Some want their partners to roll up their sleeves and dive right into problem-solving mode when they’re stressed, while others want their partners to be quiet and listen. No matter what your partner’s preferred method of comfort is, there are lots of techniques you can try to help your partner when they’re feeling overwhelmed. I asked seven relationships experts how to be comforting when your partner is stressed, and though their advice varied in technique, they were all similar in tenor: Be kind. Stay calm. Do not allow yourself to become dragged into the drama.
My favorite tip is simple: Don’t assume anything. “I honestly think that each couple should have a talk before things have ever come to this point,” psychologist Nikki Martinez tells Bustle. That way, in moments of extreme stress, you “know how to best help,” says Martinez, because you’ve already asked, and you “know what works” for your partner.
If you haven’t had this conversation, don’t worry. It’s not too late to ask in the moment. “It is still OK to ask them what they need from you right now, and what would help them the most in this moment” of deep stress, Martinez says.
Being comforting doesn’t come easy for everyone, and there is the chance that you say the wrong thing. So, if you need some tips, here are six other things to do when your partner is overly stressed.
Consider Your Partner’s Personality
Comforting your partner when they’re stressed isn’t as easy as telling them to just meditate or take a nice long bath. You know your partner best, so consider their personality traits before jumping in to help. Always keep in mind that you and your partner are not the same people. How you like being comforted during stressful times might not be the same as your partner.
As Christine Scott-Hudson, licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Bustle, introverted partners may need time alone to process their feelings and might prefer to think or journal before discussing their problems with you. An extroverted partner may prefer to talk out their worries and feelings right away and might need a more dynamic conversation about their concerns to comfort. Ambiverts may default to either introversion or extroversion, depending on the situation. “Ask them what would be most helpful for them,” Scott-Hudson says.
Validate Their Concerns
Regardless of where your partner falls on the introversion-extroversion scale, one of the best ways to support them is to validate their concerns. According to Scott-Hudson, validation sounds like, “I understand. That sounds scary,” or “It must be really hard. How can I best support you with this?”
Invalidation, on the other hand, sounds like, “Well, on the bright side, you never had it as bad as me,” or “Don’t be so worried, it’s not that bad.” You may be trying to help, but bringing up your own experiences or trying to play down their concerns can make them feel worse. You want to make sure your partner feels seen and heard. So listen deeply, allow them to vent, and validate their concerns. If they ask for your opinion, then it’s OK to offer up words of advice.
Practice Active Listening
When you’re listening to your partner’s worries, some of it may not sound rational to you. As Scott-Hudson says, “Anxiety is not always rational. In fact, it mostly isn’t.” Try to be understanding and validating their experience even if you don’t fully understand why they’re feeling a certain way. Your partner will feel your impatience and judgment whether you say it out loud or not. So don’t try to analyze their situation in the moment.
Instead, be there for them by listening to what they have to say. “When actively listening, you are asking clarification questions where needed, repeating your understanding of what your partner is saying and acknowledging with direct eye contact and verbal cues,” psychotherapist Alicia Henry, LCSW, tells Bustle. Sometimes a person just needs to feel like they’re being heard. Active listening will help you do that for your partner.
The best thing you can do when your partner is crawling the wall is to just be calm with them, psychotherapist Rachel Astarte tells Bustle. “Hold space,” says Astarte, who offers transformational coaching for individuals and couples at Healing Arts New York. “When our partners are sad or upset, it’s a common desire to alleviate that suffering.” It’s natural to want to find a solution to their problem as soon as possible, but that could sometimes do more harm than good.
Instead of trying to change the way they feel, just be there with them. “Especially in the initial stages of freak out mode — usually when your partner is expressing how he or she feels — just listen,” she says. “Create a safe place for your beloved to vent. Chances are it’s temporary, and sometimes just by virtue of being heard, your partner will feel better.”
It may sound simple, but those three little words can go a long way. “My husband has a wonderful way of comforting me when I start losing it,” relationship coach Cindi Sansone-Braff, author of Why Good People Can’t Leave Bad Relationships, tells Bustle. “He looks at me, smiles, and says, ‘I love you,’ and then asks, ‘What can I do to help you?’”
Even if your partner doesn’t have an answer, they will feel comforted by your love — and your willingness to help. “Whether he can do anything to help the situation or not, his loving, supportive, kind response just makes me feel a hell of a lot better,” Sansone-Braff says. It can be super comforting to know that you have someone on your side who’s going to be there for you no matter what. So if you’re stuck on what to say or do, just tell your partner, “I love you.” That should help brighten their mood.
Do Something Thoughtful For Them
If your partner is feeling stressed, get them a card, gift, flowers, or anything that puts a smile on their face. “Smiling has been shown to regulate intense negative emotions instantaneously,” Elisabeth Goldberg, licensed couples and family therapist, tells Bustle. “People really feel happy when they know that others are taking their feelings seriously.”
You can also ask them if there’s anything specific they need to be done like their share of the household chores. It’s your opportunity to lighten their load a bit, so they’re not so overwhelmed.
“It’s simple but powerful, but almost every one of our clients speaks to wanting more support,” Shasta Townsend, relationship expert, and author, tells Bustle. “If you take the lead and just help your partner with things like doing the dishes, making dinner, vacuuming, or even bringing them a coffee, it demonstrates your willingness and support, and many people crave that now more than ever.”
It all comes down to asking your partner what they need. If all they need is space to themselves, then don’t be pushy and give it to them. As long as you acknowledge your partner’s feelings and make them aware that you have their back, they will turn to you when they need to.