How to Help a Suffering Partner

By Eric Charles, MA., PhD-c


“Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.” ~Dalai Lama

1. Fight the urge to run away or shut down
Let’s face it, it is in our nature to seek pleasure and avoid pain. Seeing a loved one suffer is one of the most heart wrenching experiences. If you feel like running away or giving up, you are not alone. But remember, it is not uncommon for a loved one who is suffering to prefer solitude. If this is the case, make sure not to feel guilty for going about your regular routines. And especially, make sure to continue doing the things that bring you joy. Just be mindful if you begin telling your partner how great things are going.

2. Manage your reactivity 
It is not uncommon to feel angry, frustrated or sad toward whatever circumstance has led to your partner’s suffering. Be careful not to become irritable or avoidant because you are feeling these heavy emotions. If we are not careful, we can easily become a negative presence for our partner to be around. Feeling helpless while watching a loved one suffer can wreak havoc on you emotionally. Make sure to manage your reactivity, even if your partner is triggering you. Keep in mind, if he or she is suffering, they are not of sound mind (unless maybe they’re a Monk). Invite compassion to yourself and remember, we cannot solve every problem, nor can we always understand why bad things happen.

3. Allow them to vent
We don’t need to have answers. We just need to be present. We don’t need to solve anything. We just need to listen. Sometimes, all he or she wants to hear is, “you’re right, this really does suck.”

4. Make it less about you
Something spectacular might have just happened in your life and of course, the first person you want to tell is your significant other. Sometimes, we need to pause and ask ourselves, “is there be a better time to present this new development?”

5. It’s ok that it’s not ok
Learning to make peace with discomfort is a life long practice. There is no magic pill for you to take. It boils down to your perspective and accepting that, it is not the circumstance that defines you, but how you define your circumstance.


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67 responses to How to Help a Suffering Partner

  1. Shekhinah says:

    This is applicable in most any relationship dynamic. I live with my kids and their significant others, (party of five, roomies by necessity) and it’s very true in this case. Especially the first one, they mostly get it that I need the solitude. I’m out enough to keep in touch and connect, but being an INTJ and having PTSD, I need my quiet space to keep it together.

    Great post 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  2. gildapat says:

    I found this article very helpful and hopeful, with clear, concise and practical advice! Thanks for offering much love and light in a world always in need of more.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. kupilih says:

    “Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.” ~Dalai Lama

    and

    “And the best of men are those who are most beneficial to others.” ~Prophet Muhammad

    Thank you for your five tips !

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Personally I would add one other to that too: that it’s ok to take time out , look after yourself, so you are fit to care/support your loved one. My husband helps to care for me, even now I still find it amazing that he chooses to stay! He’s so great at making sure I am doing ok, but not so good at taking care of himself, and his needs.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Looking at from the other side I feel horrible when I can’t bring myself to join her and some friends for dinner. But i never ask her to not go, I insist that she goes. I do make every effort I can to push through and be more engaged. Some days it’s just not possible.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Seeing how helpful this post is to other people makes me so, amazingly grateful that my partner is so great with me. He instinctively knows what to say/do and when to give me space/be there. Maybe i ought to thank my lucky stars and stop considering him “socially awkward”. He is more of a social guru than i ever realised!!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This is such a wonderful post and I could not agree more with the points here. Like you said, the “make it less about you” part is so true! Often when our partner is distressed and turns moody, instead of helping them we start complaining of how its affecting our life. Great post 🙂

    And confession time 🙂 I have been planning to check out your blog for long time when you had liked a few of my comments in Nikki’s blog but I am so sorry I did not till now.*hangs head in shame* I am pretty glad I did now 🙂 Awesome reads here. Cheers and warmest wishes, Minaxi ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  8. sargondorsai says:

    My wife suffers from crippling social anxiety at times. My eldest son has OCD issues while my younger son is autistic. It has been an interesting journey with them all but I feel enriched by being able to be there for them and see the world the way they do. To listen to them and learn what it takes to bring them back fro, the brink.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I will repeat many of these words to myself again as a reminder. I feel the line has started to blur on which of us in my relationship is suffering. His suffering, and my support of the same, has brought me to my knees. It has begun to change who I am as a person. My emotional strength a mere grain of what it used to be. I need it to be ok that I can sometimes feel weak or defeated. I need my moments to “suffer”. However, when that moment has passed I will be strong once more and hold a sturdy shoulder of support. I wish I knew how to help him realize that I too need to “suffer” sometimes and that it aids in building my strength to stand by him through his suffering.

    Liked by 2 people

    • MakeItUltra™ says:

      Thank you Suzette 🙂 I find myself re-reading some of these posts when I feel like I need a refresher as well.

      Liked by 2 people

      • suesuzzz says:

        These post are very informative and so helpful at least to me anyways and I am sure others as I see from comments…I have always enjoyed post from you and yes same here reread them as needed ☻I am thankful that here at home with dad and my better half we have a good system I am blessed well we are blessed to have one another to help when one or the other is down due to illnesses and sickness…I guess it’s my time to be the patient again : ( many test that I have taken are not turning out for the best and more testing is needed on all the labs and medical stuff lol…So a lil scared and worried…Ok a lot of scared and worried… I will find out more on Monday…wish me luck I sure could use it…
        Huggggs again my friend
        Suzette

        Liked by 1 person

        • MakeItUltra™ says:

          I am feeling grateful that our paths have crossed here in the blogosphere Suzette. I wish you the best of luck moving forward !

          Liked by 1 person

          • suesuzzz says:

            So am I my friend…☻
            Thank you for the well wishes …We all have a path one must go on and thru to pass on to the other side… ☻

            Liked by 1 person

  10. Reblogged this on North Van Caregivers and commented:
    These strategies can really be two-fold, as in the caregiving journey it is common for both partners to experience emotional suffering.
    Thank you Eric, for sharing these suggestions on how to be mindful of loving well. They bring the notion of supporting another person back to a more grounded, simple place.
    Caregivers, what has helped you be with someone that is suffering, and not become totally consumed by the pain of it? We welcome your sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • MakeItUltra™ says:

      Thank you for your comment and I do agree it is a topic that is in need of more attention. Wishing you the best, Eric

      Liked by 1 person

  11. This hits quite close to home right now. Thank you for addressing an important topic that doesn’t always get much attention. All the points are helpful, but I especially appreciate #5: “It’s ok that it’s not ok.” So hard to accept that fact (whether for ourselves or others) when suffering is present in our lives. I’ll be revisiting this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • MakeItUltra™ says:

      I am glad you found this helpful. It is so true when we are in the midst of the suffering it is much more difficult to remember this point. Thank you for your comment and wishing you the best through these times.

      Liked by 1 person

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  1. […] Keep emotional distance The most important thing to remember when interacting with a negative person is to not get too close emotionally. We cannot always avoid negative people in our lives. But, we can keep ourselves from emotionally investing in such a way that causes us to spiral from our own reactivity. Remember, you cannot always avoid being reactive, but you can avoid dwelling on the reaction and spiraling into a negative place (See Step 2 in my post: Coping With a Suffering Partner). […]

    Liked by 3 people

  2. […] 5. Keep emotional distance The most important thing to remember when interacting with a negative person is to not get too close emotionally. We cannot always avoid negative people in our lives. But, we can keep ourselves from emotionally investing in such a way that causes us to spiral from our own reactivity. Remember, you cannot always avoid being reactive, but you can avoid dwelling on the reaction and spiraling into a negative place (See Step 2 in my post: How to Help a Suffering Partner). […]

    Liked by 1 person