The Inestimable Power of “I’m Sorry, Dude. That Sucks.”

Wondering how to comfort someone? Trying to be a supportive friends? Rather than trying to solve someone's problems or offering cliches, say this instead.
Have you ever read about the differences between how men and women (allegedly) handle problems and complaints? When women complain, we (allegedly) want people to listen to us, validate us, and make cooing noises.

When we complain, men (allegedly) want to solve our problems.And when they try to do that, fighting and hurt feelings ensue.  Because, Dude!  I totally know how to solve this problem!  I’m just telling you about it because I bond by sharing my feelings!

I’m not a big complainer, but when I drink a glass of whine, I do, in fact, want cooing noises and conciliatory hand pats.  But here’s the bad part.  When people complain to me: I totally, totally try to solve their problems.  Like, all the time. 

And sometimes I do that passive aggressive thing where I ask them a series of questions to get them to say the thing I want them to say and then I act like they found the solution themselves.  What a jerk!

But last week I was talking to a friend who’d been going through some tough health issues.  She related how awful she felt and how deeply unhelpful her co-workers had been. I had no experience with her particular issue so all I was left with was “I’m sorry, dude.  That sucks.”

And I felt like a terrible friend!  Shouldn’t I be emailing her links to doctors and trying to feed her saltines and ginger ale?  I said as much and you know what her response was?

“I think people really underestimate the power of ‘I’m sorry, dude.  That’s sucks.”

And I think she’s right.  Your friends are probably smart enough to solve their own problems. Click To Tweet

You’re not trotting out hackneyed cliches about “things working out” or “everything happening for a reason.” You’re showing them that you’re listening and that you care and that you’re not judging.

Sans cooing noises.

What do you do when your friends complain?  Are you a problem solver or a conciliator?

P.S. How to be a better friend

Photo by Estée Janssens on Unsplash

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17 Comments

  1. Stefan, Sarah and Lukka

    I used to be a problem solver (married to Top One, over here), but now I just try to ask simple things like "How does that make you feel", or similar questions. I feel like I've had to learn how to be a good listener. It doesn't come naturally to me.
    Sarah M

    Reply
  2. Maggie

    I find it really useful to state to my boyfriend, "I don't need you to solve this problem or do anything about it, I just want to talk about it," and I try to ask him what he wants from me when he's telling me about a problem, too. A lot of the time, we're just looking for some sympathy/empathy, but it keeps everything clear for the times when we do want a solution.

    Reply
  3. Sarah Rooftops

    I actually *just* published a post about how to be a good listener (here's my shameless plug link: http://www.sarahrooftops.co.uk/2012/10/how-to-be-good-listener.html), based on things I learned doing counselling training and from having a therapist as a dad. It basically boils down to: keep your opinions to yourself and listen as long as they need you to. One of the first things I told my boyfriend when we got together was not to try to solve my problems – just to hug me until it's out of my system. This is a great reminder.

    Reply
  4. LC

    I totally try to solve all the problems of the world that are not my own. My (therapist) sister even pointed out that I only date seemingly lovely gentlemen who have serious life issues that need to be solved that I think I can help them with. What I really need is to chill the eff out, drink a glass of real wine (not whine) and say "Dude. That sucks."

    Reply
  5. Rachel @ Existation

    I'm definitely more of a "Dude, that sucks" kinda gal, but I always try to add in an "If I can do anything to help, let me know!". My boyfriend, god love him, tries to solve every single complaint I have, which usually leads to us fighting every time I whine, because I don't want a solution, I just want a loving ear, damn it! Anyway. I think that the differences between men and women are true on this one. =]

    Reply
  6. Rachael

    I try to have an equal balance of both. My friends have learned over time the value of saying "I'm sorry, dude. That sucks." to me due to my unique health problems. So I, in turn, learned to recognize situations where I could return the sentiment.
    great post 🙂

    Reply
  7. Anonymous

    Agreed! I realised after a while that the reason I feel so much better after talking to my Mum about problems, not my husband, is because he always offers 'suggestions' or advice, or 'invalidations' like "it's not that bad" while she just spends however long is required saying "oh, darling, nawww, oh poor darling, ohhh that's terrible, nawww…."

    And then I feel all better.

    The one difference is when dealing with friends, you really don't want pity. It's OK from Mum, but with other's you generally don't want to feel weak or small. I've had ongoing health issues and the one thing I can't stand is pity. So with friends I find it better to say things like "I feel ya. That sounds hard. Looks like you're handling it really well though"

    Reply
    • anna

      With me it's like the exact opposite!

      My mother is always trying to offer suggestions, or, even worse, how you could have avoided the problem in the first place (so helpful thanks!!) So I ended up never talking about my problems with people because I had all these negative associates with it.

      Then I met my fiance and realized I could talk about my problems and not feel like suggestions were being pushed at me, or feel bad because I couldn't "fix" it.

      I think 99.99% of the time people already know the solution to their problem (if there is one), and so just want to be heard, or have their opinion validated.

      Reply
  8. Denver

    Yeah, I think I'm always trying to be a problem solver too. But I guess sometimes it works (because the other person might not have thought of my suggestion as a solution) and sometimes you just discovered they've already thought of everything you've suggested and the situation still sucks. I then give up and offer support where they need it.

    Reply
  9. eemusings

    Yup, I'm an inherent problem solver – I'm aware of this but I'm just so terrible at verbalising sympathy alone. I've read somewhere that this is a male trait, while women are better at the empathising thing…

    Reply
  10. Nate

    Definitely a problem solver. And I will only complain when I know it will inspire someone to try and solve that problem for me. If it's something that neither I or anyone can do anything about, I'm pretty happy to let it slide.

    Reply
  11. Pea Green Cactus

    Awesome post, Sarah! I'm definitely a problem solver (although I think I can also be a good listener), but I'm learning to cut back thanks to my partner. He's had to tell me on several occasions that he doesn't need solutions, just as was taking a deep breath in preparation to spilling out a pack of life-saving answers!

    Reply
  12. Mandy

    It depends on who I'm talking to. If it's a really close friend, I'm much more likely to try to solve the problem. I have no idea why…maybe I care more about them being happier? Or maybe I feel more comfortable in giving a solution? I'm much more of a straight up listener with people I don't know as well.

    That all being said, both my dad and my ex-bf are HUGE problem solving guys. Drives/drove me CRAZY! Just listen to me! Sympathize! Stop with your rational answers!

    Reply
  13. Jamie

    i know that hearing that sucks dude doesn't solve problems but the mere fact that you were listening to me helps and when i actually get the problem fixed i can tell you about it and hope that you share in my elation.

    my bf is definitely a problem solver even though my problems are never just black and white and fixable overnight…

    Jamie
    greyskysaturday.wordpress.com

    Reply
  14. melina bee

    i've found that men are not the only ones to try to solve the problem– my mom is exactly the same way, and I've apparently inherited that trait, too. when my best friend went to school for social work/therapy, is when I learned better skills. people mostly just want to be heard, truly heard and "dude that sucks" is the best way to convey that while I can't control the situation for them, doesn't mean I don't care

    Reply
  15. Amy

    I am a life long conciliator in a relationship with a stubborn problem solver – there is definitely sometimes a clash! I hate when people try to solve my problems, because so often I *do* know the answer, but I'm just procrastinating or feeling bad about what needs doing. 'I'm sorry, that sucks' is definitely the way forward!

    Reply

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