Supporting Your Friend
We don’t really need to explore a man supporting his male friend because men already have it the way they want it. When men “hang out” with their male friend, it’s to talk about carburetors or fishing or how their favorite sports team did this week. They certainly don’t want to talk about feelings or get girlfriend advice from their male friends.
The area that I believe to be more difficult is the girlfriend to girlfriend relationship. Maybe that is why it is less common for women to have a childhood friend last into old age. The friendship may last several years, but unlike men friendships, women seem to “move on” to newer girlfriends more frequently than men change their friendships.
A girlfriend relationship is delicate. That is because women are more complex and emotional, and it is easy to alienate a girlfriend by saying the wrong thing or not being supportive enough. So, what makes a perfect or supportive girlfriend relationship work?
A supportive girlfriend is always on her friend’s side, no matter what. When she is mad at someone, then you are mad at him or her too. When she is babbling about what happened at work or at home, a good friend listens and chimes in, “That is horrible! I don’t blame you for feeling that way!” You stay with your girlfriend through all of her male relationships, and you are always available when she’s going through a breakup or getting reunited. She’s going to need you to vent, or cry. She’s going to ask your advice, and when she does, you’re going to take her perspective on everything. Just remember, when she asks for advice, you’re not there to tell her what she did wrong and you’re not there to make her feel worse than she did when she came to you. If she does walk away feeling worse, then you didn’t do your JOB! Of course if she does ask your advice and you can give it to her without making her feel like she is a failure or did something wrong, then go ahead and give her the advice. Otherwise, your role as a supportive girlfriend is to make her feel better, so keep that in mind when you offer advice.
Someone recently asked me how is it possible to always make your friend feel better, because sometimes your advice has to be something they don’t want to hear. The scenario presented to me was “Suppose your friend is going to have their drug dealing boyfriend move in with her? What would you say to her then?” In a case like that I would still be supportive to my friend, but ask her something such as, “That sounds great! But aren’t you worried that if he gets arrested it may get you in trouble with your job?” This would give her something to consider and may even cause her to rethink her decision. But again, you are there as her supportive friend, not to live her life. And even if you did blast her with your real opinion, do you really think she would change her mind? She is still going to do what she wants, but now, you’ve affected your friendship with her and, Voila! You now have to go “girlfriend shopping” because you’ve lost the one you had. A GIRLFRIEND IS NOT A PARENT… SHE IS A SUPPORT SYSTEM!
Supporting a Grieving Friend
Another supportive role you might find yourself in is when a good friend has lost their spouse or partner. That is a position that many people find to be very uncomfortable. You’re afraid because you don’t know what to say, or you’re afraid to say the wrong thing and possibly make things worse. So, what do you do? You unintentionally avoid the person by procrastinating making the phone call or stopping by their home. This is the worst thing you could possibly do! They need you now more than ever!
Again, when you are there as a supportive friend, you are there to listen, to care, and definitely not to “fix” their pain. Just listen, let them cry and let them talk about their pain. It's common for them to want to tell stories of their beloved, and also to tell you how their loved one is sending them messages or signs from beyond. Your response is to listen, acknowledge and to believe them. They have a need to believe, and if you want to be supportive, give them what they need.
After a few months have passed, its important to call your friend often for lunch, shopping, or a movie. Of course it’s all right to ask how they’re doing, but its not necessarily a good idea to bring up the subject of the loved one. As the day progresses, I find that the grieving friend will often times bring up the subject themselves at some point when something reminds them of their loved one. When that does happen, you go right back to rule number one: Listen attentively, don’t interrupt their stories, don’t change the subject, and give them a pat on the hand or a big hug. And of course, let them cry. This is the best and most supportive thing you can do as a friend grieves.
Even after a few years have passed, your friend may bring up their loved one. Let them talk, don’t interrupt them, and definitely don’t change the subject! To be supportive is to be patient, attentive, and the warm touch is still always welcome. Resist the urge to make them “feel better” by bringing up a more cheerful topic. That can come off as uncaring or uninterested. LET THEM TALK UNTIL THEY’RE DONE.