If you’re reading this article, it’s likely because you want to be the best partner you can be.
Perhaps your SO is going through a rough patch in life, and you’re wondering how you can show up for them.
If that’s the case, I know how you feel. In the last couple of months, my husband started taking therapy sessions to help him deal with several issues.
And through his journey, it’s forced me to look at how I can support him as he confronts the demons of his past.
Here’s what I’ve learned and what the experts recommend for being a supportive partner:
1) Avoiding communication
Think of communication as the foundation of your relationship.
If you sweep issues under the rug, avoid uncomfortable conversations, or leave issues unresolved, the foundation weakens.
Leave it long enough and it’ll crack, crumbling the relationship with it.
Before it gets to that point, you can still turn things around.
Start by listening. Allow your partner to speak freely, without fear of you becoming defensive or shutting them down.
But don’t forget, communication works both ways.
You also need to share your feelings openly and honestly. By creating a safe environment for both of you, your partner will feel supported and you’ll feel able to share your concerns too.
2) Ignoring boundaries
As a result of better communication with your partner, you’ll naturally understand their boundaries better too.
And I can’t stress how important this is.
When we repeatedly cross the limits set in place by our partners, it can make them feel like we don’t care or respect them.
For example, if your partner asks to be left alone while they finish off their work in the evening, and you keep repeatedly interrupting them, it’s going to cause resentment and frustration.
But I get it – perhaps you feel like you aren’t getting the attention you desire or you’re missing out on spending quality time together.
You aren’t interrupting them maliciously.
That’s why it’s important to talk about boundaries. When your partner asks for quiet time in the evenings, accept their decision, but discuss your concerns.
Once they know the real reason you keep interrupting them, you can then work towards a solution together, i.e., carving out quality time on the weekends or in the mornings.
3) Dismissing their feelings
Also known as “emotional invalidation”. When your partner needs your support, this is probably the worst thing you can do.
So, let’s look at an example, and then I’ll explain the damage it can cause:
Your partner: I had a crap day at work today. The presentation didn’t go to plan and I’m pretty sure my boss is mad at me about it.
You: Oh come on, it’s not that big of a deal. You’re probably overreacting.
Now, I’m guessing you wouldn’t say this because you don’t care. You do.
But perhaps you don’t realize that in your attempt to “diffuse” their panic and worry, you’re actually dismissing their feelings.
As Alan Tsang explains for Sage Therapy Chicago:
“Many studies have suggested that frequent dismissal can increase the likelihood of personal harm, psychological distress, and mental health issues including depression and anxiety.
A better approach is to let your partner get their feelings off their chest, let them know it’s normal to feel worried about this (validating their feelings), and then help them find a solution.
4) Trying to “fix” everything
Now, I mentioned “helping them find a solution” in my last point, but I will say, tread carefully with this one.
Your partner doesn’t need you to fix everything for them.
I fell into this habit. When my husband started struggling with his family issues, I wanted to be the one to make everything better.
But in doing so, I made him more stressed.
As he explained – he just needed me to be there for him. To listen when he needs to talk. To comfort him when he needs a hug.
But his battles are his to fight.
I understand that this might make you feel redundant, but if it’s what your partner needs, the best thing you can do is respect that.
5) Being overly critical
Here’s another scenario to consider:
Your partner tells you that they’re thinking of taking up painting. They used to enjoy it in college.
You might casually mention that since they’re not the best at painting, why don’t they find a hobby they can excel at?
Even if you’re coming from a good place, being overly critical isn’t kind.
When your partner needs support, they need someone who will encourage them to do things that make them happy and allow them to destress.
Whether they’re good at it or not is beside the question.
And even worse – by criticizing them in this vulnerable time of their life, you could reinforce negative opinions that they have of themselves.
6) Not giving them space
Another behavior to avoid is feeling like you need to be stuck to your partner’s hip.
Sure, you want to make sure they don’t feel alone, but physically being with them 24/7 could hinder them from processing their issues and getting mental clarity.
The truth is, in any relationship, space is essential.
We all need alone time to recharge our batteries. Not to mention, a bit of time apart can do wonders in keeping the flame going in a relationship.
And as I mentioned earlier when discussing boundaries – it’s okay to let your partner know that you miss them and want to spend quality time together.
Just don’t insist on doing it when they need alone time. Instead, come up with a plan that’ll allow you to hang out when it suits you both.
7) Holding grudges
One thing I realized was really detrimental to my husband’s healing is not letting go of the past.
I was prone to bringing up arguments from 6 months ago, which, in hindsight, hindered his journey of moving forward.
So, while this may be tough to get out of the habit of, it’s worth trying.
At some point, you’ve both got to decide to draw a line under everything that has happened and then move forward.
And if you take note of the first point, improving communication, you should both improve at resolving issues in the moment so there’ll be no need to hold grudges in the future.
8) Comparing them to others
As well as holding grudges, comparing your partner to other people is a big no-no.
“When couples compare their relationship or partner to others, it can often lead to dissatisfaction, resentment, and hopelessness in both partners,” explains Megan Haase, a licensed mental health counselor in Seattle, for Psych Central.
And it doesn’t end there. “Comparing your partner to someone else erodes the sense of commitment and stability in the relationship,” Haase shares. Plus, “it communicates an ungratefulness for your partner.”
So, as you can see, even if it’s said in an attempt to boost and motivate them to do or be better, it could have harmful consequences.
Especially if your partner is in a bad place, their self-esteem is at rock bottom, and they feel hopeless about life.
As a supportive partner, it’s best to focus on their needs and forget about comparing them to anyone else.
After all, we’re all different.
9) Ignoring their needs
Now, another way to be a supportive partner is to be aware of your SO’s needs.
And the easiest way to do this is to ask!
Don’t make the mistake of assuming. And whatever you do, don’t ignore the issues in the hope that they’ll go away.
This will make your partner feel like you don’t take them seriously or that you don’t care. And ultimately, this might push them away from you.
I sat down with my partner a few weeks into his therapy sessions and asked,
“What can I do for you? What do you need from me right now?”
From there, I was able to understand how I could better support him, and he felt comforted that I was trying to show up in the way he needed.
10) Avoiding apologies
And finally, if you want to let go of behaviors that stop you from being there for your partner, start by apologizing.
I know, when one or both of you is experiencing a stressful time, things can get tense.
You both probably say things you don’t mean.
But that’s no reason to brush over them and move on without acknowledging the hurt you might have caused.
After an argument, take some time to cool down, and then sit with your partner and apologize (if you’ve done something wrong).
It’s likely that if your partner is down in the dumps, they’re taking some of it out on you. So, trust me, I get you if you’re feeling fed up.
But apologizing can be the difference between them realizing they’re loved and cared for, or feeling abandoned and even more hurt and confused.
Once they’re in a better headspace, they’ll be able to recognize just how much you’ve been there for them.
So, now we’ve covered how to be a supportive partner – good luck. You’re going to need strength, perseverance, and patience.
And of course, empathy.
But once you foster a relationship like this, your partner will have no doubts that you’re there for them, and hopefully, they’ll do the same for you in your times of need!