How to be a supportive partner

8 ways to be supportive in difficult moments

How do you and your partner fare when stress enters the relationship? Does stress become a source of conflict and contention? Do you tend to fight more? Do you tend to withdraw from one another and feel more disconnected, frustrated, sad or angry?

Or does the stress become an opportunity for you and your partner to discover ways to be supportive? A place where you find ways of supporting, comforting and caring for each other, where you put others’ needs ahead of yours – now that would be the place to go. You can get there by learning how to be a supportive partner, no matter how challenging the situation.

What is emotional support in a relationship?

Emotional support in a relationship is the ability to show understanding, compassion and love – no matter what. It means accepting your partner the way they are, validating their feelings and encouraging their dreams. What this looks like in practice will be different for every relationship, but there are several traits that all supportive partners share:

  • Emotional mastery. Do relationship stressors make you want to explode in anger or frustration? Being able to identify, process and handle negative emotions in a productive way is essential to being a supportive partner. Master your emotions and you’ll master your relationship.
  • Confidence. You always have your partner’s back, even when you disagree with them. You don’t get caught up in feelings of jealousy or possessiveness. You’re comfortable with alone time and even encourage it. All of this stems from an unshakeable confidence and deep belief in yourself.
  • Communication skills. Learning how to be a supportive partner is about connecting on a deeper level. Ask meaningful questions – and care about the answers. Put down your phone and be present for your partner. Improve your communication skills and you’ll build a foundation of trust for your relationship.

Why is being a supportive partner important?

Emotional support in a relationship becomes even more important in tough times. Stress can cause considerable levels of irritability, anxiety, fatigue and other negative consequences. It shows up in our actions, our behavior and in our verbal and nonverbal cues – and it inevitably affects both partners and the relationship. But being a supportive partner even in stressful times can be a determining factor in which direction your relationship ultimately goes.

When we routinely provide our partners with the emotional fulfillment they need by being supportive, we can create a new depth of love in the relationship. As ironic as it may seem, when stress makes your partner more ornery, argumentative or distant, that is when they need you to show up the most.

How being supportive benefits your relationship

Aside from the inherent good derived from exhibiting patience, understanding and support, acting as a stress reliever can ultimately bring a number of unexpected benefits both to your partner and the relationship itself.

  • Reduce stress. A recent study conducted by the American Psychological Association showed that those who said they have someone they can lean on for emotional support report lower stress levels and better related outcomes than those without emotional support. They are also less likely to say their stress levels increased over the past year and less likely to let stress get in the way of making positive lifestyle changes.
  • Achieve more. Tony believes in the power of relationships to where it can define a person’s entire life. A powerful relationship filled with support for each other can help you achieve new levels of success and fill you with the drive to do and achieve even more than you could imagine.
  • Stay positive and focused. Providing emotional support can also help your partner maintain a more positive outlook and focus better at work. A study conducted by Florida State University professor Wayne Hochwarter revealed that “employees with high levels of stress but strong spousal support had 25% higher rate of concentration levels at work compared to those without the solid spousal backing.” They were also “33% more likely to have positive relationships with their colleagues and had a 20% higher level of job satisfaction compared to their peers.”
  • Experience more fulfillment. On top of work-related benefits, those with strong spousal support also experienced a number of personal bonuses. They reported 50% higher rates of fulfillment in their relationships, a 25% lower rate of post-work fatigue and 25% rate of parents more likely to be happier with the amount of time spent with their children. They also undoubtedly got a better understanding of how to be supportive as they went about their daily lives and activities.


How to be a supportive partner

Relationships are about polarity – the balance between masculine and feminine energy that creates an ideal push and pull that results in true connection and the “sparks” of romance. Understanding how to be a supportive partner as the more masculine energy can be tricky, because masculine energies tend to focus on solutions. Equally, feminine partners may need to harness their femininity and find their voice to speak up for their partner more often. There are ways to be supportive that work for both energies, with a little effort.

1. Shift your perspective

When we allow stress to control and overwhelm the state of our connection with our partners, it can create a sense of tension and disconnection. And if that is perpetuated, it can lead to a distant relationship, drained of the love, passion and joy that were once shared. People who are successful in relationships and in life know how to shift their perspective so that problems become opportunities. When we see stress as an opportunity to strengthen our relationship and grow as human beings, it can bring us closer and make us feel like more of a team than ever.

2. Understand when it’s time to step in

Sometimes being a supportive partner means understanding when it’s time for you to step in to allow your partner space to step back. When your loved one is in the middle of a busy event or is rushing around getting things done, the partner with masculine energy can step in and help shoulder some of the load. Doing so can give the extra time and space needed to finish a task or allow them a much needed break. Feminine partners, on the other hand, may want to wait for a quiet moment to offer their support, as masculine energies tend toward extreme focus.

3. Get your talking points ready

Your partner will find a powerful sense of reassurance and comfort through your words. Getting a feel for how to be a supportive partner often comes down to becoming comfortable with speaking the right words of encouragement at just the right time. Worried about what to say? Come up with a script. Draft a few talking points about how special your partner is and how proud you are as you watch them interact with family and friends. The more vivid and descriptive the imagery is, the better.

4. Believe in your partner

Oftentimes, being a supportive partner is no more than telling your partner that you believe in them. The words of a loving partner can give a great deal of comfort and assurance, especially if they’re said in a gentle and loving manner. You don’t have to feel like you need to say something complex. In fact, sometimes a heartfelt phrase can make all the difference to your partner who is caught up in a stressful situation.

5. Be specific

Emotional support in a relationship goes beyond words of affirmation. Get specific. It can be easy during times of stress for your partner to lose sight of the bigger picture. Many get more stressed as they start to have tunnel vision about a specific project or task. Practice being supportive by highlighting what you love and admire about your partner, and how their skills and abilities can be used to keep moving forward amid stress. 

6. Be emotionally available

In order to discover how to be a supportive partner, you must be emotionally available. That means being willing to be vulnerable, share your true feelings and face your fears in relationships and beyond. Emotional availability can be more difficult for masculine personalities, who tend to look for solutions to problems rather than “talking things out.” However, feminine personalities can also have trouble here, especially if they’ve been hurt in past relationships. Learning to forgive and letting go of living in the past is key.

 7. Practice deep listening

Deep listening goes hand in hand with being a supportive partner. Too often, we don’t fully focus on what our partners are saying. We’re looking at our phones, thinking about work or spending time on social media when we need to be making time to listen. Practicing deep listening means making eye contact, giving nonverbal feedback like a smile or a nod, using open and confident body language and ensuring you are fully present.

 8. Show physical affection

When we’re stressed, we’re being pulled in a hundred different directions. We don’t feel like being affectionate – but like deep listening, physical contact is one of the most important ways to be supportive, no matter what else is going on in your life. Similar to how smiling can change your mindset, even if you aren’t feeling happy, holding your partner’s hand or cuddling on the couch can restore intimacy and help you both feel more supported.

Team Tony

Team Tony cultivates, curates and shares Tony Robbins’ stories and core principles, to help others achieve an extraordinary life.

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