The Best Relationship Advice of Two Questions This Grandma Has Learned to Share With Grandchildren and Use With Grandchildren, and Everyone Else For That Matter


Do you want to be helped, heard or hugged?

How many times has someone dear to us been upset and we mistake their desire of us at the time of their distress?

I once read, and found it again, “10 Things Men Wish Women Would Know About The Way They Think,” by Brendan Tapley, Woman’s Day, November 6, 2018.

The article emphasized that for men the answer is that “We really (really) want to solve your problems.”

“One of the biggest differences between men and women is how we handle difficult situations. Many times, women want to talk about what’s going on just for the sake of talking. To know that someone is really listening to them, and is here to comfort them when times get rough. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But for men, it’s our instinct to come up with as many potential solutions to the problem as possible. Blame the wiring in our brains, but what it boils down to is that we don’t want to see our loved ones suffer. So if you just want to have us listen — and not do anything about the problem, or offer our opinions on how to fix it — then tell us that up front. That way we’ll know to keep our traps shut and arms open.”

I thought then, and I think now, that this is not just something associated with men. I think we all have the instinct to help, and help may not be what is needed by the recipient.

That is why the question above as number one is brilliant. The author of “When Someone You Love Is Upset, Ask This One Question,” Jancee Dunn, New York Times, April 7, 2023, gives us a tool useful with anyone of any age:

“It clarifies needs. It de-escalates swirling emotions. It helps us take positive action. Each option — an embrace, thoughtful but solicited advice or an empathetic ear — has the power to comfort and calm. Receiving a hug from your partner increases levels of oxytocin, the bonding hormone, and helps dial down stress. There’s evidence that being heard, known as “high-quality listening,” can reduce defensiveness during difficult and intimate conversations. And some research suggests that couples who give each other supportive advice have higher relationship satisfaction.”

And what does the question really ask?

Finding out whether your loved one wants to be helped, heard or hugged “is really asking, ‘How can I meet your needs?” It is asking permission intentionally, a sign of empathy.  

Yes, my grandchildren, please include this question in your go to phrases for all your personal relationships. In this day and age, where touching may be unwelcome and misperceived, know your audience, and then consider leaving out the hug part to be:

Do you want to be helped or heard?

If the answer is heard, listen please, and just stop with question number one.


Go to this question number two, if the answer is helped. Follow up with:

Do you want to hear what I think?

According to Jancee Dunn, “Problem-solvers might try to repair things for their own satisfaction, she added, “not necessarily because they want the other person to feel better.” (A 2018 study published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that giving advice can enhance the adviser’s “sense of power.”)

And we think we may be helping, but are we really helping? My Holocaust survivor mother used to ask three questions of me at bedtime, one of which was, “did I help someone today… . See post, “2017 New Year’s Resolutions Focusing on Feelings That Span A Lifetime Will Bring Us Joy.” as my mother emphasized exactly the same concept.

As a family court judge, I wanted to help make the lives of those who appeared before me better, to have them leave in a better place than when they first came before me. It took me years to recognize that in emotional trauma, those who appeared before me might not then be emotionally capable of hearing advice I intended to improve their lives and relationships.

I was careful to inquire of their counsel of their stage in the emotional divorce. And, I began to use questions before understanding what would reach the listener. Do you think they want to hear what I think? Do you think they are emotionally capable of hearing me? Why? Sometimes, I agreed with the lawyer, and sometimes not.  After over three decades of working with children and families, sometimes saying nothing is the most helpful one can be at the moment.

Be as positive as you can in life, as “this too will pass,” and life is too short to focus on the negative.

So, in conclusion, what do the two questions do?  They are questions that give the power to the listener. Grandchildren, considering adding these as life tools to developing healthy and productive relationships.



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