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Friday, August 26, 2016

How to Support Your Partner in Challenging Times

As a mom, I tend to be a fixer.  When trouble enters the world of those I love, I really just want the difficulty to disappear!  But life is messy and we are bound to face sadness sometimes.  This week we sent my stepdaughter to study abroad for the fall semester...abroad being the other side of the globe!

I was so grateful to hear from her this morning that she has landed safely, but exhausted, in China.  Mr. Wonderful is thrilled for her, yet grieving the departure of his firstborn.  They have a unique and tight relationship.  Her absence in our home is glaring and he will miss her deeply.  It was tough for freshman move-in day last year, but the distance feels greater as she travels the globe.

Here are five ways to support your partner through a temporarily challenging time:

1. Be a partner, not a parent.  My partner is an adult and he will recover.  I don't need to fix him, he is fully capable and will move through this difficult time and into happier days.  As his partner, though, I want to walk through it with him.  I want to be there, even for the grieving and sadness.  My desire is to be supportive and encouraging.  I want to be the one to elicit the smiles, smirks and laughter when he's moving forward.  He has so often been my steady and supportive companion and it is an honor to be the one there for him.

2. Be present and physical with your affection.  Check in often but don't feel like you always have to say something.  Silence may be better than words to fill the void.  Practice parallel togetherness, your partner will talk when ready.

3. Relieve the burden of some everyday tasks and responsibilities.  Provide space to process by taking care of the details for a while.  Decision-fatigue is real and can drain emotional resources that are already taxed.  Step and do the small stuff until your partner is feeling stronger.

4. Tell your partner how they can help you. While taking care of some things can be helpful, be aware of the line between supporting and enabling.  Simple phrases like, "I know you're hurting, are you up to driving the car line today?"  "It's been a rough week, I'd like to check out at the movies for a couple of hours, how about you?"  Letting him know that he matters and life moves forward can help pull him from a negative focus.  Remind of the good things in life, practice gratefulness, suggest activities he loves.

5. Take Care of Yourself.  Do a quick self-check to see if you are depending on your partner for your own well-being. Be content, non-demanding and offer grace.  Free your partner from the guilt of taking care of you caring well for yourself.  Sometimes I become a bit too enmeshed and allow the emotions of others' whom I care about to define my own.  It is crucial that I spend time in the ways that nurture me: nature, quiet, spiritual refreshment and the camaraderie of friends.

Let's be honest, life is hard and at times it's really hard.  Allow your partner to walk through difficult times with dignity.  There is no need to rush or placate him.  Avoid the temptation to make it about yourself and turn to others for your own support, if needed.  Let you partner know you are confident there are better days ahead and that you are loving him, praying for him and cheering for him through a difficult journey.

Loving someone means we can all survive the messy times and the relationship can be stronger because of the mutual support shared.