One of the benefits of having a significant other is that you have a friend in your corner -- someone who will encourage you and go to bat for you. And because you're a team, you return the favor. But too much support -- or the wrong kind -- can damage your relationship. Learning about the right ways to offer support can help protect your relationship and make it stronger.
Bite Your Tongue
It's natural to want to try to fix a problem, but giving advice -- no matter how well meaning -- is not always the best way to support your significant other; it can lead her to become defensive. A better way to be supportive is to offer physical and emotional support. Give her a hug, rub her shoulders or hold her hand while she shares her frustrations with you. Praise her patience and ability to see both sides of a situation, or remind her of a time when she was able to overcome an obstacle. Raising your love one's esteem in these ways will always benefit your relationship, according to University of Iowa researcher Erika Lawrence regarding a 2008 study published in Personal Relationships.
Ask How to Help
Talking is key -- but not when you simply talk at someone. Instead, engage in some dialogue, and when it's your turn to listen, make sure you are actively listening instead of mentally trying to find a solution. Turn your body towards him, touch him on the arm or hand, and give him feedback by nodding your head and looking him in the eyes. Ask him how you can support him. If he isn't sure, ask him how it makes him feel when you give advice, praise him, or help him with his tasks. Hopefully, such questions will lead him to be able to think about and share what really helps him feel encouraged.
It's smart to ask how you can help -- but it's even smarter to jump in and offer tangible support. If you see your significant other cleaning up after dinner every night, jump in and help her. If her car looks like it needs a good washing, offer to take it through the car wash -- and fill it up with gas as well. If you notice her rubbing her aching feet, surprise her with a foot bath or offer to rub them for her. If you know she dreads homework time with the kids, offer to work out a schedule where you take turns overseeing homework duty. Tangible, practical ways of showing support are often the most effective in encouraging your significant other.
Often, support is rejected because the person needing the support does not want attention placed on his flaws and problems. Becoming "invisible" is one way you can still offer support without making your significant other aware that he is being supported. It sounds rather sneaky, but a 2010 study published in Psychological Science found that the best way to support someone is to do it without that individual knowing. Led by University of Minnesota researchers, the study found that invisible support strategies focus attention away from the loved one and onto a solution. For example, if your significant other is having problems with a coworker, you might casually mention how your best friend had the same problem and was able to get help from her company's human resources department. In this way, you are offering a solution without giving direct advice and without implying that your loved one can't handle the problem on his own.
- Psychology Today: The Supportive Spouse -- How to Get the Right Kind of Emotional Support
- Psych Central: Support Your Partner, But Not Too Much
- Personal Relationships: Partner Support and Marital Satisfaction: Support Amount, Adequacy, Provision, and Solicitation
- University of California, Berkeley: Greater Good -- How to Be A Supportive Spouse
- Psychological Science: Getting in Under the Radar A Dyadic View of Invisible Support
- Photo Credit Nicholas Sutcliffe/iStock/Getty Images
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