In order for a relationship to be a happy and healthy one, it's crucial for couples to have a foundation of mutual trust, respect, and support — but when you have a partner who never stands up for you, it's difficult to feel truly supported in your relationship. Especially as the holidays approach and you prepare to navigate potentially contentious situations with each other's families (because what family *doesn't* get into spats over Thanksgiving?), it's important to feel like you're truly part of a team with your partner. That way, when disagreements with others inevitably pop up, you won't be left feeling alone and unsupported by the person who's supposed to be your partner in all things, good and bad.
"When your partner doesn’t stand up for you, there’s a chipping away at the foundation of trust in the relationship," New York–based relationship expert and author April Masini tells Bustle. "Being in a relationship means you can count on each other. But if your partner doesn’t stand up for you — either in private or in public — there’s a dissolution of trust. And that dissolution of trust allows negativity and anger to creep into the relationship. True partnership and respect means standing up for your partner because they’re your partner, even when you disagree."
As nice as it would be if everyone always got along with one another, the reality is that there will be occasions when you disagree or even outright argue with someone close to your partner. But whether it's their best friend, their mother, or even a total stranger, in the event that an argument gets heated and someone is being disrespectful towards you, it's important for your partner to shut it down — even if that means standing up to their own friends or family.
Why Is It So Hard To Stand Up To Friends And Family?
For anyone who is averse to conflict, the thought of a significant other feuding with a friend or family member can be downright nerve-wracking: no one wants to feel caught in the middle of a conflict, especially between two people you care about. But as difficult as it may be, part of being in a relationship means being willing to make your partner your number one priority, even if that means telling off another person you're close with for disrespecting your partner.
"From birth, we're on our family's 'team' [and] when a rift occurs between a romantic partner and the family, it can be very damaging for all involved," Amica Graber, a relationship expert for the background checking site TruthFinder, tells Bustle. "Don't expect your partner to automatically take your side. It can be hard for someone to stand up against their parents, especially if they've never set any boundaries with their family."
While your partner might have no qualms confronting a stranger who disrespects you, things get a little trickier when it's a family member or friend (because many friends are *like* family) that your partner needs to stand up to. They might feel they're being 'disloyal' by openly voicing support for you instead of for their family, but your partner should want to present a united front with you, their chosen life partner — regardless of whether or not they agree with you in the moment.
"It should be said that being romantically involved with someone doesn't always mean that you take their side," Graber says. "Although a partner should be honest with you about their reservations in private, they shouldn't express those doubts in public."
Your partner doesn't have to 'back you up' in the sense that they blindly jump into any argument and agree with everything you say. There's also no need to get into the details of an argument to shut it down: rather, standing up for your partner is as simple as saying, 'I don't like the way you're speaking to my partner; we're going to remove ourselves from the situation to calm down and we will reach out when we're ready to talk again.'
The Negative Effects Of Having A Partner Who Doesn't Stand Up For You
Even though it might take some practice to feel comfortable standing up to your friends and family on your partner's behalf, it's such a crucial skill to learn if you want your relationship to remain solid. If one partner constantly feels let down or unsupported by the other, they might start to wonder if there's a bigger issue, like a lack of respect and loyalty — something that can breed resentment and eventually cause the relationship to crumble.
"If someone repeatedly fails to stand up for you, you may start to question their loyalty and start to develop resentment towards them," Graber says. "If someone can't support you during an external conflict, they probably aren't going to support you in any other areas of your future, such as your career or having a family. You have to ask yourself if that's truly a relationship you want to be a part of."
If you're feeling attacked and defensive during a conflict and your partner stays silent — or worse, diminishes your thoughts/feelings — it can be extremely upsetting and confusing. No one wants to feel abandoned by their partner during a difficult situation, and a huge part of creating trust in a relationship comes from proving, through time and example, that you'll both be there to defend and support each other, no matter who you're up against.
"Creating trust is the whole point of offering emotional/physical/intellectual spiritual support," Hanalei Vierra, Ph.D., MFT, tells Bustle. "If this kind of support is missing in a relationship, trust will be compromised and the person slighted will feel alone in the relationship."
As with all things in a relationship, you can only be on the same page with your partner about what kind of support you both need by openly communicating your expectations. Does your partner want you to show solidarity by physically leaving the room with them when things get heated? Would you prefer your partner set more boundaries with their family or friends about how they interact with you? Whatever it is that you need more of, you can only get it by telling your partner.
"A couple who is truly a team in their relationship will have great communication skills," Graber says. "As a result, when one partner feels like they need support in a specific area — like a dispute with a mutual friend — they'll find a way to communicate their need and their partner should listen and respond accordingly. Being a team doesn't always [mean] fighting the other person's battles on their behalf. But it does involve offering support and listening to your partner's perspective on the situation."
How To Tell Your Partner You Need More Support From Them
Although every scenario in which one of you needs support will be unique, the basic notion of what it means to have your partner's back doesn't change. According to Vierra, the best way to navigate any conflict with your partner (both conflicts outside the relationship as well as within it), is to voice your support for the underlying feelings your partner is experiencing, regardless of whether or not you agree with their exact point-of-view.
"Let your partner know, 'I can totally see why you feel the way you feel about this,'" Vierra says. "Then add, 'I happen to have a different opinion about the particular details of this, but that does not discount what you are feeling and the value your feelings have.'"
In short, being understanding, empathetic, and willing to outwardly display your loyalty to your partner is all it takes to make each other feel supported in a relationship. But if your partner refusing to take your side or stand up for you to others is a recurring pattern that you've noticed in your relationship, is the relationship still salvageable?
"Being unwilling to defend a significant other doesn't necessarily mean that someone is being disrespectful or ignoring your feelings," Graber says. "They might be extremely averse to conflict. But if someone repeats the same behavior repeatedly without being willing to work on it, it may be a sign that you're incompatible — especially if a lack of loyalty is a deal-breaker."
If you've communicated your desire to have your partner stand up for you more often and haven't seen any change in their behavior, that could be a sign that they really don't prioritize your feelings. At that point, it's up to you to decide whether you want to stay with someone who would rather create friction in your own relationship than with others — or whether you want to move on and find someone who is willing to be your teammate no matter what.
"A couple who demonstrates mutual support will be a longer-lasting and happier couple," Graber says. "Life will always throw challenges at you, and being able to manage the small ones will help prepare you for the big ones. Facing challenges together will be nearly impossible without offering mutual support. Having someone who is willing to fight for you, metaphorically speaking, increases feelings of love and security in a relationship."
One of the best parts of being in a happy, healthy, mutually supportive, long-term relationship? The comfort of knowing that you're tackling life with someone who will always put you first and stick up for you when the going gets tough — and that's a feeling that's worth searching for... even if that means starting over with someone new.