The Four Pillars of Emotional Support: Holiday Edition
Is the holiday season an emotionally stressful or triggering time for yourself or your partner? Unfortunately, it often goes overlooked that this period can be more painful than joyful for some people.
Whether it’s a reminder of loved ones no longer with us, estrangement from family members, or even just emotional exhaustion from the long days and activities, it can be a challenging time for many.
Here are four key ways to be a great and supportive person this holiday season. If you’re one of the people who struggles, share this article with your friends and family as a way to help them support you.
It is so important to be a good listener. Aim to put aside your own feelings and issues and be really present and engaged in your listening. Try not to listen just as a way to gather enough information to respond appropriately. Try to really listen and hold space – regardless of the outcome. A lot of the time people just need a safe space to vent, and they aren’t actually looking for advice or solutions to their problems. A simple, “that sounds so challenging, I’m sorry you’re going through that,” often works perfectly.
When we listen to understand and empathize, instead of to problem solve, we also create space to learn more about our partner and grow emotionally as a couple, as well as strengthen the intimacy and bond.
If you’re feeling confused about whether your partner is venting or looking for advice, simply ask them. You can say, “I would love to listen to you. I’m wondering if you’d prefer support or advice from me right now.” It works wonders.
A Thoughtful Plan
It can be really helpful to come up with a support plan with your partner. Sometimes, however, when a person is in a particularly stressful or emotional time, they aren’t sure what type of support they need. If your partner is unsure, here are two good options you can try.
One is to support them based on their love languages – if you know them. If they receive love best through acts of service, ask them what tasks you could do for them from their to-do list. Are they keen on quality time? Ask if they would like to go away for the weekend with you, go out to a nice restaurant, or simply take a walk together.
Do they prefer words of affirmation? Compliment them as much as you can – being specific and heartfelt. Tell them how much you admire and appreciate them. If their love language is gifts, pick up something thoughtful for them when you’re at the supermarket to show that you are thinking of them. If their love language is physical touch, be sure to ask them if they would like a nice long hug from you, and make a point to give them small thoughtful touches throughout the day.
Not sure what their love languages are? Try offering two clear and simple choices, and let them decide. Sometimes having the options reduced can be very helpful during times of stress. For example if you know there is a lot of food to prepare for an upcoming event, you might try asking, “would you prefer I help you in the kitchen, or tidy up the house?”
You can also make it more general and ask questions along the lines of, “I would love to support you. Would you prefer some quality time with me, or can I do a task from your to-do list so that you can have some alone time for self care?”
Coming up with a plan for emotional support can be a wonderful tool in your tool belt this holiday season.
Teamwork and reassurance
When you’re feeling overwhelmed with life, feeling like you’re part of a team can be a big comfort. In order to get through stressful times it’s important to truly come together as a team, and not two just two individuals trying to figure things out on their own.
Remind them that you love them, are here to support them, and reassure them that you’re not going anywhere. Just because they logically know you love and support them doesn’t mean they might not enjoy the gentle reminder.
Empathy and patience
It is so important to not take things too personally when your partner is having a challenging time. I’m not saying you should put your own feelings on the back burner, however. So, make sure you’re taking care of yourself as much as you are your partner.
You don’t want to become burnt out yourself, and then need your partner to take care of you. Get plenty of rest, drink lots of water and eat fresh healthy foods. Encourage your partner to do the same! Keeping your body healthy can be very helpful in keeping your mind happy. Stress takes a big toll on our adrenal and nervous systems, so make sure to practice lots of high quality self care.
Remember to take good care of yourself, ask your partner what support they need, be an active listener and hold space for them. Reassure them that you love them and are on your team, and try not to take things too personally during the more stressful times of life.
When a houseplant is not doing well, one doesn’t yell at it or throw it out the window. You identify what it needs and adjust the conditions. We are all just houseplants with more complicated emotions, after all!