How Not to Buffer

CURE, Summer 2010, Volume 9, Issue 2

In intervention studies, mental health experts have tried to help couples stop buffering and start sharing.

In intervention studies, mental health experts have tried to help couples stop buffering and start sharing. Just raising the subject is a hard step, says Laura Porter, PhD, of Duke University Medical Center: “Once people break the ice, it gets easier.” Here are some guidelines.

> A useful opening line for either the patient or caregiver might be: “I’m really wondering a lot about what you’re thinking. It might be helpful to talk.”

> Don’t expect instant results. “You may not have this great heart-to-heart the first time you bring something up,” says Porter, but the next time you talk, honesty might come more easily.

> Say “I” and not “you.” Instead of accusing your partner, try something like, “This is what I’m feeling.” Then your partner will be less likely to grow defensive.

> For the person sharing feelings, let your partner know you don’t expect him or her to “fix” things—and that just being there and listening is a tremendous help.

> For the listener, ask questions to get more information and express understanding. If a husband feels bad that cancer is keeping him from mowing the lawn, don’t say, “It’ll be fine, we’ll hire someone.” Porter recommends something like: “Gosh, this is really hard for you not to be able to do the things you’re used to doing.”

> Don’t apply a lot of pressure. “Saying you would love to hear anything, asking what you can do to help—these are good,” says Sharon Manne, PhD, of Fox Chase Cancer Center. “But pushing is shown to not work.”

> Be specific about your feelings so your spouse won’t jump to the wrong conclusion.

> Don’t be afraid to say you’re afraid. Sometimes all you need to say is, “I know in my heart we’re going to get through this, but sometimes I just get scared.” And then the other person might say, “Yeah, me too.”