The first thing to ask if you see someone choking is, “Are you choking?” The second is, “Do you need my help?” If you’re qualified to perform the Heimlich maneuver and your help is needed and wanted, you can save a life. Even if the maneuver is performed correctly, it can result in broken ribs.

When in a relationship with challenges, we would do well to remember those important steps. Do you see your spouse, friend, lover, sibling or other family member, or perhaps a business partner in what you perceive as trouble? Do they see it as a problem as well? Most importantly, do they want your help? Let’s say, for instance, your son-in-law and daughter have a troubled marriage, and you are convinced it is due to his over-spending habits. What do you think your responsibility is in this situation? Or perhaps your wife is suffering from emotional problems due to childhood trauma? Or what if your brother’s years of smoking is causing respiratory ailments? What is your responsibility?

I’m encountering a number of friends and clients in my coaching practice who are seeing relationship challenges, and in truth, their assessment of the problem is most likely spot on. In most cases, the worry over the individual causes them extreme stress and pain. They try everything in their power to fixHoldingSpace the other person’s problem, but to no avail.

I recently had the honor of officiating a wedding for a dear couple. Among the things they vowed to each other were to encourage each other to live up to their highest potential, honor each other’s dreams, build a life full of compassion, and to be honest with each other. The vows did not include a promise to try to fix each other’s problems.

It’s difficult when you see someone you love “choking,” but if they don’t ask for or want your help, the only thing you may be accomplishing in trying fix them is “breaking ribs.” And I think the days of the surprise, group intervention have proven to be ineffective. So what should you do? Stand by and watch their suffering? I mean this in the kindest way possible, but are you overly concerned with your suffering over their issue because of the pain it is causing you?

I delicately suggest it may be you that needs a lifeline in learning how to hold space for someone. Honoring their struggle, holding them up with love and compassion, being gentle and kind in the face of their pain, and letting them know you are there for them and love them no matter what is sometimes all we can do. And in the end when they refuse your help, to continually insist you know what is right for them can destroy your relationship and make the pain worse for both of you. Standing by someone in this way may very well be the most difficult and loving thing you will ever do. When you hold space for someone, you are conveying the message that they are expansive individuals capable of returning to wholeness.

Margaret Snow is a Life Coach in Ithaca, New York, and is happy to work with you to help you find peace, clear purpose, freedom and balance. Contact her about her Deeper Look Program, a series that provides you with keys to unlock your path to outer vibrancy and inner well being.