Welcome back to J&J Chats where J (me, Jess) and J (my girlfriend, Jas) offer unprofessional advice. Today’s J&J Chat is sponsored by my friend and patron, Hope. TW for mentions of feeling suicidal.
How do you as a girlfriend through the distance deal when Jas is hurting or having suicidal thoughts or having a hard time? How do you deal with it?
[Jess] So we can talk more about what helps you, Jas, and how to help. I don’t think we should limit our answer to a relationship, though. Just answer for like, if you are away from somebody and trying to help them through a hard time, what’s effective and what’s not. Sound good?
[Jas] Sounds good.
[Jess] So, I don’t really have a good answer for this I don’t think because I still have a hard time knowing what kind of support is the right kind of support in a certain moment.
[Jas] I think it’s a work-in-progress though. I don’t think you’re going to find it straight away; it’s a trial and error thing. It’s about communication and finding that thing, I guess, the right thing to say. But it also really differs, especially for me. It won’t always be the same thing, you know? Sometimes I need people to fuck off. Other times I need them a little closer. It really does depend on how I’m doing.
[Jess] I think that actually has been the hardest thing for me to learn, too. Sometimes Jas does just need me to fuck off and I think probably for the first—probably 2 or 3 years—I didn’t really think of that. It just didn’t really get through to me. I always thought I had to prove that I wasn’t gonna fuck off, because if I didn’t then it meant I was always going to be there for Jas no matter what. But that actually might be more of a BPD thing than like, a general feeling-bad suicidal feeling, don’t you think? The needing people to fuck off thing?
[Jess] I feel like I’ve gotten better at knowing when you need that space, but I haven’t really been able to pinpoint how I’ve figured that out either. I think for me, when I start getting angry or hurt, or when my feelings are just not in the place anymore to where I can be helpful, I think that’s when I know I need to fuck off; otherwise, it’s going to make the situation worse. But I don’t know if that’s always the case. I don’t know if I always judge it on my feelings; honestly it’s hard to tell.
[Jas] It really does differ.
[Jess] Yeah, from like just from how you’re feeling and what you need and stuff. Trying to think for more like, in general though. Like if someone’s having a hard time, how do you help them if you can’t be there for them?
[Jas] I guess asking them for what they need, what they need from you. It can be as simple as that in terms of trying to figure out what they want because they’ll probably give you an honest answer. Saying “what would you like me to do?” “What do you need me to do?” “Tell me what you need and I’ll do it.” You know, and working from there.
[Jess] True, but sometimes I do feel like this can cause its own problems. Because if asked you, Jas—actually know let’s switch perspectives. If someone said to me, “I don’t know how to help” or “What should I do?” Then I kind of feel like, “well then they don’t care enough to try if they don’t know where to start” and it’ll just make me more upset. And honestly, it’s a really unfair reaction for me to give. Obviously that person just wants to be there to help, but if I’m already feeling bad and their response makes me feel like they aren’t really trying before they say, “I don’t know what to do” or “What should I do?” Then I’m annoyed. I think phrasing makes a really big difference. There’s a huge difference between “I don’t know how to help, what should I do?”
[Jas] And “what do you need me to do and I’ll do it.” It is a lot about tone, especially with the distance. You might be saying to them in what you’d say is a normal voice, but to them it might be interpreted more as “How am I supposed to help you?”
[Jess] Yeah, I think that is really what happens to me. I read the tone as the other person being annoyed. even if that’s not the case. So phrasing is really significant. And also. just being more reassuring than you think you need to be.
[Jas] Be over the top about it.
[Jess] Yeah! You know I definitely agree with that. You know, I feel like I’ve gotten worse about this over the years where my quota for needing reassurance has been getting higher and higher—which makes no sense—but I feel like it’s the case. If I’m in a bad mood or feeling not good, and you, Jas, say one reassuring thing to me and then move on, I take that kind of offensively like it didn’t really satisfy what I needed. The problem wasn’t quite addressed or fixed; it was just glossed over, and I don’t feel better about the situation or whatever it was.
[Jas] But also, you kinda contradict yourself though—this isn’t an argument by the way. You’ll say things like “I don’t need someone to give me advice, I just need them to be there.” But you just said that if they aren’t giving you what you need and helping you fix the issue, then what’s the point?–
[Jess] OKAY LET ME REPHRASE. I almost never need somebody to give me advice. It actually really fucking annoys me when people give me advice because—I mean I hate to say it, but I know a lot of things. I know a lot about my own life, for one, and I know what I should be doing to make it better. I’ve probably thought about whatever advice a person is giving already, but something is holding me back from doing it.
[Jess] LISTEN! I don’t like advice. I only want it if I’ve specifically asked for it. Now, when I said I need someone to be there for me to “fix” something, I just need more than one sentence of validation. I need like, five sentences of validation.
[Jas] Yeah but that’s pretty standard, right? I mean I’m like that. If I text someone about a bad situation and they only have one short reply to say to me after, then I’m like “alright I’m never coming to them again.”
[Jess] Yeah, I mean I’m the same way! You know what? I think this is the most important part of the advice we’re going to give today. You always need to give more reassurance than you think you do. That’s what I think.
[Jas] And not be funny, and if someone isn’t okay with that, then they will let you know.
[Jess] What, not okay with reassurance?
[Jas] Sometimes people don’t like it.
[Jess] Can you give me an example?
[Jas] Well I do know some people. You know how people like being told they’re doing really well, everyone’s really proud of them, but some people hate hearing things like that or being told it multiple times. And they usually say if these things make them uncomfortable.
[Jess] That’s really weird; I couldn’t imagine not needing praise.
[Jas] I think because a lot of people with mental health problems are really good at putting a face on and making it look like they’re doing really well. So, if someone says, “I’m really proud of you. I think you’re doing really well,” it’s kind of like a lie to them, like “if they knew I’m not doing well at all…”
[Jess] Yeah, I can see where you’re coming from now. So maybe the praise causes an issue of the person already feels like they aren’t worthy of that praise. So maybe the reassurance is more about validation, which is kind of what I was trying to indicate more so earlier on. I mean, I’m someone who always takes praise. I really like it. People can praise me for things I’m doing bad on. I’m not picky about appreciation for anything. But I can see why other people could be uncomfortable with it.
[Jas] Okay, Hermione Granger.
[Jess] Anyway. I think validation-based reassurance is the best option. Or just saying things like, “I know you feel like this…” and reassuring your person that you’re there even if there’s nothing you can really do about it. I know that in the past if you, Jas, were feeling really low or suicidal, I could ask and see what I can do, and that response just might be “Nothing this is just how I feel, it’s just the way it is.” And it’s kind of hard for the person to respond to that. But I feel like all you can really do is just say that you’re always going to be there for them.
[Jas] And if you don’t know how to make that person feel better, you can just be like, “Right why don’t we do something to take your mind off it.” Don’t call it a distraction because that can have its own issues. In the sense that when you’re in your head thinking “I’ve got to distract myself” the pressure of a distraction makes it impossible to distract yourself. That’s what I find happens with me.
[Jess] That’s a good point. I just realized that some things I do—or have done in the past and not always with you, Jas, but others—if someone comes to me with something heavy or something upsetting to them, then a lot of times what I might do is just ask “Do you want to talk about it, or do you want to talk about something else?”
[Jas] Yeah because some people really might not want to talk about it.
[Jess] But they just might want someone’s company or to just have told someone.
[Jas] Sometimes I don’t want to talk to people, I just want to watch something or be with their company because it’s distracting for me.
[Jess] I feel like one thing I did a lot when you were feeling a certain type of way was saying like, “We can skype and you can talk about it, or we can talk about something else, or watch something together.” And I think we used to just watch something together a lot. You didn’t have to talk at all, because sometimes it wasn’t always feeling sad or suicidal, it was just having no energy to put into a conversation and feeling empty. So, sometimes it would just be needing company and having me offer it in a setting where you didn’t have to talk or even have to listen to me talk, because sometimes that can be a bit overwhelming.
[Jas] It’s overwhelming most days.
[Jess] Excuse me–! But I guess to conclude, sometimes your partner or friend or whoever is long-distance is just going to have hard days, and it’s just going to feel like shit for you too. Wait, I have more advice suddenly. Try not to let the other person know that it’s upsetting for you. I think that’s something I fail at a lot. I just did this yesterday. Jas, you were in a bad mood, and it kind of triggered a whole episode and you became overwhelmed and upset, and then someone else who could be there for you in person showed up when you needed her to. And I felt bad about that because I wasn’t able to help and it made me feel bad, which I kind of said to you, Jas. And I regret it when I do that. It’s important to try not to let that other person feel worse. Even though it’s nobody’s fault that the distance can make things hurt more for both people, telling them might make them feel like it is their fault, even though it’s not. That’s probably a big part of it. Actually, talk to someone about it too.
[Jas] Somebody else about it.
[Jess] Yes, somebody who isn’t your partner or friend who’s hurting. You can’t stop yourself from being hurt about this too. I think that took me a long time to realize that it’s not selfish to be hurt about your partner’s hurt, but don’t talk to that person about it. Talk to someone else. I think it’s really good to have someone else to talk to about those kinds of things, that way you aren’t accidentally bringing it back to your partner.
[Jas] Yeah, it’s good for both parties to be honest.
[Jess] Yes, and this took me a long time to do. I mean I only really starting reaching out to others in the past year of our relationship, but I really think it has helped a lot. I mean I don’t know if you talk to others outside of our relationship, Jas, but I feel like I’ve been a lot more vulnerable lately with others about things that upset me. Not in a way that’s like “Oh yeah, Jasmin’s really pissed me off today,” but our situation is just really sad sometimes. And I think in the past year I’ve done a better job at talking about how the situation just kind of hurts and affects me sometimes. I think it’s been really helpful. Do you have anything to add, Jas? What helps when you’re suicidal?
[Jas] I mean it varies. Sometimes just having a joint.
[Jess] Okay, well, I can’t just give you a joint can I?
[Jas] Well I hope so when I get there. Or just—I don’t know. I have a very unhealthy relationship with smoking of any kind. Sometimes I guess just going outside. But I think that’s because it’s linked with smoking for me.
[Jess] Jas, okay, let me rephrase. The main question here is “how can I help someone who is suicidal?” so I meant what helps you from other people, not what do you do on your own.
[Jas] OH! Uh. I guess just the distraction option really. Not “Don’t kill yourself your too sexy haha.” KIDDING. But yeah nothing like, “Don’t kill yourself, you have your whole life ahead of you.” I don’t need that kind of chat.
[Jess] Yeah that makes sense. What about chats that recall memories? Like “Oh I loved when we did this together…”
[Jas] Yeah, yeah that’s fine. Just no “Don’t kill yourself, I don’t know what I’d do without you. The world would be a bad place without you in it.” I’ve heard it all before. Yes, I know the world would be darker without me.
Our advice summary: Work on validating your person’s negative feelings and being over-the-top about the reassurance you provide. Try to offer avenues of distraction when possible.
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3 thoughts on “J&J Chat: Helping a long-distance partner through a hard time”
Well let me just give both of you a word of advice …tell everyone who attempts to give either of you advice to fuck the hell off. What a brilliant piece… open honest and really useful! There is no magic pill. No right form of words or behaviour when someone you care about is hurting (no matter how well you know them). Two things really resonated with me, honest two way communication and knowing when to give space. Know what? Whether there is distance or no distance, straight or gay, romantic or platonic… that’s the key to a good or bad relationship right there. 🥰
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Couldn’t agree more! It takes a lot to develop these skills (and it certainly has for us!) but being open, honest, and adaptable has helped us a lot when it comes to communication and reassurance.