Blog Short #120: Do You Have Your Partner’s Back?
Photo by kitzcorner, Courtesy of iStock Photo
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blog called 2 Things That Help Relationships Flourish. The two things were “expressing appreciation” and “showing interest.” Today I’ll continue with a third thing, and that’s “how to have your partner’s back.”
To get into this subject, let’s backtrack a little and talk about some universal needs we all have. It’ll make more sense to you if we start there.
What We All Need
Imagine the apocalypse happened, and you were the only person left on Earth.
Let’s assume everything is still the way it was, except that all the people and animals are gone. You have what you need to live.
Let’s say you even enjoyed the quiet and lack of conflict or worries for a moment.
Sooner or later, and likely sooner, you would feel the aloneness of the situation, and over time it would become excruciating.
There’s a reason for that. No matter how much you might like to be alone, we’re genetically wired for relationships and need other people. Even the hermit knows that others exist and that he’s not alone in the world.
We need each other for basic survival, but also for companionship, love, support, intellectual interchange, and conversation.
We need someone else to witness our lives and existence. It validates us. We want to be known, understood, and loved.
We can only get all of this from relationships, especially intimate relationships, whether they’re romantic, familial, or friendships.
When you engage in an intimate relationship, you make yourself vulnerable to the other person’s perceptions and feelings about you. It’s a leap of trust.
You want to know that person has your back and all that implies.
And there’s the question:
What exactly does that imply?
We take it for granted, and a lot of what people do with and to each other in intimate relationships does not have the other person’s back. Sometimes not even with any malintent, but yet we do things that aren’t in each other’s best interest.
So it helps to define what having the other person’s back means. Let’s do that now.
The Quick List
The quick list includes the obvious things we all know: Being honest, loyal, trustworthy, kind, considerate, responsible, dependable, and caring.
In more depth, having someone’s back means knowing them, accepting who they are, and helping pave the way for them to become more. That encompasses a lot! Much more than people think about, especially as we go through the day-to-day things we all have to attend to.
To truly have your partner’s back, you must take the time and energy to continually explore their thoughts, feelings, desires, quirks, ways of perceiving, habits, fears, and vulnerabilities, and do that without judgment.
That’s a big “lotta stuff!” But it’s what’s necessary for a relationship to survive and evolve.
Let me get a little more specific.
Ask yourself these questions about this person:
- What’s most important to him?
- How does he respond to stress? What kind of stress? What stresses him out easily or the most?
- Identify her soft spots. What makes her feel the most vulnerable?
- Are there specific defenses she uses? What makes her the most defensive?
- If you were to do something that would make her feel loved, what would it be?
- How does he respond to criticism? How can he hear what you have to say?
- What about affirmations? What helps him?
- Do you know what his triggers are? Where they come from? How they manifest?
- Does she talk about how she feels, or does she withhold it? What would make her comfortable and allow her to say what’s on her mind?
- What do you admire about him? What can you say you genuinely appreciate?
And here’s a crucial question:
Are you trustworthy enough to have all this information? How will you use it?
All these questions aim to set aside your “shoulds” and help you openly investigate and accept who your partner is and what they need. That doesn’t mean not seeing their issues or problems, but it does mean trying your best to understand how they see the world, what they struggle with, and where they need help dealing with those things.
The clearer you become on that, and the more you approach your partner from that knowledge base, the more you have their back.
This understanding applies to any close relationship, not just romantic ones. It can apply to parents, children, siblings, best friends, or anyone with whom you’re close.
The Big Don’t: Don’t Break Confidentiality
It’s human nature to talk about our partners to others, especially when feeling exasperated, angry, or fed up. We do it even when there’s no problem just because we like to talk about people. Again that’s human nature.
But it doesn’t bode well for close relationships.
You’re breaching trust when you share intimate details of your relationship with someone outside of it, especially without your partner’s knowledge.
If you were seeing a therapist and talked about relationship problems or issues, that’s all right because it’s part of therapy and confidential. But if you call up your friend to complain about your spouse and reveal things you know would embarrass or hurt her if she knew, you don’t have her back.
This is a hard one because sometimes it helps to talk over a problem with a friend or family member. You have to weigh it and decide how much to divulge, the downsides, and whether the person you’re talking to can listen with an open mind and maintain confidentiality. If you’re not sure, imagine your partner’s reaction if they heard what you’re divulging. That will help you know what not to do.
In general, my advice is the less, the better. If there’s a real problem you need help with, then see a therapist.
Confidentiality is equally necessary for your children, especially your teen children.
I’ve seen many teens in therapy who express their anger and dismay at their mom’s exposing things that go on in their lives to other family members or friends. I recommend not doing that unless you have express permission or you’ve talked to them ahead of time about it. That goes for posting things on social media too.
The Big Do: Practice Emotional Check-Ins
Emotional check-ins are one of the most effective methods of maintaining a close connection.
It’s just what it sounds like:
You ask the other person daily how they’re feeling. It’s more than asking how your day’s going. That’s a good question, but be sure to find out the emotions underneath. It’s like taking an emotional pulse.
It works because even though we think a lot, we tend to evaluate our state of being in terms of how we feel. Of course, some people are uncomfortable with their feelings and don’t like these questions because they want to avoid their emotions, but ask anyway and be genuinely interested.
As someone tells you the “what” about their day, you can comment and say things like “That must have made you feel . . .” and fill in the blank. That way, you’re reaching in just a little and making contact.
It’s nice to know someone’s thinking about you and how you feel. It’s part of the need to be known, witnessed, and understood.
Today’s subject is one I could write another 3,000 words on easily, but this is supposed to be a “blog short,” yes? So I’ll stop here. I think you have enough to work with and remember you can use these strategies with different kinds of relationships to varying degrees depending on how close you are.
I’m interested in feedback, so please leave your comments below.
That’s all for today!
Have a great week!
All my best,