One of the most common problems that couples coming to counselling have is that they don’t feel that their partners support or encourage them. Feeling like you’re not being heard or understood can add frustration and dissatisfaction with your relationship on top of whatever issue you were seeking support for in the first place.
Frequently, when we need support or encouragement from our partners, we are already in a heightened state of stress or emotion. Whether it’s trouble at work, with our kids or our friends, when we’re at the point of seeking support from our partners, we’re not in a position to objectively consider their response. We react to their feedback quickly and from our emotional centre, not our logic and reason centre.
And recent research has shown that this is not helped if our partners aren’t providing the right type of support.
We’ve all been there: we just want to rant and rave about our situation and a partner (or friend or parent) is offering practical advice and solutions. But we don’t want solutions! We want to vent!
This can be incredibly frustrating and increase, not decrease, our stress response hormones. It can leave us feeling unsatisfied and annoyed with our partner for not being responsive to our needs.
A recent study has found that, in women in particular, even if partners were providing support and encouragement, if they were not providing the right type of support, their cortisol levels increased and they felt worse after interacting with their male partners. These women also reported that they thought that their partners had not been responsive.
According to one of the researchers, Nicole Cameron from Binghamton University:
“Say a husband is giving advice to his wife when she has a problem. Even though giving advice is a constructive thing to do, it may not be helpful to her at the moment; maybe she just wants someone to listen to her. Or maybe there could be the opposite, where the husband is being more of a supportive listener but the wife really wants someone to give her some advice. All of those things are positive, but one is going to have a better effect than the other. What this tells me is that social support is more idiosyncratic and specific to the person and the problem.”
This research shows that it is important for couples to understand and identify how they prefer to be supported so that their partner can provide the right response and type of support. This allows couples to capitalize and make the most of the positive effects of being supportive in relationships.
Some common signs that you’re not receiving the right kind of support are:
- Increased frustration and exasperation – if a conversation where you’re seeking support turns into an argument, it’s usually a pretty clear indication that communication and understanding has broken down.
- Making excuses – if your partner is providing practical and constructive advice and you are knocking back or refuting each piece of advice or solution, it usually means that you don’t want a solution, you want your partner just to be a supportive listener (or vice versa).
- Feeling lost and unsatisfied – similarly, if you finish a “supportive” conversation with your partner and you feel more lost and confused than when you started, it may be because you needed some practical advice, and received only a sympathetic shoulder.
While it can be difficult, watching for these signs and identifying when you’re not receiving the right kind of support can help you to address your feelings of being unsupported in your relationship. It can be as simple as saying:
- “thank you for your advice, but I really just need you to listen and support me at the moment”; or
- “thank you for listening, but I’d really appreciate it if you could help me come up with a solution to this problem.”
Acknowledging that your partner is trying to be supportive and then telling them what you need respects their feelings and also allows you to receive the support you need.
Relationship counsellors and therapists can help couples to improve their communication about their support needs and preferences. Through asking the right questions and identifying whether the issue is a lack of support entirely or failing to provide the preferred type of support, counsellors can help couples to implement simple strategies to improve support and encouragement in relationships.
If you think you or your partner need help building a supportive and loving relationship, call Sue now on 0439 060 663 or book an appointment here.
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