Life happens, there will always be ups and downs. When one person in the relationship is struggling and may feel like they are drowning, it is the other person’s job to extend a life raft to them and help them get back to a good place. Being in a relationship means being there — and trying your best to pick up your partner when they need it will only make your relationship stronger.
5 ways to be your partner’s supportive life raft:
#1 Be Curious, Ask Questions — Ask How You Can Be There for Them
Having been through several major losses I often still don’t know what to say to others going through difficult times (even when they are similar to my own experiences). And when it’s your partner and you likely know them better than anyone in the world, being that close can actually make it harder. First because they likely feel most comfortable with you and don’t need to “fake” being ok (i.e., they don’t need to hide their moods or breakdowns) and second because we know them so well we may assume we know what they need.
It’s always a good idea to communicate with them about their needs, wants, and desires when things have been turned upside down. Without this discussion, it can be easy for your partner to feel alone and lost. Ask, “How can I make this situation easier for you” or, “How can I be there for you during this time” gives your partner the power to feel comfortable asking for help — which is something we all forget to do sometimes. Their answer might be “I don’t know” or “Nothing” and that’s OK. It’s just important that you asked.
One of the most important things you can do for your S.O. during this time is to simply listen. It’s critical for your partner to feel supported and heard during this time as they try to figure things out.
But to really listen you have to be present and not be on your phone while they discuss their deepest, darkest fears and sadness. It’s important for you to actively listen. Make eye contact (even if they are upset and it’s hard to watch them cry) to show that you’re there for your partner. A little nod, touch of the hand, shoulder or other non-verbal cue can go a long way. When you’re fully engaged, you’re helping your partner reflect by being a sounding board, which can help them get through this time.
#3 Put your feelings aside
Remember, it’s not about what you need or want. It’s about what your partner needs and wants. (Read more about this philosophy in “F*ck Your Feelings” AKA – How To Support Your Partner When They Lose a Parent.) However, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check in with yourself and take “me time” when needed but it’s best to communicate that with your partner and also make sure that you are not leaving (disappearing) at a critical time in order to avoid the situation.
#4 don’t judge
Try to understand and share the feelings of your partner. This can be really hard sometimes especially if you haven’t gone through what they are going through or if you don’t understand their reaction. Even if you don’t understand, try not to judge them against your standard — how you think you would handle the situation and feel they should handle it. Acknowledge their feelings. Remember acknowledgement doesn’t have to mean agreement.
The one thing you don’t want to do is make their situation about you. While you may handle this tough time differently than your S.O. if this was happening to you, that doesn’t mean that their way is wrong. Put your viewpoint aside and validate the way they are feeling. It will go a long way.
#5 Be Patient
Everyone deals with things differently. It won’t do you or your relationship any good if you try to rush your partner during this time. Your S.O. might take their time going through this time, but that doesn’t mean it’s your responsibility to tell them how quickly they should or shouldn’t experience this time. This is their journey and it’s your job to provide support in ways that will help them through it. However, as a supportive partner remember not to bury your head in the sand either. If you sense this is not just a small bout of being “blue” be proactive and encourage your partner to seek professional help.
And 5 nice things you can do for your partner to help them feel loved during a difficult time:
- Go for a walk together and listen to them talk (or not talk)
- Bring them something they like to drink, a coffee or smoothie (they may not be eating much)
- Warm up their towel for when they get out of the shower or bath
- Buy them a journal
- Lay in bed and watch movies together