As a male psychologist, it’s no surprise that most of my clients tend to be males. Working with men is a fantastic privilege because it means I am working with people who are defying stereotypes and breaking stigmas.
See, most men grew up (and are growing up) with the belief that they shouldn’t talk about their feelings. That “strength” is being able to handle whatever the heck gets thrown your way. That emotions, vulnerability, and tears are not something they should ever show. Well, when a guy reaches out for therapy, they’re taking a giant stick and knocking those stereotypes to the ground – and I love it.
Unfortunately, the majority of men are not in therapy, don’t plan on seeking therapy, and worse yet, don’t know how to support their partner.
That last part – not knowing how to support your partner – is what I want to talk to you about for the rest of this article. Supporting your partner is work, you aren’t taught how to in school, you probably didn’t have it modeled for you growing up, and sometimes your wife feels like you should already know.
Here are four simple tips to help your partner feel more supported.
Make sure your partner knows that they have your full attention. If they’re coming to you with a problem, they probably want to know that what they’re saying is important to you. So how do you let them know that they have your full attention? Let me be super clear about this – if a screen is still on, you’re not giving you full attention. Turn the phone on silent and put it face down on the table. Turn the TV off (not just muted). Shut the laptop. Next, turn towards them so you’re facing them – this might require you getting up, changing seats, or just repositioning yourself.
Validation is the act of letting your partner know that what they’re feeling and experiencing is okay and that you don’t think they’re crazy. This does not mean you have to understand what they are going through, just that you’re there for them. A great and easy way to validate someone is by repeating back what they said in your own words. Saying it back to them shows them that you were listening and actually heard what it is they were trying to get across. Validation sounds like, “It sounds like that was really hard.” And “It’s okay to feel that way.” Saying things like, “I think you’re overreacting to this” is not validation.
Empathy is when you try to understand what your partner is feeling from their perspective. This is commonly explained as, “walking a mile in their shoes.” If you’re able to imagine how your partner is experiencing something, and then express it, you are empathizing. Being empathetic is a great way to let your partner know that you’re trying to understand them and that you want to support them through whatever it is they’re going through. Empathizing sounds like, “I imagine that was really difficult to go through” and “Would you tell me more about that?” Saying things like, “It an always be worse” is not empathizing.
If you’re lucky enough to have a partner that is going to you with their problems and concerns, the least you can do is check-in with them. After they’ve talked it out with you, ask them right at the end of the conversation how they feel about the conversation. Did they get what they needed? Do they feel like you heard and/or understand them? Is there anything else that they wanted to express? It’s also a great idea to check-in with them the following day or the day after. If you know your partner was confronting their boss, co-worker, friend, whoever, check-in with them to see how it went. Checking-in is a fantastic way to let them know that you care and are invested in their success and happiness.
No one expects perfection – do your best, but always strive for better. I am not in the business of making promises, but I am ridiculously confident that if you utilize the four tips above, you will have a very appreciative partner who will feel supported.