If your partner is struggling with depression or the loss of a loved one, how can you help support them? Since every person, and every relationship, is unique, there is no end-all perfect answer to this question. However, there are several steps you should take once you learn that your partner is struggling. Here’s how to support your partner through this difficult time in their life.
- Actively listen. Right now, your partner may need to vent about their struggles for a bit, or they might just need to know that if they have something to say, you’ll be there to listen. One of the most important skills in a relationship is listening. However, it doesn’t count if you’re watching TV or scrolling on your phone while your boyfriend opens up to you. In order to show your full support, you have to stop what you’re doing and pay full attention to what they’re saying. Listen to understand what they’re feeling.
- Don’t give a bunch of advice. One of the last things your partner wants to hear right now is a bunch of unsolicited advice. Even if you mean well, now is not the best time to give advice and opinions. When someone is going through a rough period in life, they won’t be as receptive to advice and they probably won’t have enough energy to follow your advice. Unless your partner asks you for your advice, or if someone could be in danger, try to avoid giving advice, and instead, focus instead on listening and asking the right questions.
- Ask the right questions. Questions are one of the best ways to understand and communicate with your partner. If you don’t know how to support your partner, ask what you could do to make them feel better. If they don’t know, ask if they would like a hug or if you could cook their favorite meal for them. Sometimes, they might want to just sit and watch TV with you. Other times, they might want to be left alone. That’s okay. By asking the right questions, you and your partner can figure out what they need from you and what their boundaries are during this time.
- Don’t minimize the situation. A common pitfall is to accidentally minimize the conversation and play it off like it’s not really a big deal. This could be very hurtful to your partner, who is in distress. Instead of saying things like “it could have been worse,” take a minute to acknowledge the truth of the situation. This event (or series of events) has been really hard on your partner. Again, no need to exaggerate or minimize things. Just state the facts and emphasize that their feelings are valid.
- Spend some shoulder time with them. You don’t always need to have a deep heart-to-heart conversation. Sometimes your partner just needs to spend some time being physically near you. Try sitting next to them and holding hands while you watch TV or reading next to each other in bed. If your partner doesn’t really like talking about what’s happened, getting some shoulder time is a good way to show that you support them and you’ll always be there for them. And, as always, make sure to ask the right questions and double-check if your partner wants anything else.
- Focus on their love language. There are five different love languages: physical touch, words of affirmation, gifts, quality time, and acts of service. If they’re into physical touch, try giving them some random back rubs and shoulder massages. If they like words of affirmation, make sure to tell them how much they mean to you. For people who love gifts, grab their favorite candy and some flowers on the way home from work and surprise them. To give them some quality time, maybe pick a board game to play or go out and grab coffee together just to spend some time together and focus on something else. Last but not least, if they like acts of service, surprise them by cleaning up their space while they’re gone or serving them their favorite breakfast in bed.
- Don’t try to steal the spotlight. Did you experience something similar to what your partner’s going through right now? Are you going through something difficult of your own? All relationships require a certain level of give and take, and if you need support from your partner, ask for it. But don’t spend all your time talking about your own life when your partner is obviously struggling. This can easily spiral into a sort of twisted competition, “my life is worse than your life” conversation that can get very toxic for both of you. Focus on helping your partner for now, and if you need support, ask for it, or seek professional help.
- Seek professional help if needed. Depending on what your partner is going through, it might be a good idea to seek professional support. If they mention thoughts of self-harm or suicide, for their own safety, you should contact a licensed professional as well as your local suicide prevention hotline. As always, use your discretion, and if your partner seems to be having a really rough time after the first month or two, consider connecting them with a licensed therapist. When it comes to mental health, it’s always okay to ask for help.