Giving Emotional Support
© Rick Hanson, Ph.D., and Jan Hanson, L.Ac., 2005
Giving Emotional Support
My husband and I are polite and all, but our relationship feels sort of like doing business together rather than being mates. Honestly, I wish he was more supportive somehow, and I’m sure he secretly wishes the same from me.
Under the press of everything you have to do as a parent, combined with feeling tired and frazzled, it’s only natural to feel a little distant from your mate. But as the saying goes, “love is a verb,” which means that an intimate relationship ultimately rests on how we act toward our partner. Often it’s very small things that make a big difference.
Let’s assume that you and he are not doing negative things toward each other, such as yelling, calling names, threatening, hitting, belittling, or being cold and mean. On that foundation, here are four things you and he could focus on.
If either one of you does them, that will improve your relationship – and if both of you do them, all the better! It’s perfectly alright to directly ask your partner to give you emotional support – and perhaps even read this column – and of course that will go better if you are being supportive yourself.
This is as simple as the desire that your partner be happy and content, rather than distressed or suffering. This is good will, the opposite of ill will. It’s the attitude of compassion, kindness, and caring – the expression of the heart that says, “You matter to me, and I want things to go well for you.”
When we find this attitude, this wish inside ourselves and bring it to conscious awareness, our partner can sense that – and can see it in our eyes and hear it in our tone of voice. At the end of the day, this is perhaps the most important thing we want to from our family members: not so much whether they will give us this or that, but that they CARE how it goes for us.
This is the emotional understanding of what it’s like to be another person. Empathy is not agreement or approval or a waiving of our own rights. For example, imagine a political figure you dislike: it’s possible to open up to a sense of what it might be like to live inside his or her skin with wanting to vote for that person!
This means actively relieving the other person’s anxieties and giving encouragement that he or she will get through whatever challenge is being faced. Some of the great ways to do this include:
We all know what it feels like to be loving – even when we have to use our own will to bring up and express some lovingness that was not the first thing on our mind. For example, every parent has brought love to a child who was being stressful or irritating. We can certainly do the same for our mate. It’s just a matter of deciding to do so. Some people do this as a matter of spiritual practice; all the great religious teachers have talked about loving those who irk or wrong us. More conventionally, you can recall something that makes you appreciate or care for your partner. Or bring to mind a sense of his or her suffering, struggles, and yearning like all of us to be happy. Then act on that loving feeling in some appropriate way: often just a small gesture, maybe a back scratch, or a smile or gentle look. Those small moments, adding up day by day, help knit a relationship together for a lifetime.