from Bismarck, North Dakota on April 02, 2016:

That is basically it, Devika. You are right on! When we listen with unconditional love, we give our loved ones room to look at their actions from all angles, and the support that they need to make tough choices. It works out best for all! Thanks for commenting!

Denise W Anderson (author) from Bismarck, North Dakota on April 02, 2016:

Yes it is, Denise. The important life skills that people used to get from their family experiences are nearly becoming extinct! Our loved ones are vitally important to our health and well-being, and we have such an affect on each other. Listening skills will help us in our relationships, our employment, and our society in general. I appreciate your comments.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on April 01, 2016:

I listen carefully and let them decide. Interesting and informative.

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on April 01, 2016:

Beautifully written and very inspiring. Isn't a sad testimony that we need to be encouraged and even instructed on how to listen? Have we become a society that is so concerned with ourselves that we forget our loved ones just need us to be quiet and hear them? I know it's true. Thanks so much for the instruction.

Denise W Anderson (author) from Bismarck, North Dakota on March 31, 2016:

I am glad that you found the "you" and "I" messages helpful, Dora. When family members are struggling, it is easy for all of us to get bogged down. Our encouragement speaks to our own selves as well as to them during these times. We find that patience is really a group effort that everyone works on together. Thanks for sharing your insight!

Denise W Anderson (author) from Bismarck, North Dakota on March 31, 2016:

Thanks, Vladimir! We all have loved ones that at some point in time will need our support and strength as they struggle with the difficult decisions of life. Your comment about sometimes waiting for circumstances to become more favorable is important. When we give them our love, it helps them to have the patience that they need to wait, if that is what is best. I appreciate you stopping by and commenting!

Denise W Anderson (author) from Bismarck, North Dakota on March 31, 2016:

I'm glad I could be of assistance, Bill! We seem to be inundated with these issues at our house, as well, giving me much cause for reflection on the matter! I appreciate your comments!

Denise W Anderson (author) from Bismarck, North Dakota on March 31, 2016:

Thanks, Eric! I can just image you sitting and listening to them with all the love of a tender parent. I, too, have found great satisfaction and pleasure seeing my children walk in truth and make positive choices. It has been an adventure, as well, that is for sure! I appreciate you sharing your insights!

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on March 31, 2016:

When family member is struggling with hard choices or anything else, other family members are also tested in patience, control etc. You give good counsel to all the family. Thanks for spelling out the "you" and I "messages."

ValKaras on March 31, 2016:

Denise - Very helpful and inspirational hub indeed for all those in a position to offer their emotional and moral support to those they love. Sometimes it's all they may need to find courage to make that step, or wisdom to be more patient and let circumstances reach a more favorable phase.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on March 31, 2016:

This is happening in our household right now....thanks for the reflections. Very timely!

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on March 30, 2016:

Great handling of a very important subject. I just love to listen to my children when they are faced with tough decisions. Without fail they make me proud. And prouder still that the discuss them with me. The gift to the listener is as good as being listened to.

Related Articles