How to Be a More Supportive Spouse

Here are some tricks to help them feel your support.
By Chris Ownby
March 12, 2021

You want to get a degree. Your spouse wants to lose some pounds.  

You want to stop smoking. Your spouse wants to start gardening. 

You want to tap into your artistic talents. Your spouse wants to tap dance. 

And you, being the committed, loving spouse that you are, want to be fully supportive. 

But, if you’ve had any experiences like mine, you know that the effort to be supportive can sometimes blow up in your face. You said that one thing you thought would be encouraging, but somehow you left limping away after a good lashing. I was only trying to help! 

And after licking your wounds, you’re left to wonder: How in the world can I be supportive? Is it even possible? 

Well, you can be a supportive spouse if you remember a few things: 

Goals are emotionally-charged.

Anything we set out to accomplish carries the risk of setbacks and failure. It’s easy to worry we aren’t going to do what we hope. In turn, our insecurities are on high alert. One small word, one slight inflection in your voice, has the potential to make your spouse feel great or horrible. Awareness of this helps you gauge the kind of support your spouse needs from you. 

Understand what your spouse wants from you.

Your idea of support may not be theirs. If your spouse asks you to support them, find out what they mean by support. Ask how they picture you being fully supportive. If they share something they want to accomplish but don’t ask for support, ask, “Is there a way I can support you that would be helpful?”

Hear the kind of support your spouse doesn’t want from you.

There’s encouragement, and then there’s accountability. Both are important. But they’re different. Accountability means your spouse wants someone to check in regularly on their progress and acknowledge with them when they’ve fallen short. Encouragement is cheering them and letting them know you are right beside them in their efforts. You’ve got this. I believe in you. You can do this. I’ve learned that encouragement is almost always a welcome way to support my spouse. Accountability… well, that could be a different story. Ultimately, it’s up to them which they need from you. 

Others can often say what a spouse can’t.

There are supportive words my wife’s best friend can say that would not be effective coming from me. She can invite my wife to join her at the gym and be okay; it would only make for an awkward rest of the day if I said it. Your spouse still needs you to support them in ways they feel safe. But it can be good to encourage your spouse to add another person to the support staff. 

Compliment the positive changes.

I can remember vividly when my wife told me, “I can tell your stomach is looking flatter.” I was ecstatic. That was years ago, and my stomach is no longer flat. But when I am trying to shorten the waistline some, I think back and remember her words. And it makes me want to try even harder. 

Words are powerful.

I can really tell your painting is improving! Your clothes are fitting looser! I noticed you haven’t had a cigarette in two weeks! You’re doing great! 

Your spouse needs you to be supportive.

But they need you to support them in a way that’s valuable to them. It’s easy to fall into the trap of showing support with the hope of receiving gratitude. (Oh, sweetie, thank you for telling me I missed leg day; you’re so supportive!) But your support is ultimately there to help your spouse be a better version of themselves as they see it. 

Now go compliment them on their development of tap-dancing skills! 

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