When you’re in a relationship, it’s not just physical intimacy that matters. It’s also not just about working out your finances and figuring out who does what household chores. Keeping your partner happy in your relationship should involve providing them with emotional and mental support, and this applies to both parties.
According to Her World’s What Women Want Survey 2020, women spend disproportionately more time on household chores (59 per cent overall) and caregiving duties (67 per cent overall) than men, regardless of age group, education level, job position, and weekly work hours. Notably, the burden of household chores is most prevalent among women aged between 40 and 49.
You might think that dividing the chores more equally would be the most straightforward solution. But get this: The survey also found that what women want most is for their partners to provide emotional and mental support.
Overall, 50 per cent of women surveyed wanted this, compared with 43 per cent for household chores, 31 per cent for caregiving duties and 29 per cent for finances. This underscores the importance of emotional and mental health in relationships.
The importance of emotional and mental support
Having emotional and mental support from your partner is beneficial for your relationship. Jean XM Chen, counsellor and director at Relationship Matters, explains that such support is a form of care: “It can be a comfort after a day of hard work, an affirmation for good work, an encouragement for down times and a shelter for difficult times.”
Cristina Gonzalez, psychologist at Alliance Counselling, describes emotional support as comprising many different aspects like empathy, validation, acceptance and care.
“In a good relationship, both partners feel that the other is a good source of support,” she adds. “When we show support to our partner in any of the above different ways, we build bonding; we are making the other feel that he or she is safe in the relationship.
We build a space of togetherness where both are accepted and in this space of safety, we can be ourselves with our strengths and our flaws. Feeling emotionally supported decreases fears and brings an opportunity to grow as a person, becoming a better version of ourselves.”
Here are some ways your partner can show emotional and mental support.
1. Give a hug
“If a picture can speak a thousand words, a hug can lift a thousand worries. If your partner is feeling low, a warm hug or a cuddle can create a safe haven,” says Jean.
2. Be an active listening ear
Jean advises to identify and convey to her the most poignant feeling that she is experiencing as she explains her situation to you. The most poignant feeling usually changes from anger to a more vulnerable feeling as she continues to narrate with your emotional support.
Validating her feelings by letting her know that her feelings make sense to you in the context of the situation can be very helpful. This may not mean that you agree with her (as no two persons can be the same), but that you can understand where she is coming from.
3. Communication is key
Devote time to listen to your partner in an active, non-judgmental way. “Listening should be a very active action.” says Cristina. “Ask her questions if you need more clarification and show her with your body language that you are listening (leaning towards her, nodding, etc.) Don’t assume what she needs or wants from you. Ask her first and don’t give her unsolicited advice.”
How you talk to your partner is important too. Jean advises to use a gentle tone as the tone used to validate your partner’s feelings may matter more than the words itself. For example, saying ‘I understand how you feel’ in an annoyed tone is probably less supportive than a patient tone that says: “Can you help me understand how you feel?” or “I do wish to hear you though I may disagree with you.”
4. Actions matter too
Show her with frequent small actions that you are there for her. Cristina reveals that research shows successful long-term relationships are all about small but frequent and consistent gestures, words and rituals. (eg. a good morning kiss, a post-it note in her wallet, a spontaneous loving WhatsApp message etc.)
5. Be interested in her life
Make sure that you know at least one thing that is going to happen in her day. “One of the daily rituals that you can incorporate in the morning is asking each other what his/her day is going to look like. If she is nervous about something that is going to happen in her day, check in on her later to let her know that you are thinking of her,” says Cristina.
She also suggests making time to be with her when she’s going through difficult times, such as doctor appointments. Don’t assume what might be difficult and what might not; just ask her. Give her undivided attention during those moments and if you’re unsure about your role, ask her for her expectations.
6. Never side with the enemy
If your partner is going through difficult times with someone, be supportive, validate her perspective and her emotions, and never side with the enemy challenging her perspective or emotions. “If you think that it might be useful for her to hear what in your opinion may be the other person’s view, don’t do it before validating your partner’s emotions,” says Cristina.
7. Don't offer solutions and opinions, unless solicited
Jean says that it’s usually not solutions that she needs but a sense that she is understood by you. The emotional support you provide can give her the strength to come up with her own solutions and build emotional resilience.
8. Let her understand that her negative feelings affect you
Help her to understand that it matters to you that she feels better after you have tried to provide support, that she matters to you and so you hope for her to be happy. She may also not be aware that you feel helpless and upset too whenever she feels emotionally down, says Jean.
Additionally, help her to understand that you need her support too. “It will be great if you can express to her in a vulnerable manner that you need her appreciation and acknowledgment for the support that you try to give her.
If you hope for her to be a listening ear for you too, feel free to let her know. It is probably everyone’s hope to be needed and appreciated, regardless of our gender and social roles,” Jean adds.
This article was first published in Her World Online.