In our jam-packed lives, sometimes our relationship with our significant other can take a backseat to juggling work, kids and household tasks. But being an emotionally supportive partner is key to a healthy, lasting relationship.
How can you be a more emotionally supportive partner? We spoke to Toronto psychologist and relationship expert Nicole McCance for her insights.
When was the last time you said "thank you"?
"The biggest complaint I hear from men is that they feel they are under-acknowledged," says McCance. "They feel they are doing a lot and not getting the appreciation they deserve." Women, on the other hand, tend to take on the bulk of household chores and while McCance says they don't necessarily ask for recognition, it can lead to resentment over time.
Bottom line? Show your partner some appreciation for what they do—from grocery shopping, to getting kids to soccer, to taking care of the yard work.
"Women, in particular, tend to expect their partner to know how to be there for them emotionally," says McCance, "but he can't read your mind." Instead, she says, be specific about your needs. Then, your partner can deliver.
Remember, too, that a lot of communication is non-verbal. So try to be conscious of your facial expression, your body language as well as what you're saying and how you're saying it. "Be aware of your tone," says McCance. "Some people are more sensitive to tone and might misinterpret you."
Let it go
When counseling couples, McCance says she often hears them talk about a big fight they had the previous evening—yet neither partner can clearly remember what the conflict was about. "Let's face it," she says, "we can have big fights that are over nothing sometimes." Instead, when things are heating up, ask youself: can you let it go?
To help move past a potential conflict, McCance says to distract yourself. "We can't really hold more than two thoughts at the same time, so try to think of something else," she says. "Or get up and do something to change your mindset." You can also just try to change the subject if your conversation is leading to an argument. After all, some arguments really aren't worth the stress they can cause your relationship.
Try to be more empathetic
"If you're in a difficult moment, put yourself in your partner's shoes," says McCance. "Ask yourself, ‘Why did he react that way?' Maybe it's because he's tired, for instance." Disagreements, she adds, are normal, but successful couples can see the other person's point of view. But it takes practice.
"When you are arguing, you feel it in your body first," McCance points out. During a fight, our hearts beat more than 100 times a minute, she explains. This fight-or-flight response sends more blood to our limbs than our brains. Consequently, our ability to problem-solve is diminished and arguments tend to be circular. When you feel your heart starting to beat harder during a disagreement, take a break, McCance advises. "What's going to come our of your mouth will not be pleasant, and you will likely regret it." Instead, a brisk walk or a cup of tea might be the pause you both need for a better, happier perspective.
All of these techniques, McCance says, take practice before they become more automatic. But the effort is worth it for a more emotionally supportive relationship.