But that doesn’t mean that you have to sit by helplessly while they’re miserable.
It all starts with understanding the distinction between caring about your partner’s happiness and taking responsibility for their happiness. The former is hopefully a keystone in every supportive relationship. If you care about someone, you obviously want the best for them. You want to do things that bring a smile to their face and mitigate the circumstances that bring them down.
Yet it is beyond your ability to MAKE them happy. Period. End of story. No matter what you do (or what they say), it is simply impossible for you to make another person happy.
That is an inside job.
Encourage Them When They’re Down
Remind them of their strengths. Of their previous successes. Without dismissing their concerns, highlight the more positive aspects of the situation. Express your belief and confidence in them – “I know you have this and I’ll have your back while you get through.”
Support Their Outlets
Accept that you cannot meet all of your partner’s needs. Actively encourage them to seek out their preferred outlets for release and support, whether that be time with a group of friends or alone time on a trail.
Distinguish Between Their Wants/Needs and What You Want For Them
It’s easy to get these two things confused and feel frustrated when our efforts are not appreciated because we’re working towards the wrong goal. Even if you disagree with their approach, your role is to act as a sounding board, not a dictatorial advisor.
Listen Without Judgment or Trying to Fix
One of the most important roles a marriage can provide is a place of sanctuary when it feels like the world is out to get you. Strive to be that safe place where they can speak without immediately facing unwanted advice or criticism. It doesn’t mean that you cannot disagree, just do it with intention and save it for the important things.
Respect Their Boundaries
For some of us, the sight of someone in distress is like a beacon, summoning us to be the rescuers. But they are an autonomous adult. When we swoop in, we’re sending the message that they are not capable of handling things on their own. You can hold their hand, but you can’t do the work for them.
Look For Ways to Bring in Delight
Actively seek ways to brighten your partner’s day. It can be as simple as a flirty note or funny GIF sent through text. This focus also helps to shift your mood if you have a tendency to get caught up in their unhappiness.
Spread Your Burdens
It’s natural to unload our biggest burdens on our partners. Yet it can also be a lot to bear. So make sure that you have more people than just your partner to share your own fears and struggles with. Even if you have to hire a listening ear.
Bring Your Best Self
And this means taking care of yourself. If you find that your partner’s unhappiness is increasing your own, address your own well-being. Do more of the things that make you happy. One of the best things you can do to increase their happiness is to take care of your own.
Accept Your Limitations and Respect Your Own Boundaries
Sometimes our partner’s unhappiness is more than a passing phase. If you suspect your spouse is depressed, it’s time to bring in professional help. And if they continually resist intervention, you have to make the decision how long you’re willing to wait. I often hear, “don’t leave your partner in a fire,” yet you also have to decide if you’re willing to burn if they continually deny the flames. You cannot fix them. All you can do is love them and support them while they fix themselves.