The Rock that Never Crumbles
When your partner is struggling, it can be difficult to support them without neglecting yourself.
Our natural inclination is to encourage a loved one when they’re in a difficult place, to gee them up and help them become more motivated, but research shows that this kind of ‘high-expressed emotion’ has more of a negative impact. What people value most is to feel heard and to have their feelings validated. There is something uniquely powerful about sitting beside someone, not trying to find a solution. Hold their hand, give them your undivided attention and listen. Do your best not to get frustrated when there may seem an obvious path in your eyes. There may be fears lurking within them of which you have no idea. Listen, so that you can understand what the barriers are, have patience and show real compassion.
It can be hard when your partner appears not to be interested in sex anymore, lacks enthusiasm and doesn’t seem bothered about what you have to say – it could be easy to blame yourself or to start to question the relationship. But, any form of extreme distress, mental or emotional, needs to be addressed as if it were an illness. It’s not a reflection on you when your partner has too much going on, potentially leading to depression. Do your research – most people recognise low mood as depression, but very low energy and an inability to enjoy previously pleasurable activities are core symptoms, too. There could also be changes in concentration, appetite, libido and sleep. Even if sex is off the cards, stay affectionate, whatever happens.
It pays to be selfish sometimes – ok, not selfish, let’s call it, looking after yourself, instead. You are shouldering something pretty seismic, so if you’re not taking care of yourself, you can’t possibly take care of them. It can feel like a burden, dealing with a partner’s pain, so it’s vital to maintain your own sense of wellbeing. As well as continuing to enjoy your usual activities and seeing your own friends and family, you may benefit from therapy, too.
Running, walking, keeping a gratitude diary – these are all good to lift our spirits, but it’s important to make such suggestions sensitively. Come up with solutions together and have a go at doing some joint activities. When someone is struggling to find enjoyment in life, it can get to be very wearing, so strong communication is vital. We can all struggle to articulate our needs – by learning some key skills around active listening, including body language cues, minimising external distractions so we remain focused on the other and showing genuine interest, we can lessen some of the frustration and disappointment caused by our misunderstandings. Even asking the question, “Can I just check that this is what you’re saying?” can make a massive difference.
Once you’ve asked someone, for the fifth time, if they’d like to do something, and still been rejected, it can be tempting to stop asking, but that’s not the answer. That sense of rejection can be tough, but the danger comes when we suppress how we’re feeling. Be confident enough to say, “I’d love you to come with me, it would mean a lot”, but don’t repeatedly tread over old ground of them letting you down, because this simply shows you’ve not understood their level of discomfort.
While it’s important to offer support, it’s also crucial to let your partner take responsibility for their own feelings. It’s a fine balance, to be a partner and not turn into a parent when times are tough! Talking to people beyond you and the therapist (if you’re seeing one) can be of real benefit, because it broadens your support network. We can end up living very isolated lives if we don’t share the load.
As a partner, if can be breathtakingly powerful to remind them, every now and then, why you love them. When someone can no longer see anything positive about themselves, your affirmations can be a huge boost. It’s also good to talk about the future – with them in it – to show you have faith. Time this wisely, though, and by acknowledging their fears and showing them real empathy, you’re instilling hope, without which we can never have a vision for the future.
A huge, thank you, to all partners supporting their loved ones. God bless you for staying strong without crumbling!