Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Support Dissonance

What does support look like in a relationship?  Do men and women show support for each other differently?  Which is more important - emotional support or visible support?  The answer is: It depends, yes, and both.

Being in a relationship for over 6 years has helped me figure out what type of support is needed for various situations.  I find myself needing more emotional support than he does, such as encouragement when I'm distressed (argument with mom for the billionth time), probing questions to help me understand a complex situation (why do I feel guilty for leaving the teaching profession?), and just the optimistic voice of reason when all seems lost (J: Of course, one day you'll figure out your life's career path.  Now how about we get some ice cream?). 

J, on the other hand, requires less emotional support.  His need for support comes in the form of space and nonverbal agreement, such as giving him time to watch mindless basketball and TV after a rough day at Walgreens (he works as a pharmacist, which surprisingly, is a lot more stressful than people realize), nodding in agreement as he mouths off about some jerk he encountered that day, and NOT trying to engage in a heart to heart when he's feeling down and upset (J: Babe, I just need to go to the gym right now, ok?).

The funny thing is that it took us nearly 6 years to figure all of this out.  In the past, arguments have spurred from the simple matter of not understanding the other person's type of support.  When I was upset, he would assume I needed space because that was how he dealt with those emotions.  I took that as a sign of him not caring because when he was upset, I would smother him with trying to talk, talk, talk.  Because that's what I like to do when I need support - blab my worries into oblivion.

The take home message is that not everybody needs support in the same way.  And if your partner doesn't give you what you need, it's not because he/she doesn't care (hopefully that's not the case), it's because he hasn't yet figured out what you need and how to show it.  And that takes lots of communication, lots of time, and lots of trial and error.  People tend to give support in the way they would like to receive it. Unfortunately, that's where a lot of the problem stems from.  We begin to assume that's what the other person wants.

Try to figure out what type of support your partner needs and actually try to give it, especially when it's different from your own.  I promise it's harder than it sounds, but also all the more rewarding.

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