how to support your partner
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A client’s girlfriend recently had a problem at work. Her co-worker said something in front of other employees that embarrassed her. She didn’t know how to respond in the moment and was left hurt and upset.

So she came to her boyfriend, my client, for support.

In turn, he came to me because he knew this was a delicate situation. He said, “I don’t want to mess this up, man.”

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He knew that moments like these are absolutely critical to a relationship. If you support your partner well, you deepen your trust and closeness. If you support them poorly, they may hesitate to open up with you the next time.

He wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do. Because like many men, he himself struggles to express his own problems to his partner. He’s been told since he was young to bottle things up and just deal with it himself.

I see this scenario happen a lot in relationships: a woman shares with her partner how she feels disrespected by a friend. Or she expresses frustration with her mother getting into her personal business. Or she feels left out because she didn’t get invited to an acquaintance’s event.

So she turns to her partner for guidance and he’s sitting there terrified, thinking, “What am I supposed to do? Should I help? Do I just listen? Do I tell her what I would do?”

So I’m here to teach you the right way to support your partner when she needs you most.

Note: I tend to find that women more naturally know how to navigate these situations. But if you feel this is something you want to improve upon for your boyfriend or husband, the advice still applies.

 

1. Seek To Understand, Not Just To Solve

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Men are often told, “Women don’t want you to solve their problems. They just want you to listen.”

This infuriates guys to no end.

I’ve had countless men tell me, “If she doesn’t want my help, then why is she telling me about it?!”

I get it. You want to support your partner, especially when you feel like you have something productive to contribute. You feel ignored or undervalued when you provide a solution that is overlooked.

In theory, I do think it can be healthy for you to advise from a place of love. Strong relationships grow together. I don’t believe you should always just stand by as a passive participant.

But to make things better for everyone, we need to clear up some misunderstandings.

When your partner comes to you with a problem, she may first just want someone to help her safely process those emotions. She wants to know she is understood, her feelings are valid, and that she can talk through them to gain perspective.

Because when we’re facing personal struggles, we usually already know the answer deep down.

When you complain about your health or your tough day at work, are YOU automatically looking for an answer? No, you know you need to fix your diet or address your boss directly.

You just want to vent or share your frustrations openly without judgment. Then eventually when you’re ready, you take action towards change.

So to start, you need to listen to your partner intently. This provides the necessary space and comfort for her to either do something about it or be much more open to accepting your help.

And on your end, listening well will help you truly understand what she’s experiencing, see the whole picture, and provide the best solution possible — if necessary.

2. Make Your Primary Goal To Listen Well

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The key to being a great listener is being present in the moment.

This means you have to make a mental shift from “I’m here to give answers” to “I’m here to listen really well.”

If your mind is running wild with problem solving ideas, you’re not staying in the present. You’re not allowing your body and emotions to connect to what your partner is saying right here, right now. You’re not actually listening on a deeper level.

This is also true if you’re going to lecture or tell her what she’s doing wrong. You’re waiting to cast judgment, which means you are less likely to be engaged with an open, compassionate mind.

She knows she has a problem, so she doesn’t need to be told again. People pay for therapists to have someone listen without judgment so they can speak freely and uncover a better path for the future. She’s human and it’s okay to make mistakes.

So if your partner can tell that you ARE really listening to her, she will be more vulnerable. She will open up in new ways. She will drop her guard and dig deeper into her feelings.

When you’re truly there with her, you will feel the full weight of her emotions and her experiences. You’ll be able to relate to what she’s going through using your own experiences. You’ll get a clearer understanding of why she feels the way she does.

Doing all this helps you provide the most informed, caring support she needs.

3. Eliminate Distractions And Commit To Giving Her Your Time

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We’ve all been trained to have short attention spans. We’re constantly stimulated by flashing screens, buzzing notifications, and social media feeds galore.

Staying present for an extended amount of time is really hard. So the first step to having a productive conversation is to eliminate all possible distractions.

Finish out that text or email. Quickly clean up the clutter around you that would make you preoccupied. Go put on some comfy clothes if you need them to relax.

Finally, turn your phone off. Yes, completely off. In fact, go put it charging in a different room. Studies show that even having your phone in the same vicinity can create restlessness in our minds.

From there, I want you to make a conscious time commitment to being present. Tell yourself, “For the next 10 minutes, I am completely devoted to giving my partner the time she needs to express herself.”

If you can only stay present for 5-15 minutes right now, that’s fine. People first learning meditation can often only sit still for a couple of minutes. With practice, you’ll find it easier to quiet your mind and dedicate your entire self to your partner for longer periods.

4. Actively Show Her Your Presence

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When someone is venting, they’re often worried about being a burden. They don’t want to come off as dramatic or stupid.

It’s a vulnerable act for your partner to share her feelings and frustrations with you. If she sees you spacing out, she may shut down and get defensive.

So it’s wise to preemptively convey that you are committed to being there with her. Listening with your ears is one way to do that. Listening with your body and voice is another.

Sit close and face your body towards her. Physical closeness creates more intimacy and trust. Don’t sit across from her on another chair or far away on the couch. Get next to one another, maybe let your bodies lightly touch, and show her you’re right there by her side.

Hold good eye contact. Sometimes while we’re listening to our partners tell a long story, our eyes wander around the room. This is not the time to just listen with your ears – you need to show her that she has your full attention. Eye contact reassures her that you are an ally. When you get to see her eyes in return, you can better feel and connect to her emotions.

Give verbal cues that you’re listening. A simple, “mhmm” or “that sounds awful” goes a long way to making her feel heard. So does, “I’m sorry you had to deal with that” or “that’s a really tough situation.” If she’s getting emotional, reassuring phrases like, “it’s going to be alright” and “I’m here for you” can remind her that you’ve got her back.

Give some non-verbal cues, too. Hold her hand when she’s really opening up. Gently stroke her shoulder when she’s sharing something difficult. Hug her and hold her in your arms if she starts to cry.

Simple gestures like these show your partner that you’re the man she can rely on.

5. Ask Her The Right Questions

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Just like you needed to change your mindset from “provide answers” to “listen well”, you need to reframe the way you think about asking questions during these tough conversations.

A poor line of questioning can feel accusatory and aggressive. Even if you did all of the above to build trust and an open line of communication, the wrong questions can put your partner on the defensive.

For example, men might think they’re being helpful by asking about previous actions: “Why did you do that?” “Why didn’t you do that?” “Why didn’t you do THIS instead?”

This is incredibly unhelpful and makes her feel like you’re talking down to her. It’s like asking a person who got injured in a car crash, “Why didn’t you see the other car coming?”

The same goes for asking why she’s repeated a past behavior. She clearly didn’t mean to do it intentionally and sometimes we need to make the same mistakes to learn from them. Old habits die hard.

The past is over and done with. Your questions should be about helping her get a clearer picture of the situation at hand and what she can potentially do now.

Let’s say that your girlfriend is always being mistreated by a so-called “friend”. Your girlfriend overlooks her bad behavior and ignores her disrespect. You shouldn’t ask her, “Why haven’t you just told Samantha to fuck off?”

Instead, ask questions that will take herself out of the equation and get her to think more objectively.

Questions such as, “Would you ever treat a friend that way?” or “What would you tell me if Tom was doing the same thing to me?” or “If you weren’t afraid of losing her friendship, what would you want to say to her?”

All of these points are SO much more useful. They provide clarity and new ideas, leading to healthier perspectives.

6. Uncover The Answer Together

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The purpose of these steps is to help your partner feel understood, accepted, and supported. You’re allowing her to work through her feelings and see possible paths of action.

This is what she needs to make a change or move past her problem.

When she comes to a decision, she will feel accomplished that she figured it out for herself, rather than being fed an answer from you.

We are at our best when we feel loved, but also self-reliant. And your support will have helped her get there — which what you wanted in the first place.

If your partner is still trying to resolve the situation and doesn’t have an immediate answer, give her a little time. Check in with her in a supportive manner to see how she’s doing later.

Now if you still feel she’s being haunted by this problem, you can then share what you think she should do. But because you’ve laid all the groundwork, she should be infinitely more open to hearing your advice.

She won’t take it as, “he’s not even listening, he just wants to tell me what to do.” Instead, she’ll recognize, “this is my adoring partner who’s given me his heart and wants the best for me.”

Simple gestures of empathy and support often mean the most in a relationship.

Show up for your partner when they really need you. It’ll show them that no matter how hard things get, together you can face anything life throws your way.


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