Being a supportive partner is real #relationshipgoals.
Seeing the person you love struggle through difficult times is one of the hardest things you will do in a relationship. But being able to truly support your partner in these trying moments is what being in a relationship is all about.
Seeing your partner in pain is heart breaking. If you are like me, when you see your partner struggling, you want to go up to them, give them a big hug and a kiss, and tell them everything is going to be ok. You may feel the urge to do everything in your power to help them and get them feeling better.
This is a natural response, but that doesn’t mean that it is always a good one.
Your attempts to be a super supportive partner during difficult times can backfire and even make the situation worse. If you approach supporting your partner the wrong way, the two of you can build bad habits that can have lasting consequences.
This doesn’t mean you should run away and abandon your partner anytime they are feeling down. It does, however, mean that in order to support your partner, taking a measured approach is ideal. The ideal supportive partner will stay focused on the needs of their significant other while not taking responsibility for their well being (remember it’s spelled p-a-r-t-n-e-r, not p-a-r-e-n-t).
To help you be the best supportive partner you can be, I’ve come up with a list of Dos and Don’ts for helping your partner through hard times. These tips should make it easier for you to support your partner more effectively in their time of need.
What To Do When Supporting Your Partner:
When you see your partner hurting, it can be difficult to resist the urge to become superman/woman and save the day. However, patience is always the first step in being a supportive partner, so as to avoid misspeaking, misunderstanding, or otherwise potentially making your partner feel worse. Take a deep breath or count to 10. The rest of the “Dos” on this list are useless without patience.
Listen to what your partner has to say. You don’t have to feel pressured to offer any specific advice, or rush to immediately say/do the “right” thing, because sometimes being a supportive partner doesn’t require you to say or do anything at all. Creating a space in which your partner feels like they can share, express, or simply process their emotions is crucial.
Once you’ve created the space your partner needs to process and express what they are going through, let your partner know that it is ok to feel the way that they do. Express sorrow for the way they are feeling. A supportive partner says things like “I’m sorry you feel that way” and “it’s ok to feel that way” at the forefront.
When you are trying to be a supportive partner, it is easy to rush to action and do what you think is best, such as giving your own opinions, perspective, and advice. Even if you know your partner really well, you are not a mind reader. Don’t try and be a superhero.
A much better (and easier) strategy is asking your partner what they need/want from you in order to feel supported. After they have shared their feelings, ask them, “How can I support you?” or “What do you need for me?”. This takes the pressure off of you to come up with a solution on your own; plus, it puts the emphasis back on them, where it should be.
If you want to do something to pep up your partner’s mood, consider their love language first. This will ensure that your actions are more closely aligned with what your partner wants/desires.
If you know your partner’s love language, great! If not, you find out more here.
If your partner is struggling with an issue that has lasting consequences or isn’t going to resolve itself quickly, encourage them to come up with a plan and help them execute it. A supportive partner only does this after doing all the previous “Dos” on this list.
After you encourage your partner to create a plan, they must take ownership of it. You are trying to support them, not take responsibility for them.
What NOT To Do When Supporting Your Partner
A supportive partner doesn’t assume how their significant other feels or what they think. Instead, a supportive partner listens and asks meaningful questions. Let your partner lead the conversation and dialogue.
Saying “it’s okay” is a natural response when someone is upset. However, it is not necessarily a great way to support your partner. If you have no control or influence over the situation, you don’t know if it’s going to be “okay” (unless you can see in the future, and in that case please let me know what the winning lotto numbers are). At the end of the day, it is up to the person who is hurt to feel better. Instead of saying “Don’t worry, it’s going to be ok”, a supportive partner might say, “I’m sorry you feel that way, and I’m here to support you no matter what happens”.
This is the opposite of what a supportive partner should do. Telling your partner that what they are feeling or struggling with is not a big deal is invalidating their feelings. If you really think it’s not a big deal, keep that to yourself. They are the aggrieved party and, in the moment, how they feel about the situation is what matters most.
This is another default answer that many people resort to when their partner is feeling down. It is ok to not understand why your partner feels the way that they do. This doesn’t make you a bad person or a bad partner. If you don’t understand, ask questions! Demonstrate to your partner that you care and want to understand, or recognize and admit that you may never fully understand. But don’t fake solidarity, because it’ll show.
This is yet another common trap that many people fall into when they are trying to be a supportive partner. A supportive partner recognizes that at the end of the day, it is up to the person who is hurt to feel better when they are ready to do so. They are in control of their emotions, not you.
Taking on the responsibility for their emotions and wellbeing is not only ineffective, but is also a slippery slope that can end up causing you a lot of emotional distress. Becoming responsible for your partner’s wellbeing can create bad habits that can be incredibly hard to break.
If your partner is feeling down, this is not the time to bring up how they didn’t put away the dishes the way you wanted them to. Whatever you do, when your partner is sharing their feelings with you, don’t make it about you.
This is especially true if what they are saying makes you feel negatively. This isn’t to say that your feelings are unimportant, but that you need to find the appropriate time and space to share them. Your feelings should never supersede the aggrieved party’s emotions in the moment.
That being said, it is important to share how you feel; find another person to talk to, or talk with your partner about that experience at a later time – your feelings are valid and should be heard. Focusing entirely on being a supportive partner without taking the time for yourself is not sustainable.
I hope this list of “Dos” and “Don’ts” helps you become the best supportive partner you can be.
A quick note:
If your partner is struggling with a serious issue, ask for help. You don’t have to go through this alone or even just as a couple. Talk to a friend, family member, or therapist. Both Imani and I have seen therapists and it helped us immensely. If you are interested, you can read about my experience here.
If there is a do/don’t you think I left out, let me know in the comments below.
Loving the old; exploring the new,