Supporting Your Partner: Expert Advice From a Couples Therapist
by Stacy Mosel, LMSW
Feeling a lack of support and struggling to communicate are some of the most frequent issues I encounter when I treat couples. Although they usually have the best of intentions, couples in love don’t always automatically know how to be supportive of each other. Let’s be honest — between juggling career and family responsibilities, maintaining health-conscious lifestyles and trying to achieve financial goals, stress can cause you to inadvertently take your relationship for granted, at least some of the time. If this sounds familiar, don’t worry, because I’m going to explain how you can have honest conversations with your partner to discover where they need more support, how to carry those conversations into your day-to-day lives and how to ensure that this support doesn’t lead to resentment later down the line.
Ask What They Need
People often expect their partners to be mind readers; it’s an issue I frequently come across in couples I work with, especially those that have been together for several years. After all, your partner likely knows you better than anyone else on the planet, so “she should just know what I need,” as my client Mark said to me recently. Most people aren’t psychic, so even if you think it’s the most inane or obvious need, it’s important to say it. Along the same lines, ask your partner what they need, especially — but not only — when you notice that they seem a bit off, stressed or distant. For example, even though they might seem to have it all together at work, they might be struggling in other areas but be afraid to let you know that they need help.
Respect Your Partner’s Feelings
Respect in a relationship is so, so important — I can’t emphasize this enough. One of the quickest ways to show a lack of support and create an atmosphere of resentment is to be disrespectful of your partner’s feelings and experiences. Show that you value the things your partner chooses to share with you, both the good and the bad, by displaying empathy and respect for their feelings. Act on the things they ask you to do, or better yet, figure out what they need by asking about and responding to those needs sooner rather than later; don’t procrastinate. Demonstrate gratitude for the things they do by voicing your appreciation or through small gestures such as a neck or back rub with Reign Together’s CBD massage oil at the end of a long day.
Check In With Each Other Often
It’s so easy to plop on the couch and binge-watch Netflix at the end of a busy workday — and I’m not necessarily saying there’s anything wrong with this from time to time. But too many distractions and not enough focus on the relationship can quickly cause the spark to fizzle. Make checking in with your partner a priority — do it as soon as they walk through the door if you can (provided the kids aren’t begging for your attention). This will help them feel supported, understood and valued. Look into their eyes, give them a hug, ask about their day and really listen to their response.
Listen Up and Tune In
You’ve probably heard a variation of the phrase, “Most people don’t listen, they just take turns talking.” When you have something you really want to say, or if your partner is saying something that makes you uncomfortable, it can be tempting to interrupt, talk over them or just stop paying attention. Remember, however, that what we all want most is to be heard and understood in our relationships. Being vulnerable and asserting your needs is only one part of the equation — the other is listening. That means really listening, and not just saying “uh huh, uh huh” at the end of every sentence they say until it’s your turn to talk. Make your partner the focus in that moment. At the end of the conversation, check in and ask if they felt heard and understood.
Put On Your Own Life Vest First
In the end, strained relationships (usually) boil down to two main problems: when partners feel like they’re not being supported and when they feel that their needs aren’t getting met. Resentment breeds when people feel like they are giving more than they are getting, but too many times, we’re expecting too much from our partners or we have unrealistically high expectations. To avoid resentment, author and counselor Tracee Dunblazier suggests making a list of the top five needs you feel aren’t being met by your partner, then figuring out what you can do for yourself to meet those needs. If you can first try to take care of yourself, you’ll be in a different spot to ask for those things you truly need from your partner. At the same time, you’ll be able to show more support, which can help rekindle the magic that brought you together in the first place.
Stacy Mosel is a licensed social worker, psychotherapist and writer on mental health and relationships. After receiving a Bachelor’s degree in music from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, she continued her studies at New York University, earning a master’s degree in social work. She has extensive training and experience in child, couples and family therapy and in the identification and treatment of relationship issues and mental-health disorders.