How To Make Your Partner Feel More Supported

partner mutuality

Mutual respect, mutual support, and mutuality are some of the most important cornerstones of having a healthy and strong relationship. Supporting each other equally can help both of you have a happy and more fulfilling relationship.

Key Points

Couples who feel unsupported by their partner may be missing a key ingredient that creates mutuality: providing support.

Positive relationships require openness to receiving support and being able to provide it to the other person.

Building relationship awareness involves developing an awareness of your feelings, desires, and goals and those of your partner.

Jill and Dan settle into opposite ends of the large sofa in my office, across from where I sit. They tell me they want help with a chronic dissatisfaction they both experience — about not getting the support they want and need from the other. I ask for examples, and both quickly jump in:

“You didn’t act very supportive at all that day my mother died,” Jill said. “That really hurt me, that you weren’t there for me. And you even went to a meeting that same night, instead of staying with me, when I needed you. It’s moments like that — I think you’re incapable of empathy, or on the spectrum.”

Dan replied, sounding a bit defensive and annoyed: “It was my alumni club meeting, I’m an officer, and the Congressman was the guest speaker. I felt a responsibility to be there. Of course, I knew you were hurting, and I left as soon as I could. Remember,” he continued, “I took over arranging the trip to the funeral for us and the kids, on short notice.”

“Big deal, Jill replied. What about just comforting me? I was crying all day, and you could have at least helped out with the children, given the state I was in. My friends were more supportive than you were.”

Dan responded, his voice rising, “Well actually, you weren’t supportive to me at all when my daughter was having that big crisis with her mother, and I had to step in to help work things out. I was dealing with a lot of stress and didn’t know what to do. But you were pretty cold-hearted and just said, “That’s your problem. It’s your ex and your daughter. Go deal with it.’”

Related: 7 Reasons Why Mutual Understanding Is More Important Than Love In A Relationship

Both Jill and Dan continued to describe their feelings of loss and disappointment over not receiving more emotional support from the other, around issues both big and small. And, they said, that had gotten worse over the years of their marriage.

They’ve begun to question if it’s headed to the graveyard. Of course, there are likely many issues in their relationship that have yet to surface, but this one — wanting support — is something they’re both very focused on. They say they want more support for their needs, both verbally and in action.

The Quest For Mutuality

Being open to receiving support is crucial for a connected, caring relationship. Research has found that being open to receiving emotional and social support is linked with greater health, overall. Neither Jill nor Dan are unreceptive or reluctant to receive it, as they so strongly point out.

But that’s only half of what’s needed for both positive relationships and physical health. The other half is being able to give direct support to the other person, not just receive it willingly. That’s different from telling each other what each isn’t getting from the other. It’s mutuality.

In fact, some new empirical research corroborates what we see clinically: Mutual support, and mutuality around differences and decision-making are necessary for a healthy relationship. For example, a new study from Ohio State looked at the effect of supporting each other in times of need, and how different forms of support impact overall health, an interesting connection. The study recognized that receiving social support from others is known to be a key to health. But the researchers investigated if giving support may also play an important role in health.

It does. They found that being willing to give social support — to your spouse, friends, and family — may be more important than just receiving it.

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Douglas LaBier, Ph.D.

Douglas LaBier, Ph.D., is a business psychologist, psychoanalytic psychotherapist, and writer. He has a long-standing interest in the psychology of the career culture, life challenges in our interconnected world, and the interplay between work and mental health – which he first wrote about in his book, Modern Madness. As a psychotherapist, he treats men and women, individuals and couples, with a particular focus on adult/midlife developmental issues. As a business psychologist, Dr. LaBier consults with senior executives, leaders, and career professionals on ways to create greater alignment between personal development and a positive leadership/management culture. He's published frequently in The Washington Post and other national publications and has appeared on national and local TV and radio. Dr. LaBier is currently developing a new book project about building psychological health and emotional resilience within today's interconnected, unpredictable world.View Author posts

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