7 Ways to Help Your Spouse Through a Tough Time

By Lauren Hall
June 27, 2024

I made a mistake in my marriage last week. 

My husband’s been having some challenging conversations at work lately. As he caught me up on the most recent happenings, I shared what I would have done differently. I know this is not what he needed at that moment. It also goes against what we typically teach and coach couples to do at First Things First. Nevertheless, I felt he needed to hear it for some reason, and who better to tell him than me? I charged on.

He became frustrated with me and suggested we take a break from talking about it. He also stated he would deal with it on his own because he felt unsupported and unheard by me at the moment. Ouch. Also, he had every right to feel angry.

When life throws curveballs, the impact affects our closest relationships. Whether it’s a career change, health crisis, or personal struggle, supporting a spouse or partner through difficult times is both hard and crucial for the well-being of each individual and the relationship as a whole. Here are some tangible tips to support and help your partner navigate tough times while also strengthening your connection.

1. Listen actively.

Active listening is more than just hearing words; it’s about understanding the emotions and thoughts behind them. According to Dr. John Gottman, a psychologist known for his work on marital stability, active listening and empathy require these key elements:

  • Maintaining eye contact to show you are fully present.
  • Nodding and using verbal affirmations like “I see” or “I understand.”
  • Reflecting on what you’ve heard to ensure clarity.

2. Offer emotional support without judgment.

Your partner needs to feel safe sharing their vulnerabilities. Dr. Brené Brown emphasizes the importance of vulnerability in building connections. Offering a non-judgmental space where your partner can express their feelings without fear of criticism can significantly alleviate their stress.

3. Be patient and give them space.

Sometimes, the best support is giving your partner the space they need. According to a study published in the Journal of Family Psychology, couples who allow each other autonomy during stressful times report higher relationship satisfaction. This means recognizing when your partner needs alone time or space to process their emotions independently.

4. Assist with practical needs.

When your partner is overwhelmed, day-to-day tasks can become burdensome. Offering to take on extra responsibilities, such as household chores, managing finances, or running errands, can significantly reduce their stress. Research by the American Psychological Association indicates that practical support can alleviate stress and improve overall well-being, especially during mentally or emotionally taxing seasons.

5. Encourage professional help.

If your partner’s difficulties seem impossible for you to help them to work through, encouraging them to seek professional help can be the best next step. Therapy or counseling provides a structured environment to address complex emotions and develop coping strategies. Therapy can be especially beneficial for those dealing with prolonged stress, depression, or anxiety.

6. Maintain open and honest communication.

Keeping the lines of communication open is vital. A study from the University of Georgia found that couples who regularly engage in open, honest communication are better equipped to handle stress. This involves checking in regularly, discussing feelings openly, and being honest about your own needs and limits.

7. Celebrate small victories.

Acknowledging and celebrating small achievements can provide a significant morale boost. Whether it’s completing a project, sticking to a new routine, or simply getting through the day, recognizing these victories can foster a sense of progress and hope.

One bonus tip from personal experience: Apologize when needed.

We all make mistakes. We all fail to meet each other where we are from time to time. When my husband let me know he didn’t feel supported by my words and actions, I quickly apologized and told him I’d do better next time. I asked for clarity on what I could do to support him. In the end, this hiccup has made our relationship stronger and it’s helped me to better understand my husband’s needs. I hope the learnings from our experience can guide you through challenging times in your relationship as well.

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