From time to time, one or the other is going to cry. Some people are natural at being present with a crying partner, but others really struggle to know what to do, how to respond, what to feel, what to say.
If you are not the cause of the tears, it is good to hold and hug and say what is happening in a kind, gentle voice. E.g. “You’re sad; you’re crying; it’s so sad; I’m so sorry you’re sad”. You don’t need to say much and you don’t need to say anything clever. Just say what is happening.
Do not say, “Better to get it out; you’ll feel better after a good cry”, etc.
Do not say, “Oh, don’t cry; please don’t cry; big boys/girls don’t cry”, etc.
The encouragements to cry and the instructions not to cry are both examples of what people do when they are not comfortable with being in the presence of tears. They find it hard to attend to the other’s sadness and instead attend to their own agenda of reducing their own anxiety.
If you are the cause of the tears, it is good to hold and hug, too, but respect a rebuff. Don’t insist on hugging when your tearful partner has indicated that she or he wants you to keep your distance. What you are being told to do is “stand back and witness the unhappiness you have caused.” This does not mean you can leave the room; it means stay, attend, but respect the current wish for you to give your partner some space.
If you are allowed to hold and hug, do so while saying, “I’m so sorry; I can’t bear to see you so sad; I can’t bear to be the cause of your unhappiness; I’m very sorry.”
Do not ask for forgiveness, do not debate the issue or try to apportion blame or to say it is 50/50. It may be 50/50, but now is not the time to say it. Now is the time to offer comfort.
If you do not know the cause of the tears, it is good to hold and hug, while asking, “what’s happened? Why are you crying? Do you want to tell me?” Respect any signals to keep quiet, or to stop asking questions, or to stop hugging. The questions that I have suggested, however, are likely to draw a response that will clarify the cause. Be patient, let the tears flow, and then when your partner can speak, he or she is likely to tell you the reason.
Curated by Erbe