Listening Goes a Lot Further Than “Relatable” Stories for a Loved One in Distress

By Rachel Puryear

For people with a solid sense of social skills, the urge to reciprocate shared stories and experiences feels quite natural during conversations. Someone shares something about themselves with you, so you also share something about yourself with them. It’s an important part of building bonds with other people.

So, when someone shares about something they are struggling with, and are currently distressed about; it’s natural to want to share our own story – especially if we’ve been through a similar event before, and feel like we can relate.

However, sometimes there are exceptions to general social rules.

Two friends sitting on a park bench, talking and laughing.

For instance, when your loved one is distressed, and wants to tell you about what’s going on with them. If you’re following the general rule of reciprocity, it might feel quite natural to respond with your own story.

Besides, it might seem like telling your own story of hardship or heartache makes you seem relatable, and demonstrates to your loved one that yes, you really can understand what they’re going through.

Nonetheless, though, it’s probably better to resist that temptation – at least initially – and just listen to your loved one, rather than bring in your own story. Here’s why.

Listening to your loved one, particularly while they are still distressed, is a great way to show support. Doing so keeps the focus on them, and shows them how important they are to you.

Responding with your own story, though, especially if you’re quick to do it, takes the focus away from your loved one, and redirects it back to you. It might also make your loved one feel obligated to – whether this was your intention or not – give support to you instead, when they initially came to you for that.

But wait! You might be thinking. Doesn’t telling them my own story let them know I can relate to theirs?

It is not necessary to prove your ability to relate by way of quickly your own story, in order to empathize with someone else. Listening and caring about what they have to say goes miles further, empathy-wise, than redirecting the conversation to your own relatable story.

Of course, as always, situations vary, and I do not intend to foreclose on nuance with general rules. Your own judgment and intuition can factor in.

If your loved one asks you if you’ve ever had a similar experience, or your loved one expresses a wish to talk to someone who can relate, then by all means, share your story. Or, if you’re in a setting where everyone is sharing stories; then listen while others are sharing theirs, but feel free to also share yours.

Or, once your loved one has had a chance to tell their story, and seems less distressed, you could mention that you also had your own experience, and offer to share it.

The goal is not one-sidedness is sharing stories, or to suppress yours – rather, it’s about the timing.

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Thank you, dear readers, for reading, following, and sharing. Here’s to listening well. If you enjoyed this content and want to see more of it, please hit “like” and subscribe, if you have not done so already. xoxo

Check out my other blog, too – Free Range Life, at It’s about road trips, parks, van and RV life, financial and remote working considerations for enabling regular travel, and occasional political commentary.

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