Cheryl Greenberg - HeadshotCheryl Greenberg, Ed.D.

Dr. Cheryl Greenberg, Ed.D., works as a coach, or guide, for seniors and their families as they consider and plan for changes in their personal and work lives. Contact her at or 336-202-5669.

From time to time, we notice a loved one doing something that makes us stop and wonder. We worry about their wellbeing. We see signs that there may be problems to solve.

Our parent, spouse or dear friend, for example, seems frustrated with their job, but is having trouble thinking about making a change or retiring. Maybe they tell you that managing their home is becoming difficult, but they don’t feel comfortable moving. Maybe they seem unusually lonely or a bit confused, need help handling money, or are making unsafe decisions.

We want to share our thoughts, but we don’t want to intrude. We want to be supportive, but don’t want to disrespect their independence and privacy.

How can we have conversations in ways that feel comfortable and helpful?

An AABCD approach may be just right! And, yes, there are two “As.”

ASSESS the situation. Be as objective as possible. Even keep notes. What are you seeing? What is the loved one doing that raises your concerns? How often does it happen and under what circumstances?

For example, if Robert has a long, difficult week at work negotiating a contract that falls through, you probably don’t have to be concerned with his job satisfaction. Robert’s being unhappy makes sense. If, however, Robert complains about his job regularly, finds the start of the week unpleasant, and generally grumbles about his tasks or fellow workers, you might be right … Robert may be ready to review his job status.

ACCESS resources. Find out who and what is available to provide information and support to solve the problem. Do your research before you talk with your loved one; be ready with the information as it is needed.

Martha may be overwhelmed with caring for the home and all of the memorabilia she has accumulated for 40 years. You can begin to find out about businesses that help folks sort through their possessions, organizations that welcome household donations, and realtors who have dealt with long time residents’ attachment to their homes.

BEGIN the CONVERSATION. Start with a simple, caring observation using an “I-statement”: “I have noticed that you seem frustrated by your job.” “I hear you saying that you are overwhelmed by your home.” “I see you are having trouble using the stairs in your house.”

Then add, “Would you like to talk about this?”

Listen openly. Give your loved one time to talk about the facts, their reasoning and their feelings.

DECIDE. After there has been some caring give and take, share the resources you have found and invite your loved one to problem solve … to think about possible solutions.

Big changes mean big decisions. Thinking about a new job, new home or even health changes can be difficult. The conversations can take time and need to be repeated a number of times before a decision is reached. Take your time.

The decision may not be ideal for either you or your loved one, but it may be adequate. Be open to possibilities, not perfection.

Comfortable Conversations for Important Decisions take time. Sharing openly, listening, and most importantly, being patient can lead to satisfactory and even satisfying solutions.