Get expert help learning how to be an emotionally supportive partner. Click here to chat online to someone right now.
When we love and care for someone, we want to be there for them in difficult times.
We want to support them through their struggles and see them safely out the other side.
But that doesn’t come naturally to everyone.
And if you’re reading this, chances are you are among those for whom giving emotional support feels a bit awkward and foreign.
You don’t know how to be supportive in a way that your partner will appreciate.
Hopefully that will all change by the time you finish reading the tips below.
1. Don’t minimize their problems.
When your partner is going through a rough time, they will probably see it as something big and important.
You, on the other hand, might have a completely different perspective of the issue because you are seeing it as an outsider.
And with the best intentions, you might say something like, “It’s not the end of the world,” or, “It could be a lot worse.”
Those statements are surely true, but your partner doesn’t want to hear them right now.
They are going through something which, to them, feels like a major challenge or upheaval.
By telling them that their situation isn’t as bad as they think it is, you are invalidating their feelings.
You are effectively saying that their emotional response to the situation is out of proportion. That they shouldn’t be feeling as bad as they are.
That’s a kick in the teeth.
They feel bad about something and now you’re telling them that they shouldn’t feel bad about it. You are telling them that they are overreacting.
Whatever you do, avoid this at all costs. You may see that what they are facing isn’t so bad, but it’s not your job to tell them how they should feel.
You don’t really need to comment on their feelings at all, but if you have to, stick to something such as:
“This is not a nice situation to face. I can understand why you’d feel so upset about it.”
That’s all you need to say. Don’t overcomplicate this aspect of emotional support.
2. Listen to them.
Most people like to vent about their problems to those around them. This can be a healthy way to get your thoughts and feelings in order and process them.
So listening to your partner is probably the most important thing you can do for them right now.
Listening covers a broad spectrum of attention-giving, however.
There’s the ‘listening’ that takes place when you’re having a conversation whilst the TV is on or you’re scrolling through your phone.
Then there’s the listening that involves removing all distractions from the equation and focusing not just on the actual words that are being spoken but on the way the person is saying them, the tone in their voice, the look on their face, the body language they are giving off.
You should be aiming for this second type of listening.
You need to take in what they are saying, process it for context and emotion, and try to understand the big picture of what’s happened and how it is affecting them.
Don’t interrupt them when they are speaking and leave enough of a pause after they have finished to make sure they have actually finished. Sometimes they might simply be thinking about how to communicate something, and this can take time.
After they have made a point, you can show that you’ve been listening by repeating their point back to them. Then, you can ask them questions that expand on what they have said.
Here’s an example:
“It really sucks that you’re being made redundant. I can’t pretend to know exactly what you are going through. Do you think they might rehire people once the economy picks up?”
Listening is so important because if your partner feels genuinely heard by you, they will feel like they can share their troubles without worrying what you think or whether you are judging them.
There’s a saying that a problem shared is a problem halved, and it’s true. Your partner being able to share their problems with you will make them feel supported.
3. Don’t offer solutions unless they ask for them.
There is a common misconception that providing emotional support to someone means providing solutions to their problems.
When your partner comes to you for support, what they are looking for is someone to share their emotional load with; someone who can lift a little weight off their shoulders.
Sure, they might have to take action in the long run (though not always), but in the immediate aftermath, when their feelings are running high, it’s fairly normal to just sit and stew in that situation for a while.
The mindset of the person who has just been told they face redundancy, for example, will likely be one of anxiety and trepidation, not one of solutions and action. That comes later.
Your role is not of fixer but of friendly shoulder to cry on or ear to listen.
Even if they ask you for your advice, you should be wary of giving too much or anything too specific.
You are not in their shoes and can’t know the precise ins and outs of the situation or how they are feeling about it.
You may offer your thoughts and find that your partner totally disagrees with them, which may not help things at all.
If they ask, one option is to turn the question back round on them and ask them what they think they should do about it.
By getting them to share their thoughts first, you can gauge what sort of direction they are thinking of taking and keep your advice around that.
4. Back their solutions, even if you would act differently.
Whether you ask them what they are going to do about this situation or they offer their thoughts spontaneously, it’s always best to back their ideas where possible.
You may have another course of action that you think would provide a better outcome, but allowing them to choose their own path and supporting them as they walk it is probably what they need right now.
Of course, if you think that their solution is too risky or is self-sabotaging in its very nature, you should step in and say something. But even then they may not listen.
For the most part, you should allow your partner to take the lead in working their own way out of the difficult time they are facing.
So avoid saying things like, “Are you sure about that?” or “I’ve got a better idea.”
Instead, say things like, “Yes, I think you should give that a shot and see what happens.”
Most of the time, their plan of action is unlikely to cause too much negative fallout if it doesn’t work out.
And if things go right, it’s far better for your partner and their self-belief if the idea was theirs and not yours.
5. Keep checking in with them.
A common mistake that people make when trying to offer emotional support to their partner is the belief that once you’ve had a big discussion about their problem, that’s your job over and done with.
But you can’t brush things under the rug just because you listened to them once and they seemed to feel better for it.
As long as the issue is an open one, your partner will experience a variety of different feelings about it.
So you have to keep checking in with them to see how they are feeling and whether they want to talk about it some more.
That shows that you haven’t forgotten what they are going through and you’ve don’t underestimate the significance of it.
You are engaged in it and are focused on making sure your partner feels like they can talk to you if they need to.
6. Be physically affectionate.
Your partner is going through a rough patch and they are bound to be feeling quite vulnerable and insecure in themselves.
Many people’s instincts at this point is to seek out the comfort of a loved one, not just in terms of talking things through but in the actual warm embrace of another human being.
It makes us feel less alone in facing up to the challenge in front of us.
Give your partner a hug – they will appreciate it more than you can imagine.
Beyond that, little touches here and there can communicate your care and your support more than words ever could.
If your partner is stressed, offer to give them a neck and shoulder massage to relieve some of that tension. It can cause their brains to release various feel-good chemicals and help them deal with the physical pain stress can cause.
Even if you’re not a particularly physical couple normally, you should make the effort to try. If they know that it doesn’t come naturally to you, they’ll be even more grateful of the gesture.
7. Say kind things about them.
When your partner needs emotional support, it’s likely that they are feeling pretty bad about something that is happening in their life, but also about themselves.
Our internal and external worlds are linked, and stress or worry about something external can lead to negative thoughts about who we are and what our worth is.
Hearing you say something nice about them will remind them that they are loved and appreciated just as they are.
Telling them that you love them is a good place to start, but you can tailor the message to fit with the situation too.
If they are feeling undervalued at work, you could say something like, “You are the hardest-working person I know and your boss is a fool not to recognize that.”
Maybe they had a big falling out with one of their best friends. In which case, you might say, “You have always been a good friend to them. You are loyal and caring and great fun to be with.”
Hearing these sorts of things from you will make them feel better about themselves even if the situation itself can’t be changed right now.
8. Relieve other areas of stress or overwhelm.
When your partner is feeling upset or stressed about something, they might like to lose themselves in busy-work around the house.
Or they may feel totally overwhelmed by all the things on their to-do list when they are facing up to a bigger challenge.
If it seems like your partner is the latter, it is an act of emotional support to take on some of the other duties that they may normally carry out.
Those things require both physical and mental energy, and by tackling them yourself, you effectively give that energy back to your partner to use to focus on the other issue at hand.
Whether it’s cleaning, cooking, grocery shopping, taking the kids to the park, or something else, your partner will be grateful to you for doing a bit more of the heavy lifting for a while.
9. Do something nice for/with them.
Emotional support can take the form of mental distraction from the worries or concerns your partner has.
Doing a nice thing for your partner or sharing in a relaxing activity together is a great way to achieve this.
That might mean running them a bubble bath, lighting a few candles, and telling them to go and soak in it for an hour one evening.
Or it might mean taking them on a hike to a local beauty spot and just embracing the natural surroundings.
You don’t need grand gestures to make them feel a bit better. In fact, they might not feel able to really enjoy something so big.
It’s often the little things that mean the most, after all.
10. Seek help from their loved ones.
Sometimes the best way that you can support someone is by making sure they get to talk their problems out with people other than you.
It can be good for them to have other people showing them care and understanding as they face up to the situation at hand.
This is not to say that you can abandon your own efforts at giving emotional support. Far from it. You should still do the other things on this list.
But by either telling your partner’s loved ones that they are having a hard time or by suggesting to your partner that they visit those closest to them, you are giving them other outlets to vent to and more pillars of support for them to lean on.
You are getting them away from their usual routine and pointing them in the direction of another friendly face. Both things can help lift them when they are feeling low.
So if they are really close with one or both of their parents, a sibling, or a best friend, see how you might get them involved in being there for your partner.
Of course, if they say they would rather not speak to anyone else, you should respect their decision. Don’t presume to tell them what’s best for them.
11. Share in their enthusiasm.
Emotional support isn’t just for times of anguish or major difficulty. Sometimes your partner will look to you to be there for them as they set out to reach a goal or achieve a dream.
They may not seem like they need support because they might have lots of enthusiasm about what they are doing.
But they will feel even more capable of doing what they set out to do if they have you cheering them on.
Whether it’s a career change, new business venture, going back to school or university, building something from scratch, or another goal altogether, you should try to be enthusiastic about the things they are enthusiastic about.
You can ask them what they are looking forward to most, what they are worrying about, what drives them forward with such great energy.
Be interested in their dream; don’t dismiss it as a fad or something that isn’t important. If it’s important to them, it should be important to you too.
12. Ask them what sort of support they need from you – then follow through.
If you are ever in doubt about how to act in order to be the supportive partner you want to be, simply ask them.
They’ll likely talk about some of the things on this list, but having heard it straight from them, you’ll know what matters most to them and what they aren’t so bothered about.
The important thing is that you actually follow through and do the things they have said they would like.
If you don’t, you risk making them feel even less supported than before. Like you care enough to ask but not enough to actually do anything.
13. Know that emotional support is ongoing.
When your partner is struggling with something, emotional support is not primarily a one time thing.
You can’t just listen once, do some nice things, and hope that it’s enough for you to stay in their good books.
You have to be there for them on a regular basis until they are able to resolve the issue or deal with it mentally and emotionally.
That might mean rearranging or even cancelling some of your own plans so that you can be physically there with your partner when they need you the most.
But your relationship should mean more to you than any short term enjoyment you might have to sacrifice.
You should not only be willing to be there, but genuinely wish to be there because you love them and want what’s best for them.
Still not sure how to show your partner that you support them? Chat online to a relationship expert from Relationship Hero who can help you figure things out. Simply click here to chat.
You may also like:
- What It Really Means To Hold Space For Someone
- 10 Things To Do When Your Partner Is Not Emotionally Supportive
- 5 Genuine Ways To Help Others In Their Time Of Need
- 9 Rules To Follow When Someone You Love Is Grieving
- 25 Quick And Easy Ways To Cheer Someone Up
- How To Comfort Someone Who Is Sad Or Crying (+ How NOT To)