I remember expressing my despair and disappointment to my boyfriend over the phone, almost in tears because I was unemployed and the job hunt was getting harder with each day. I told him how embarrassed I was because of that and how he probably would be too.
But he wasn’t. He told me that even if I was embarrassed about it, he wasn’t and he encouraged me that I was still talented. That as long as I was actively applying and searching for a job, it wasn’t going to change how he saw and felt about me.
And of course, that’s when the waterworks started, because I knew then that he didn’t like and love me for superficial reasons. That he was in a relationship with me for more than having a successful girlfriend.
Life is full of trials and downs, some worse than others. Thankfully and hopefully, we have people who care about us to help us get through them. Your S.O. should be one of those people.
Here are some ways you can support and encourage your S.O. during the tough times and even the good times.
#1. Empathize and try to put yourself in their shoes.
There will be times when you won’t be able to understand the extent of the sorrow or disappointment that your S.O. is feeling, such as a death in the family or health condition. That’s okay!
The best thing you can do as their S.O. is to be sympathetic and empathize with them instead of saying what you’re really thinking. Though maybe you won’t be able to fully understand what they’re going through, try to put yourself in their position.
In my case, my boyfriend had gone through the brutality of job hunting and was able to empathize and show sympathy better, but even when he hasn’t, asking what he could do to help me feel better has been very effective.
#2. Find the silver lining and focus on that.
It may be your natural instinct to give your insight on what your S.O. could have or should have done, but doing that will only make them more frustrated. Instead, choose to express hope over the reality, at least until they have settled down.
If a job offer didn’t pan out or they had a fight with their parents, focus on the silver lining and the upside by saying something along the lines of, “You did your best and you did great. Everything will be okay.”
It’s not too specific but the vagueness of it actually does more good than harm. Try to avoid phrases like, “I know what you’re going through,” if you haven’t actually gone through what they’re struggling or coping with.
#3. Do your best to exclude yourself from the situation.
By exclude, I mean try to avoid talking about your own experience, unless your S.O. asks you to share it. Remember that this isn’t about you; it’s about them. There are circumstances where it’ll be wise to share your story but initially, it’s not the time.
It’s hard to resist telling them what you went through and that you were able to survive and come out strong, so that they have a sense of hope. It can definitely be effective but be careful to not put the focus on yourself.
Your S.O. may need empathy, a sounding board or a good listener instead of hearing about your experiences. It’ll probably be appreciated but they may want you to ask them about their situation.
#4. Be there for your S.O. even though they want some space.
There will be times when your S.O. will need some space, either to process the aftermath or to cope with it on their own. If it has to do with a friendship or family problem, they may want to take their own time to cope and find a resolution.
If that’s the case, don’t force or manipulate them into opening up to you about how they’re feeling and what’s going on. Psychologically, there are certain situations or different kinds of trauma that take time to process.
When times are tough for me, my boyfriend has always told me, “I’m here for you,” and “Well, if you want to talk about it, call me.” Both phrases are open-ended and encouraging, giving me the option to talk to him about it without feeling obligated to.
#5. Learn what it means to encourage and support.
There’s a huge misconception on what being encouraging and supportive entails. Many of us think that being encouraging is just giving them reassurance and that it can’t be done when someone has made a mistake.
Fortunately, you can be supportive and encouraging even when your S.O. is at fault or has made mistakes. It’s actually the most effective during those times, when they feel like everyone is against them for what they did.
It’s hard to sum up what it means to be encouraging and supportive in this blog post, but long story short, it doesn’t include criticism but a lot of love and grace, no matter what it is you say or do.