Think of your relationship as a plant. Just like a plant needs air, water, sunlight, and space to grow, you and your partner need a few essential qualities to thrive as a couple. The most important of these is support because it has a domino effect on the other spheres of your life. Support in a relationship is best understood (and cultivated) when you get the fundamentals right.
A wise man once said that knowledge is power. So, let’s equip you with the right tools to enrich your bond with an understanding of emotional support in a relationship, with the help of clinical psychologist Devaleena Ghosh (M.Res, Manchester University), founder of Kornash: The Lifestyle Management School, who specializes in couples counseling and family therapy.
We are here to take you through the basic concepts of trust and support in a relationship with the hope that it will help you become a better, more supportive partner to your beau.
What Does A Supportive Relationship Feel Like? The Types Of Support In A Relationship
To fully comprehend the meaning of support in a relationship, you ought to know what it feels like in its healthiest, most wholesome form. A supportive relationship feels like having a cozy blanket wrapped around you on a chilly night. It lends a sense of safety and protection. Strangely, a need as basic as support is not met in many relationships or marriages. People remain locked in unions that don’t nourish them emotionally.
And the difference is quite evidently visible. A couple that supports each other is happier and more satisfied. In fact, a study from Carnegie Mellon University reported that people who experience support in a relationship flourish individually too; they are more willing to pursue opportunities that are rewarding in nature.
Devaleena says, “Everyone seeks support. Isn’t that why we enter a partnership or a marriage? Support is very elementary in the emotional connection shared by two people. It encompasses many areas ranging from respect to intimacy. Master the art of being supportive and the rest will fall into place. And the reverse holds true as well – when there’s a lack of support in a relationship, issues begin to spiral.”
For the collective health of society, as well as that of relationships across the globe, it is important to have conversations surrounding support. The first step in this direction is understanding the 4 kinds of support that we can lend to a loved one.
1. Emotional support
This is the support we offer most frequently to our family and friends. Empathy plays a key role in emotional support; it entails listening, being affectionate (often physically), and acknowledging the pain felt by the other. Hugs, holding hands, caressing, pecks on the cheek, etc. are all forms of emotional support. Maybe nothing can be done to change the situation that is causing sorrow but one can always show solidarity in small ways through emotional support in a relationship.
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2. Types of support in a relationship – Tangible support
Decisive action to aid another person during their rough patch is tangible support. They are the activities we carry out intending to help people by easing their burden. For example, picking up someone’s heavy luggage, cleaning a friend’s house, or making calls on someone’s behalf. Tangible support is overt, and hence, most easy to spot.
3. Esteem support
In simple words, esteem support comprises motivation and affirmation as a love language. This occurs when we encourage a person to believe in themselves by stating their strengths. Appreciating their positive traits and reinforcing the fact that they can overcome any challenges is very helpful. The person receiving esteem support experiences a boost in their self-competency.
4. Informational support
Also known as giving advice or guidance, informational support is given to people in need of a future course of action. It may consist of a few words of consolation but it primarily focuses on mapping out a way forward for the other person. We may associate informational support with troubleshooting. In fact, it’s exactly what I’m doing right now.
Are you with me so far? Excellent. Now that we have covered the types of support in a relationship, we can proceed to 7 fundamentals that you absolutely MUST know. The spectrum being covered is wide-ranging and multi-layered – pay close attention to what comes next!
What Are The Basic Fundamentals Of Support In A Relationship?
It is rare to come across a relationship quality that is not complex. Most of them are intertwined very deeply and this is what you can use to your advantage. Gaining clarity in one department results in the holistic development of the bond you share with your partner. In our case, we’re talking about support in a relationship and this umbrella term covers respect, empathy, growth, trust, safety, motivation, and affection.
My apologies for running ahead at full steam. We’ll take things one at a time to help you grasp and understand the fundamentals of support in a relationship in its entirety. Without further delay, let’s dive right into it. The question of the hour is – What are the components of trust and support in a relationship?
1. Respect begets support in a relationship
Devaleena says, “Respect is perhaps the most misunderstood concept in our society. We lend respect to someone in a position of authority or seniority but not to our partners. And without respect, it becomes very difficult to navigate through the differences in the relationship – and there will be many of them. No two people can see eye to eye at all times. Even if you’re cut from the same cloth, you’ll have a different make.
“Respect enters the frame when your partner makes choices you don’t necessarily agree with. This is when you support them regardless of your opinion because you respect the differences too. There is an acknowledgment of the partner’s needs and desires, trust in their decisions, and hope that the best will happen. It is imperative to move beyond conditional respect in a partnership.”
Criticizing their choices because they don’t seem like something you would make, is an indicator of a lack of support in a relationship. It is also a sign of disrespect when you invalidate something that your partner holds in high regard. To support is to respect – the person and the differences.
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2. Empathy – A vital element of emotional support in a relationship
Empathy is the ability to understand what your partner is experiencing. People are less quick to judge or critique when they have empathy for their better half. This is a very crucial component of support because you can’t be wholeheartedly supportive unless you put yourself in your partner’s shoes. It is when you share their experience that you realize the full depth of their predicament.
Devaleena explains, “You need lots of empathy for your partner. It is an important characteristic of a healthy relationship. Without it, you’re supporting someone superficially. Know their perspective, see things through their eyes, and then do the needful. Ask yourself – where are they coming from?’
Keep this in mind when you feel yourself getting frustrated with your partner. We recall the famous words of Harper Lee who wrote, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
3. Growth and support go hand-in-hand
Like we’ve said before, individuals in supportive relationships are healthier and happier. And isn’t this very natural? If I’m encouraged to try new things every day, I will eventually excel at one or more of them. This is because I will have a lot of room for trial and error. I will get the time to rectify my errors and perfect my skills. My progress might not be instant but it will surely happen.
And it doesn’t take much to be supportive of your partner’s decisions. Many couples offer emotional support in a long-distance relationship too. This is a key difference between selfish and selfless love – because an absence of support is usually a result of unwillingness rather than inability.
Make a mental note of the fact that mutual support in a relationship starts off a positive cycle; both partners grow into accomplished and happy individuals, they derive more satisfaction from the relationship, and ultimately, this strengthens their bond in the long run.
4. Trust is synonymous with support in a relationship
So much has been said about trust and its value. But why is it synonymous with support in a relationship? Because when partners experience support in the absence of judgment, they place faith in each other. They become their most authentic selves while realizing their full potential. This level of comfort promotes honesty in the relationship too.
Devaleena says, “Firstly, the two individuals drop any and all pretenses. They’re very true to themselves and each other. And secondly, this makes room for honest communication. When they learn to trust each other, the conversations stop becoming a boxing ring. They can talk to each other openly, gently, and speak their truth. Much can happen when you support each other in becoming your best versions.’
Sam Killermann said, “If you can do nothing else, do whatever is in your power to make the people in your life feel completely unashamed of who they are.” If your girlfriend wants to get a side-shave, accompany her to the salon. If your husband wants to become a stay-at-home dad, be fully supportive of his decision.
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5. What makes support in a relationship so important? Safety
A sense of security is a bear hug for your emotional health. Mutual support in a relationship tethers the partners to each other. There’s no scope for trust issues, unhealthy jealousy, or manipulation. It’s truly liberating to date someone after letting go of emotional baggage. You can channel your energy quite productively when you aren’t thinking of who your boyfriend texted.
When there is support in a relationship, partners become each other’s homes. They return to each other (or ‘touch base’ so to speak) and relax after a long day outside. Both of them stop worrying or overthinking about where they stand. Safety in a relationship is a solid foundation to build a life upon.
6. Support yields motivation
I know this seems pretty obvious to say but support is enormously empowering. Knowing that someone has your back at all times is a constant source of motivation. This is why individuals who struggle with mental health also benefit from a solid support system. A person could hit rock bottom but support in a relationship will get them back on their feet. They always know that there is a way to bounce back – that they can do it.
A reader from New Orleans wrote, “I’ve struggled with depression since I was 18 and maintaining a relationship hasn’t been easy. But then I found someone willing to be with me through it all. Even when we moved to different cities for work, he managed to give emotional support in a long-distance relationship. I could see the marked change in my mental health when I knew he believed in me. It’s true what they say, love does overcome everything.”
7. Affection blossoms with mutual support in a relationship
Physical affection and intimacy are key components of emotional support in a relationship. And these two are quite underrated. There are many health benefits of being physically affectionate; one study reported that warm contact with our partners can lead to greater cardiovascular health. Keep those hugs coming!
Kissing is also proven to reduce stress and release happy hormones. And need I elaborate on the importance of having great sex? The different types of support entail sexual compatibility and non-sexual intimacy too. Be sure to translate your supportive attitude into behavior as well. I cannot emphasize this enough – being touchy-feely is great.
And here we come to the end of our journey. The complete consequences of lack of support in a relationship must have dawned on you. Be sure to use this newfound knowledge to nurture your connection. But if you’ve spotted a few signs of damage due to an absence of support, please reach out to a mental health professional. Many couples have emerged stronger after seeking help; at Bonobology, we have a panel of licensed therapists and counselors who can guide you toward becoming better partners. We’re right here, rooting for you.