Do you have an unsupportive partner? Has one of these scenarios happened to you?
- You’re hurt by something your sister did but your partner doesn’t seem to care.
- Something major just happened and your partner seems distracted and disinterested as you’re telling them.
- You’re angry about how you were treated at the bank and your partner tells you it’s not a big deal.
- You’re worried about one of your children and your partner says “It’ll be fine” and nothing else.
- You got a promotion at work and your partner isn’t enthusiastic or congratulatory.
- Your back has been bothering you lately but your partner hasn’t asked about it for weeks.
You may have thought: “This is the person who I’m supposed to be the closest to and they don’t even seem to care.” It’s disappointing and hurtful and lonely. But what can you do about an unsupportive partner? Here are seven different ways for you to think and act so you don’t feel so hurt.
1. Change your perspective to include your partner
As a couples therapist, I often say “There are TWO people in a relationship.” It’s a reminder that there’s a whole other person in this interaction. Although you’re going through something emotional, your partner may be in a completely different state at that moment. After all, she/he may be a different gender than you, was raised by different parents with different ways of thinking and responding to life, maybe even from a different culture. We tend to forget about the other person’s state of mind when we’re flooded with strong emotions. By broadening your perspective this way, it can save you from hurt during those times the two of you are in different mindsets.
2. Draw from Recovery concepts
The book Alcoholics Anonymous is much more about becoming an emotionally and mentally healthy person than it is about ceasing to drink. That’s the reason many other recovery groups (overeating, gambling, sex addiction, co-dependency) also use it. In it, the authors advise us not to expect others to behave the way we think they should. Why? Because for the times others cannot do what we want, we are creating our own suffering by holding onto that wish.
3. Think about how your partner does ‘support’ you in other ways
Does he/she take good care of the children? Is he/she a good provider? Does he/she keep your sex life alive and vibrant? There are numerous ways couples ‘take care of’ each other and, for some people, being verbal, validating and empathetic is not their strong suit.
4. Allow your partner to disagree
Listening, validating and empathizing does not necessarily mean agreement. The other person can still hold their opinion AND cross into your world to try to understand your opinion. If you recognize your partner is trying to do the latter, don’t also insist she/he agree. There are two people in every relationship and there is room for two opinions.
5. Build your network of social support
As humans, we need more than one person in our support network because we get different things from different people. Who else in your life is a good listener and can be understanding? Who gets excited about your successes? Who is a natural empath? If your partner’s not strong in this area, it’s okay to seek out people who are. You and your partner can still have a close relationship even if this area isn’t the strongest one in the marriage.
6. Model the behavior you’d like to see
How validating and empathetic are YOU to your partner? Especially when you hold a different opinion? Mahatma Ghandi said “Be the change you want to see in the world.” You’ll be living a life with more integrity if you’re doing the things you ask of others. Your support for your partner could even serve as a model for her/him especially if they’re not typically supportive.
7. Simply ask for support the way you want it shown
Finally, simply ask for support the way you’d like it shown. Do it in a calm and non-demanding manner such as “I’m hurting and I’d love for you to just hold me” or “Can you tell me if I make sense, even if it’s one small part?” or “I wish you’d smile and tell me I did a great job and suggest we make a toast together.” Your partner may not realize they aren’t being supportive or may not know how to be supportive (especially if no one supported her/him when they were a child). It’s okay to ask in a neutral way for what you’d like.
If you’re been hurting for a long time in a relationship that often feels unsupportive, you likely would benefit from couples counseling. Reach out to us. You’ve waited long enough. Call us at 908-246-3074 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule your first appointment.