Dating, Engaged, or Married: Show Up For Your Partner in the Midst of Crisis

In young relationships, it can be difficult to know what your place is in the midst of heavy life events that may happen to your partner. In longer term marriages or relationships, many people still experience the “walking on eggshells” sensation when crisis hits. So…how do you show up for your partner in the midst of crisis? What’s the right way to respond? Here’s a few golden nuggets for you.

Don’t be the hero…just BE.

As the partner, it is not your responsibility to rescue, fix, or shelter your loved one from feelings of pain and discomfort or from difficult situations after a crisis has occurred. While it may lead YOU to feel more adequate as a partner, more purposeful, and more validated, those are not the right reasons to step in and take action. What your partner truly needs in the midst of difficult situations is compassion and empathy. Check out this great video by the renowned Brene Brown on the difference between Sympathy and Empathy. Very important stuff for relationships. Sometimes, just being there as your parter sheds tears is worth more than saying the right thing. You don’t need to be an expert of anything to do that.

“I’m Fine” may not mean they are fine.

Has there ever been a time when someone asked you if you were okay and, just to avoid a lengthy response or having to express your feelings, you acquiesce by saying “oh…fine”. Deep down, though, you knew you weren’t fine. Later, that could even lead to feelings of resentment because no one was there for you when X happened. 

It is always our own responsibility to let others in and to express our needs. But sometimes, “I’m fine” is all that one can muster. In the midst of crisis, some people are not even aware of their needs or feelings. So, as the partner, how do you work with this? You can’t force someone to open up. My recommendation is daily check-ins. A simple touch on the arm paired with an honest statement of “I know this is hard for you and I just want you to know that I’m here when you’re ready to talk, or if you need anything”. Texts are fine, but nothing can really surpass face-to-face communication, so be sure to prioritize that.

The key is to not let yourself get worked up or upset if your partner takes days, or even weeks, to open up to you. Healing occurs at a unique rate for each of us. Your partner will open up when they are ready. Believe me when I say that, even if they give you limited responses at your attempts to reach out and check-in, they hear every word you’re saying. They know you’re there. The acknowledgement may just come a little later.

When in doubt, ask.

You’ve only been dating for one month. Do you offer or ask to attend the funeral?

You’re not really sure what your wife needs. She’s become a recluse and, around family and friends, acts like everything is perfectly normal.

Your boyfriend just experienced a close loss, but acts completely un-phased by it and never talks about it. 

When in doubt, ask. You can either go around assuming that you know what your partner needs based on your own past experiences, but this could lead you way off course. The truth is, you will never know what your partner needs in life’s most challenging crisis and situations. 

My husband and I often playfully refer to one another as “our other half”, but the truth is, we will never truly know how each other internalizes and experiences difficult life events. There is nothing wrong with asking. I hear many people say, “if he/she really cared, he/she would know what to do/say”. Don’t put that on your partner. Let them ask, and help them understand. The most beautiful thing you can do for your partner is to let them in- especially in those moments when you most need, and vice versa.

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Liz Higgins, MS, LMFT Associate

I am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Associate in Dallas, Texas. I help millennial couples and individuals cultivate the best relationships and lives possible! I am also a relationship expert blogger and contribute relationship posts to Today.com, The Gottman Institute, Huffington Post, and more. I look forward to an opportunity to work with you on your journey towards growth, healing, and change. I am supervised by Dr. Ken Bateman, LMFT-S, LPC-S.