When you're in a relationship, it's often tempting to focus solely on your partner. You love them and want them to be happy, and that means doing anything you can to be supportive. It's a sweet way to be, for sure. But it often comes at the expense of putting your own needs on the back burner.
This is obviously not ideal, and yet it's totally normal for supportiveness to skew in one person's favor. In fact, it can turn into quite the tricky balancing act. "There will be times when each person needs more, and there will be times when each person gives more," says Nicole Martinez, Psy.D., LCPC, in an email to Bustle. "Or, that should be how it works. When you run into trouble is when the relationship is constantly skewed in one direction. When one partner is always the taker, and not often the giver."
This unbalance can happen for any number of reasons, but the result is almost always the same — one of you will end up feeling ignored, unsupported, and maybe even a little resentful. Does this sound like what's going down in your relationship? Then read on for ways to be supportive of your partner, while also looking out for yourself.
1. Take Stock Of The Fairness
If things have been feeling a tad unbalanced, then pause to evaluate the give and take in your relationship. As Martinez says, "I think that people should be taking a frequent stock of their relationship [to] think about the balance and what they need to be doing to either balance things out, or give their partner the support they might be needing." Noticing when things have become unfair is the best place to start.
2. Don't Stop Being Supportive
If your SO totally sucks at being supportive, you'll likely feel some burning resentment — and maybe even a desire to cut off your loving, giving ways. While this reaction makes total sense, it's still not a good idea to "punish" your partner by withholding your support. What we're going for here is a situation where both of you feel supported, so it won't set much an example if you start acting just as selfish.
3. Ask For What You Need
Martinez told me that many people have a difficult time asking for what they need. And it's so true, isn't it? Even if you are feeling unsupported, it can feel incredibly difficult to speak up and let your SO know. But guess what — that's exactly what you need to do.
4. Realize You Deserve To Look Out For Yourself
Whether your partner is up on their supportive game or not, it's still important to look out for yourself. "Recognizing and attending to your needs is part of self-love and care," said wellness expert Kaylee Rupp on TinyBuddha.com. Continue being an awesome partner, while also starting to make your own needs a priority.
5. Start Off Small
In order to look out for yourself, it's not necessary to pretend your partner's needs don't exist. But you do want to slowly start shifting the focus back to yourself. If you don't know how to start, then start small, according to Rupp. Take an hour to yourself after work, sign up for that class you've been eyeing, or spend a weekend away with friends. Your SO will survive without your 24/7 attention, and you'll feel much better for having focused on yourself.
6. Spend Time With Your Friends
Part of being in a balanced relationship is maintaining some semblance of who you were before it all began. One of the best ways to do this is by spending time with friends, sans SO. "The way you interact with your friends when your boyfriend or girlfriend tags along is necessarily different — and less intimate — than when you show up solo," said lifestyle blog editor Sahaj Kohli on HuffingtonPost.com. Allow yourself that freedom. It's good for ya.
7. Have Separate Hobbies
In the same vein, keep on keepin' on with those solo hobbies. "It’s important to support each other’s interests — even and maybe especially when they aren’t shared," Kohli said. So don't feel guilty for hitting up the gym all by your lonesome, or going for a bike ride by yourself.
8. Keep Your Own Identities
The above two tips are all about keeping your own separate identities, and that's a totally good thing. "The goal in a relationship is to be close and still maintain an identity as a separate person," said Lisa Firestone, Ph.D., on Psychology Today. "When people are in an individuated state, they are happier and more optimistic. They have a stronger sense of themselves so they are capable of more intimacy, love and passion in their relationship."
9. Figure Out Your Own Future
This one may sound pessimistic, but it's actually very healthy to focus on your own future — even if the two of you plan to stay together forever. As Kohli said, "Spend some time charting short-term and long-term goals that have nothing to do with your significant other." This will remind you what's important to your life, career-wise, travel-wise, etc. You can still support your SO's goals, but these will be the things that you need accomplish, no matter what.
10. Be Secretly Supportive
You don't have to go overboard and exhaust yourself in order to be a supportive partner. In fact, a more subtle approach can actually be more beneficial. "According to recent research from Columbia University, 'invisible support' — giving someone a hand behind the scenes so that he doesn't even realize you're assisting him — boosts a person's mood and relaxes him," noted wellness writer Molly Triffin in Cosmopolitan. Pretty cool, right?
11. Don't Obsess Over Your Relationship
Yes, it's wonderful that you have someone you want to love and care for. But do make an effort to have parts of your day where you aren't obsessing over your relationship. This will leave you time to focus on yourself, and leave you feeling more refreshed (and willing) to be supportive when you come moseying on back.
By following these tips, you'll keep that all-important balance in your relationship where both you and your SO feel like your needs are being met. And what could be better than that?
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