“To have and to hold…for better or for worse.” This phrase is familiar to all of us, and many of us have heard the phrase, or one like it, directed towards us and a previous or current spouse. While this phrase carries a lot of meaning, it highlights one of the key aspects of a successful marriage: supporting one another in good times and bad.
Many of us take this to heart and willingly give of ourselves in support of our spouse. Whether it be supporting them in finding a job, working together as parents, or being a shoulder to cry on, we all recognize the value of support.
But what happens when the support we try to give doesn’t seem to have any effect? If you have a partner who doesn’t feel better with the support you have to offer, then what happens to that value?
According to a recent study by Gelareh Karimiha and a team of scholars from Canada, when the support we offer doesn’t work it can leave us feeling much less valued.
How Inconsolability Affects Us
When a romantic partner or spouse remains emotionally distressed after receiving a normal level of support, they are considered inconsolable. Inconsolability is most often found in those with anxiety or depressive disorders and may be one of the main reasons why such disorders negatively impact relationships. In the study, Karimiha found two main ways in which inconsolability affects the partner trying to provide support negatively.
- Self-Esteem: Self-esteem is the term used to describe how we feel about ourselves. In other words do you like yourself? Self-esteem is often built on feelings of competence, belonging, and the ability to contribute something of value.
As humans we tend to find belonging through supportive relationships. Many relationships, and not just romantic ones, are built on the ability of two people to find and contribute emotional support to each other. When we are able to offer such support, we not only help the other person feel better, but we also feel of value ourselves. Fortunately, we seem to have a natural ability to offer basic support to others. But if our support efforts don’t seem to work, then we begin to feel powerless, alone, and may wonder if we ourselves are broken. And when this happens in such an important relationship as marriage, our self-esteem can really take a major hit.
- Relationship Satisfaction: Relationship satisfaction refers to how secure and happy we feel in a relationship. Higher satisfaction is most often the result of feeling like a particular relationship meets our emotional and physical needs and that we belong in that relationship.
If such belonging comes primarily from supporting one another, then it should be clear what happens when one partner doesn’t seem to benefit from such support. When we feel helpless, we are more likely to be less satisfied with our relationships because our sense of belongingness and value to the other person is threatened. We may also be left feeling like our needs are being ignored while we struggle so much to meet the needs of our partner. Certainly, neither of these possibilities can be good for building a satisfying relationship.
What to Do If This is You
Having an inconsolable partner can be very difficult, and may often lead to our own depression or anxiety about relationships. However, there may be some ways to get our value back when we have an inconsolable partner. If you feel like the support you offer your partner is often pointless, or even if you just want to know how to support your partner better, try some of these tips:
In the study, those who were more sensitive to rejection were more likely to experience negative outcomes when trying to support an inconsolable partner. Specifically, the more emotional a response we have to rejection the more likely we are to feel of less value when the support we offer our partner seems to be rejected. So, take a moment to consider how you handle rejection in other parts of life, such as jobs or social circles. Then, also take a moment to ask the following question:
Are my efforts actually being rejected?
Even though your efforts to support an inconsolable partner may not appear to make a difference, recognize that your partner is likely at least grateful for your attempts. And they do recognize your support. Work together to find a way to help your partner communicate this to you, even if they do not feel better. Expressions of gratitude are a great way to improve relationships and feelings of appreciation between partners.
Finding new types of support
Finally, understand that your attempts at supporting your partner may be ineffectual, but that does not make you a bad partner. If you offered that same support to a different person, you might find that you are actually very good at offering support. But inconsolable partners are often dealing with something much deeper and personal than what is normal. This means they need a more-than-normal type of support. Keep showing support the best way you know how, but seek other support as well. Marriage or Relationship Therapy could be a great start as it allows not only your partner to get professional help, but also gives you an opportunity to learn new ways of helping at home. Plus it will help keep your relationship strong as you work together to strengthen your relationship.
Having an inconsolable spouse can be very difficult and straining to a marriage. But don’t allow that to make you feel hopeless. You are simply being given the opportunity to do something extraordinary.
Try taking our RELATE Assessment to see if there are some areas you can work on to improve your ability to support your partner.
Written by: Dallin, Master’s Student in Marriage, Family, and Human Development. Reviewed by Brian Willoughby, Ph.D.