Relationships are two way streets. Whether it’s a family member, friendship, or romantic relationship, each person has to do their part. It’s really important to learn how to be supportive in a relationship if you want to keep that person around.
If your friend or partner is going through a hard time in life, it’s even more important that you know how to give emotional support when the person you care about is in distress.
This guide will show you exactly what to do and say to offer support to a loved one in trying times.
How to Be Supportive In Your Relationships
So many of us feel completely alone when we’re going through hard times. In most societies there is a lot of shame associated with admitting that we are struggling and need help.
If you know someone you care about is going through something, let them know that you are there if they need you.
You don’t have to have personal experience with their challenge to be there for them, and you don’t have to have advice or a solution. You can just listen and tell them that you care and will be there for them.
Offer to listen without judgement. You might tell them some of the following phrases:
- I’m here to listen if you want to talk.
- How can I support you right now?
- I’m really proud of you.
- I believe you.
- I support you no matter what.
- Can I help you find a professional to talk to? (if you feel the situation calls for it)
Here is a great list of mental health resources if you think your friend, family member, or loved one needs more help.
Validate Their Feelings
Sometimes the thing we need most is to know that it’s ok to feel how we feel. We’re taught that it’s bad to express negative feelings so we feel shame when we’re struggling to cope with a difficult situation.
Little boys are told “stop crying like a baby” when they’re sad, and girls are told they’re weak when they express emotion. Our whole society props up “strong” men (they’re allowed to feel anger, but not sadness) and calls women crazy or hysterical when they show emotion.
We need to acknowledge and validate our emotions so that we can process them instead of stuffing them down where they fester inside of us until we explode or breakdown.
So when your friend or partner is feeling hurt, confused, or vulnerable we need to create a safe space for them to express how they’re feeling without judgement.
Say something like the following:
- I would struggle with this decision too.
- That sounds really hard.
- You have every right to feel upset.
- You don’t deserve to be treated this way.
- It’s normal to feel this way after what happened.
Telling them that their feelings are justified and they’re not crazy or stupid will go a long way towards making them feel better about whatever is going on.
Make the Moment About Them
Create space for them to express themselves and vent without making the moment about you.
If you have something pressing to do, tell them “I want to be there for you but I have an important time sensitive task to do right now, can we talk as soon as I’m done?” And then call or show up when you say you will.
Give them your undivided attention. Listen, make eye contact, and don’t be on your phone or start zoning out.
They need to feel like they’re important to you and that it’s a safe space for them to be vulnerable.
Be Their Cheerleader
The best way to how to be there for someone who is struggling is to let them know that you have their back. Encourage them, give them hope, and assure them that their best is enough.
You might say one or more of the following supportive statements:
- You’re doing the best anyone could with this challenge.
- I admire how you’re dealing with this situation.
- You’re not alone. You’re strong enough to get through this and I’m here to help you.
- It’s not your fault this happened.
- I know it doesn’t feel like it now, but you’ll get through this and I’ll be by your side.
Offer Advice Only if Asked
Being supportive in a relationship doesn’t always mean offering advice. Sometimes people just need to vent without having advice or opinions thrown at them. Wait for that person to ask you for advice or help.
If they do ask for advice, make sure it’s practical and useful. Sometimes people make suggestions that are well meaning, but not really rooted in reality or possible to do in the moment.
If it’s not something you could do, don’t expect them to be able to. If you don’t know if it’s actually possible, don’t offer it as a solution because it may not be one.
If it’s a problem you have experience solving before, by all means share that advice and offer to help.
Just be careful not to give them unrealistic suggestions that they can’t act on because it will only increase their frustration.
Also don’t say something like “if you had listened to me this wouldn’t have happened,” if you warned them about something and it did happen. It’s not helpful and only makes them feel worse.
Check In Later
Finally, be sure to check in on them later to let them know you are thinking of them. Someone’s struggle might not be over and done in a few days or week, they might still need some emotional support later on.
Call, text, or send a care package. Just make sure they know that you’re still thinking about them and there for them if they need help.
How to Make Someone Feel Better Over Text
Here are a few things you can say over text if you aren’t able to physically be with a friend who’s having a hard time:
- I’m sorry you’re going through this right now. How can I support you?
- I’ve been thinking about you and I want you to know that I’ll help you any way I can.
- This must be really hard for you, I would feel the same way in your place.
- You don’t have to respond but I want you to know I’m thinking of you.
- I just want you to know that you’re not alone, I’m here for you.
- I’m happy to meet up if you need to talk in person.
Don’t press for them to talk if they don’t want to, just let them know you care.
Avoid These Relationship Mishaps
Interrupting Their Story to Talk About Yourself
This is not the time to jump into your own issues. Your job is to listen and offer support.
If you need to vent, do it after they’ve finished but be sensitive to if your issue would overload them. They might not be able to handle any more stress.
Your needs are also important, just read the room and see if that is the time and place for you to talk about yourself.
Dismissing Their Feelings
The last thing someone who is struggling needs is to have their feelings invalidated. It will just make them feel worse and hurt the trust between you.
Avoid saying things like:
- It’s not that bad.
- You’re overreacting.
- Why don’t you calm down.
- This isn’t that big of a deal.
- Just move on.
- You’re being too sensitive.
- It could be worse.
Playing Devil’s Advocate
If someone you care about has been hurt by another person, don’t try to play devil’s advocate and take that person’s side.
It’s one thing to say, “well maybe (the person who hurt them) meant it this way,” to offer an alternative perspective if maybe there was a miscommunication, but don’t attempt to justify what that person did if there is even the slightest possibility that person had bad intentions.
This is done a lot especially when women have been treated badly by men and it can be extremely hurtful.
Don’t say things like, “but they’re always nice to me,” “he would never do that,” or “maybe he was just having a bad day.”
If someone says a male coworker or superior made an inappropriate comment don’t say things like, “I’m sure they were just joking,” or “I bet they do that with everyone.”
Women know when men have bad intentions. Don’t make excuses for sleazy, aggressive, or threatening male behavior, ever.
Ghosting Them Until They’re “Fun” Again
To be supportive in a relationship you have to actually be there either physically or emotionally. Unfortunately there are people who tend to abandon their friends who are going through something very difficult until that friend can be “fun” again.
It can be hard to know what to do and say when someone you care about is struggling. It can make us want to retreat to avoid the uncomfortable feelings. That maybe the easy option, but it’s a very unkind one for the person who is going through something really hard.
If you’re only in a relationship for the fun times, but you’d want that person to be there for you during your struggles, you have to ask if that’s the kind of person you really want to be.
If you’re not sure how to be there for someone, ask them what they need. Bring them a meal or care package to let them know you care.
You don’t have be perfect, just be there.