Being supportive

“Supportive” means different things to different people

There are 4 general ways of support:

  • physical comfort and emotional support listening and empathizing, taking your spouse’s hand, giving your spouse a hug
  • esteem support expressing confidence in your partner, providing encouragement
  • informational support giving advice, gathering information
  • tangible support taking on responsibilities so your spouse can deal with a problem, helping to brainstorm solutions to a problem

Emotional support is all about empathy. It could look like offering physical comfort, listening well, validating and expressing empathy.

You might bring home a small gift to show that you have been thinking of them.  Or bring them a hot cup of tea or coffee.

There are times that this is the only support that can be helpful.



Esteem support boosts your partner’s confidence. Verbally and specifically encouraging your partner shows them that you believe in them.

“Remember the last time you were in a similar situation and how well you did.You can do it again!”

“This is something you are so good at. Now it’s time to show the world.”

“I am so proud of what you have accomplished.”

“I believe in you.”

Informational support – otherwise known as advice – is the trickiest. The giver sees it as helpful, the other person receives it quite differently. It is the type of support where the most misunderstandings happen. Especially if it is unsolicited advice.

Needing support is vulnerable; it generally is not so comfortable to be on the needing end.

No one likes to be bossed around. That’s what unsolicited advice often feels like.

  • The way a husband typically receives advice – particularly unsolicited: The husband typically feels scolded, reprimanded or nagged. 
  • The way a wife typically receives advice – particularly unsolicited: As if the husband is condescending to her, as if he thinks that she is incapable, stupid and can’t figure it out.

Tangible support might be the most practical. It’s taking over certain responsibilities to free up your spouse’s time or headspace to work on whatever they need to do.

“Would it be helpful if I pick up some dinner on my way home?”

“Would it be helpful if I took over carpool?

“Let me take the kids out of the house so you can work in quiet.”

NOTE: Don’t assume your spouse will just figure out what responsibilities to take over. Ask directly.

How to be supportive to your spouse.

Different people feel supported in different ways.

  • Listen. Don’t assume you know what your spouse needs to hear right now or what they should do.
  • Find out what type of support they want: If they want ideas or to talk it through, or just to vent. “Do you want comfort or solutions?”
  • Ask for permission to share your thoughts on the matter. ‘Would you like some ideas on that?’
  • Tell a story. ‘This might not be appropriate for you, but what I did when I had a similar problem was…’  Allow for the other to totally disagree or dismiss your insights. Listen to how they respond to your story and move from that point.

Make it easier for your spouse to support you.

Say what you want.
Your spouse wants to support you; they just need to know what kind of support you are seeking.

  • “I just need to vent.”
  • “I’m feeling awful about this; I need a hug. “
  • “I need to know that I’ll be alright. “
  • “I’m asking for your insight about this. “
  • “Please help me make sense of what happened.”

Tell your spouse what support you want.

  • Firstly, you’ll get the right support faster and with less stress and aggravation from each of you.
  • And it is not fair to your spouse to have to figure it out. (Is it possible that you do not know what you want or need and so you hope your spouse will figure it out?)
  • Be clear about what you do want them to do, rather what you don’t want. “I’d like for you to carve out 2 hours/ night for this next week for me to finish this project. I need quiet and no distractions.” rather than “I need you to support me” or “I need you to do whatever it takes to let me finish this.”
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