Your S.O. Through Tough Times

Most relationships start out pretty great: You’re happy together, you complement each other, and your lives are going really well…until, suddenly, tough times hit.

Maybe your partner has a sick family member or is dealing with their own illness, or maybe they were recently laid off from their job. Whatever the reason, grappling with those kinds of upsetting life events can be a BFD for a relationship, especially if it’s one that has never been tested.

So, what are you supposed to do? Licensed marriage and family therapist David Klow, owner of Skylight Counseling Center in Chicago, says it’s important to remember that you’re in this together. “When someone we love is hurting, it hurts us too,” he says. “Caring about someone means that we become invested in their well-being. When they are going through a tough time, we want to be there with them, and it can cause us to deal with similar issues of loss ourselves.”

Manhattan-based licensed clinical psychologist Joseph Cilona, Psy.D., agrees, noting that it can be “very challenging” to help your S.O. through tough times. “Feelings of frustration around seeing a loved one struggle and feelings of helplessness are not uncommon,” he says.

Jared DeFife, Ph.D., a psychologist and relationship counselor in Atlanta, says that it can be tempting to try to brush things off or see it as your partner’s issue, but that won’t help anything.

Unfortunately, go-to’s like “everything will be fine!” don’t quite work in these kinds of situations, but DeFife says it’s perfectly OK to say that you have no idea what to say or how to make things better. “In fact, it’s encouraged,” he says. Listening is actually underrated, DeFife says, and switching into “fix-it” mode can bypass what your partner may really need, i.e., someone to talk to and a shoulder to cry on.

Cilona says that even just being there can help. “One of the most challenging aspects of facing serious stressors, challenges, and problems can be feeling alone,” he says. “The knowledge that there is support available if needed and someone that cares and understands the difficulties in and of itself can be extremely helpful.”

And while it may seem obvious, Klow says sometimes the best thing you can do is tell your S.O. that you’re there for them and you’ll get through this together. If your partner wants to talk it out, it’s important to listen. Klow also recommends sharing stories of similar losses you’ve suffered (if you have them—if not, just listen). And, while you shouldn’t necessarily try to cheer them up, try to help them find a perspective and provide reassurance.

Cilona notes that everyone deals with stress differently, so it’s a good idea to ask your partner what you can do to help, and to do it often. “One of the best ways to help is to be direct and ask specifically and frequently what helps and what doesn’t,” he says.

It’s also important to keep in mind that what helps you get through a tough time may not work for your S.O. “You may love talking things out, but your partner may need space to process in their head,” DeFife says. “Or they might feel better socializing the night away, even if being around others during a time of stress sounds like a total nightmare to you.”

Whatever it is, repeatedly remind your partner that you’re there for them and that you’ll get through this together—and you will

 

Husband Started Off as a One Night Stand

I genuinely thought it would be a one night stand. Chris and I first met at a restaurant where we both worked—I was 23 and waiting tables while in grad school, he was the new chef that I saw around here and there. He seemed cool, even if I wasn’t really interested in dating anyone seriously at the time (I was only a few months out of a bad relationship and was big into just focusing on me). I spent my free time going to parties, hanging out with my roommates, and having the occasional hookup that I chose not to pursue as anything more. And I have to say, it was amazing to have that kind of freedom after spending so much time agonizing over where my last relationship was headed.

Still, Chris was cute, so when he invited me over to his place for dinner one night, I decided to go. We got to know each other a little better over homemade pizzas and wine and then…we slept together. It was fun, I had a good time, but I really didn’t think anything was going to come of it. I figured he was typical one-night stand material and decided to see it as just a good time I had once that I could move on from quickly. Great.

But after our first night together, we ended up hanging out more and started to see each other pretty regularly. While we got along great, our relationship was heavily physical. Since he worked long hours, we’d meet up when he got off work around 11 p.m., hang out for a bit, hook up, and then go our separate ways.

Everything was fine until a few weeks in, when I met him at a halfway point between our apartments at 1 a.m. after he worked a really late shift. “This is moving too fast, physically,” he said. “We don’t even really know each other.” He told me he thought we should put the brakes on things, and we both went back to our own places that night. I assumed that was the end of that.

Was it kind of awkward seeing him at work the next day? Oh yes. But I figured it would fade—after all, it’s not like I was planning out a future with this guy, we were just having fun.

That night, I went to play pool with some coworkers and Chris showed up when he got done with work. I steered clear of him for most of the night until he finally pulled me aside, apologized for how things went down the night before, and said he wanted to keep seeing each other—he just wanted us to actually get to know each other better.

So we did. It was kind of an odd reversal—we had to learn to take a step back to actually get to know each other more instead of just chatting and sleeping together (instead we had long talks and thenslept together), but we found that we really liked each other. We started spending all of our free time together, and things progressed from there.

Chris quickly became the most stable, reliable, and caring guy I’d ever dated. Three months in, we exchanged “I love yous” and we’re now married with kids.

Don’t get me wrong: Never once did I think early on that I’d end up marrying the guy. But by not putting any pressure on the relationship in the beginning, we allowed it to progress naturally. So, whenever I hear people throw out that “rule” that you shouldn’t sleep together on the first date, I just laugh—because I’m proof that it’s bullshit.

Logan Levkoff, Ph.D., a sexologist and sexuality educator agrees. “I think it’s a ridiculous rule, based on old ideas of how women were supposed to act in order to ‘get the guy’—as if sex and love were a game to be won or lost,” she says. “It doesn’t take into account that women have sexual feelings, the same way that it gives all the power to men that someone is not going to like you if you sleep with them on the first date.” Levkoff says it’s perfectly OK to trust your gut and operate on instinct when it comes to dating and sex. “That means whatever decision you make is one that’s genuine and authentic,” she says. And, she points out, if you end up sleeping with someone right away and it doesn’t work out, it likely wasn’t going to work out anyway.

“So many women are socialized to second-guess themselves, but there’s nothing better than taking ownership of who you are and doing things because you want to,” Levkoff says. That could mean sleeping with someone on the first date, the fifth date, or not at all.

I didn’t plan to end up marrying the first guy I slept with on a first date, but I did. And I’m pretty damn sure that initial hookup had absolutely no impact on our future relationship.

 

Talking About Your Relationship Too Much

It’s pretty much a given that you’re going to talk to your friends about some aspects of your relationship. How much detail you go into may vary, but the core fact is true: If you’re in a romantic relationship, you’re probably going to talk about it.

And you shouldn’t feel bad if you do this often! “Romantic relationships can be challenging to navigate, and sharing experiences, feelings, struggles, and difficulties with friends can provide important emotional and even practical support,” says Manhattan-based licensed clinical psychologist Joseph Cilona, Psy.D. Friends can provide a sounding board for your thoughts and feelings, as well as a different perspective, he says, making this a habit that can actually be good for your relationship.

But the problem is, your S.O. might not be as open to sharing personal details about your relationship and love life with people who aren’t directly involved in it—no matter how good your intentions. So, what’s OK and what’s not when it comes to talking about your relationship?

If your partner tells you something in confidence, and you share it with your friends, it’s understandable that it could cause some issues for your relationship down the road if you’re found out. There are also potential problems with trying to resolve a fight you had, via your friends. While it’s a completely understandable habit, licensed marriage and family therapist David Klow, owner of Skylight Counseling Center in Chicago says you really should be figuring out how to resolve an argument between you and your S.O. with them. If you keep having conversations with your friends that you should be having with your partner, then you could be setting the relationship up for failure, he says.

 

And then there’s the whole boundaries thing. “Problems typically occur when boundaries are crossed or ambiguous, and when there is a lack of clarity about what is OK to discuss with friends and what is not,” Cilona says.

That raises an important point: Do you have to actually ask your S.O. if they feel comfortable with you talking about your relationship with your friends? You should, says Cilona. He recommends having a “clear and specific” talk about how comfortable each of you are with sharing certain kinds of information, especially more sensitive topics like sex and family issues. You can say something like, “I know we both go to our friends for help and advice when we have issues, but is there anything you don’t feel OK with me discussing?”
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Klow agrees. “One of the main areas on which couples disagree is how to handle interactions with other people,” he says. “Setting some ground rules about how you share relationship information with your friends can help.”

Here’s why that matters, per licensed clinical psychologist Ramani Durvasula, Ph.D., author of Should I Stay or Should I Go?: Your partner likely interacts with your friends on some level and doesn’t want to be seen in a negative light by them (and really, you want your friends to see your partner in a good light, too). It’s up to you to protect your other half from chatting about any vulnerabilities or insecurities they may have, as well as paint a well-rounded picture of them. “An intimate relationship should be a private space in some ways, and there should be a confidence that you can share certain details in a safe way,” she says.

 

That said, it’s understandable that you’d want to vent to your friends if you have a big fight, and you don’t need to stop doing that. (Cilona says that’s “quite normal behavior.”)

Of course, it can be super-awkward if your S.O. tells you something or you have an argument, and you follow it with, “Is it OK to tell my friends?” So, after that initial chat, follow your gut. “If you have good instincts, you will know what is OK and what is not,” Durvasula says. “But when in doubt, ask.”