ERP 177: How to Offer Comfort to Your Significant Other

By Posted in - Podcast July 26th, 2019 0 Comments

Often times, couples are at a loss for how to offer comfort to one another during times of stress, upset and hurt. This can be true even when they have been together for years.

As Dr. Keith Witt was describing in the last episode, when couples get into defensive, protective states, it is very difficult for partners to know each other’s pain and hurt, when we protect and protest. Most often partner’s have no idea what they are feeling and how to help.

Over the last decade, enormous amounts of research has helped us understand that in adulthood, we still have the need for emotional connection, comfort, and safety.

Most of this research comes from attachment theory, which was developed by Bowlby. Bowlby identified that everyone has an innate need for trust and security from the cradle to grave.

When our partner cannot respond to our emotional needs, we may feel threatened, anxious, fearful, numb or distant. This can set-up a dangerous pattern of disconnect.

Although, many of us go through life thinking we should not rely on anyone else for emotional support and protection. Many times we prioritize independence and autonomy.

While we are responsible for our emotional experience (what we are feeling, how we manage our reactions, and how we express ourselves), we all have the universal, human need for connection, closeness and emotional bond with another.

If we acknowledge and recognize that it is okay to seek comfort, closeness, soothing, and reassurance, then perhaps we can express our needs in a clearer fashion, which increases the likelihood that our partner will respond.

Through Dr. Susan Johnson research, she helps us understand the importance of being available to our partner’s emotional needs. She offers a helpful acronym A (accessible). R (responsive). E (engaged).

Similarly, through Dr, John Gottman’s research, he informs us that successful couples, respond to each other’s “bids” for attention and they offer positivity to one another on a consistent and regular basis.

When life is challenging, couples who feel secure and protected in their relationship, feel stronger, more resilient, and more capable to handle the life challenge.

In relationships, we help each other feel better. We can help soothe each other’s pain and stress. We can lift each other up and cheer each other up. We can offer support, reassurance, and soothing when life is hard.

For many of us, seeking and reaching for our partner is not that easy and clear cut. Mostly because we have not known consistency in people being there for us in the past.

When this channel is not clear, couples will experience a tremendous amount of difficulty because we desperately want the comfort and connection, but we don’t know how to get it.

When these dynamics are fraught, we also don’t know how to give comfort. Again, we truly want to be there for our partner, but we don’t know how to help. Either we don’t know their pain (because they haven’t truly shown it to us) or we don’t know what will help them feel comforted.

(Please listen to the podcast episode or read the transcript to hear explanations, stories and examples.)

Discussed in this episode:

  • During stress, ways we get it wrong when we try to comfort our partner.
  • How offering physical and emotional closeness is one of the most powerful ways to offer comfort.
  • Ways to provide physical closeness (i.e. hugging, holding, sitting close).
  • General ways to offer emotional closeness:
  • 1. Accept and listen to your partner.
  • 2. Understand the hurt.
  • 3. Be with the pain.
  • 4. Offer reflection and validation.
  • 5. Offer care and help.
  • 6. Show remorse, if appropriate.


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Click on this link to access the transcript for this episode: ERP 177: How to Offer Comfort to Your Significant Other

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Dr. Jessica Higgins ~ Relationship and Transformational Coaching