It’s never easy to go through a major life change alone. So, when someone close to you faces a big change, you want to help them the best that you can. Here is how you can offer them support during a major life change.
Create a Safe Emotional Space
To be able to fully support your loved one during this change, they need to feel that their relationship with you is a safe emotional space.
This means that you need to provide that sensitivity and respect through both your conversations with your loved one and your actions. You will need to be very self-aware in order to create a safe emotional space. Watch what you say and the tone in which you say it. If your loved one feels emotionally threatened or unsafe (even on a subconscious level), they may cut off transparent communication with you — which will make it extremely difficult to support them. You should also make an effort to reassure them that your relationship is still strong despite any changes they’re about to make or are already making.
Let Them Talk It Out
Often, it can help for people to just talk about a problem — even if it doesn’t result in a solution. Let your loved one tell you about what they plan to do, how they want their life to change with this decision, or even just vent their feelings. Remember: offering support is not the same as giving advice. Simply listen to what they have to say without trying to get your advice or opinion into the conversation. That comes later.
For example, when my dad was getting ready to retire, I talked to him a lot about what he wanted to do in retirement. He had a list of five to six ways he wanted to spend a majority of his time and as we talked more, he narrowed the list down. The support I offered in this case was pretty minimal, but I think it helped him to just discuss his plan to get more focus on the changes he wanted to make.
Research Their Options
If your loved one is questioning their choice (or a decision has been thrust upon them), help them look into what their options are to set their mind at ease. There’s a big difference between thinking “Oh, I probably have enough money saved to quit my job and find one that I really enjoy” and knowing exactly how much you need to survive for X months and what your job options are in the new industry. By researching the answers to these kinds of questions, you are providing vital support.
If they haven’t brought up any concerns about their options and how their lifestyle may change, you may want to. You could think of hurdles they may encounter or circumstances they should prepare for that they may have missed. Don’t shoot their idea down outright, if you can help it. Sometimes a little push toward realism can help them understand the flaws in their plan.
Work with Them to Form a Plan
Form an action plan together so that they know the next steps they need to take. Create a plan that starts where they are now and goes at least 2-3 months into the future. Depending on the situation, you may not be able to go further than that. Schedule a check-in date at that 2-3 month point so that you can extend or adjust the action plan based on their progress.
This plan can also include things like how to budget their time, money and other resources to support the change they’re making. If you can, you want to make sure that they will be financially secure during and after this period of change. The more you can emulate this life change before it actually happens, the more prepared they will be.
Hold Them Accountable
Depending on the major life change, they could need an accountability partner. When you feel it’s appropriate, nudge your loved one to make sure they’re following the plan you two laid out. Change is hard and they may need outside motivation to keep going.
A caveat: only hold them as accountable as they want to be. You’re providing support, but that doesn’t mean you should be responsible for their ultimate success or failure.
As your loved one pursues their decision, they may find it isn’t what they thought. Be ready to shift your expectations and support method to fit their new path.
Don’t take their decision personally. A shift like this might make you feel frustrated about the effort you put into supporting their original goal. A big life change will cause stress, fatigue, and emotional turmoil. If your loved one lashes out at you, keep a level head. Try to get to the root of the problem and help them solve that.
Help Them See the Silver Lining If They Fail
Sometimes things don’t turn out. If your loved one is unable to adjust to the major changed in their life, you can show them that it wasn’t all a waste. Focus on what did work, even if the plan overall failed. You can point out new skills or knowledge they have gained. You can also point out how they have improved their professional or social networks. Mention how both of these can help them in the future, get them focused on moving forward.
You should also remind them why they wanted to make the change in the first place. At least now they know how it turned out rather than always thinking “I wish I had…” You may also be able to suggest other ways in which they can works towards their original goal. For example, if they wanted to go to graduate school but didn’t get in anywhere. You could suggest they take individual courses to increase their knowledge and skills.
Take Time for Self-Care
Offering support to someone else, especially if it is mainly emotional, can take a huge toll. Make sure you take time and energy to care for yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally. If you’re not at your best, then you won’t be able to provide the highest level of support you can to your loved one.
Not everyone will need the same level of support, so you can adjust this process to match how much your loved one needs from you. By following this process, you’ll provide much needed support to those you care about.=