6 Ways to Provide Comfort If You’ve Hurt Your Partner

Downcast couple stands together, having serious conversation in the cityRecently, I was riding in the car with my very spirited three-year-old. I had picked her up early from a play date to race across town. She was very distressed to leave her friend and let me know all about her distress through high-pitched screams. I knew she needed some comfort, a calming voice, and a nurturing tone to help comfort her in her distress.

Do you know what I noticed? It was so hard to give her the comfort she needed because I was having such a strong reaction inside of me. The sound of her cries alone created feelings of angst and anxiety in me. I was also feeling frustration and anger that she had created such a scene as I carried her kicking and screaming out of her friend’s house.

In the moment she was in distress and needed the comfort of her mother, I had to work very hard to manage my own emotions to lean in and appropriately comfort her.

As a therapist, it is easy to lean in and provide comfort, reassurance, and understanding to my clients. The reason it is so easy is that I am not the source of their pain. As they speak of the pain, usually caused by other people or situations in their lives, I can easily elicit feelings of compassion and care without defensiveness. I can do so because there is not a complicated storm of emotion inside of me.

Have I Caused Pain?

When you are the one who caused the pain, and when the hurt in your partner is a result of your actions, the process of offering comfort and compassion is much more complicated. When couples come in to therapy, it is usually because there is hurt between them. Usually, they have been unable to find comfort, care, and compassion in their partner to ease the hurt. They may often conclude that the reason their partner is not able to be there for them in the way they need is either that their partner doesn’t care or that they aren’t capable.

There is a good reason providing comfort can be difficult. Hurting your partner, the one that you love, feels awful. It can be brutally hard to think about, hear about, or see the tears, anger, and pain in your partner and know it’s been caused by you.

Addressing the Pain in Therapy

I remember a couple who came to therapy due to the husband’s affair. His wife was so hurt and angry that whenever she brought up her pain, he would shut down, leave the room, or tell her she “needed to get over it.”

When asked about his reactions to his wife, he told me “When she brings it up, she is reminding me of the worst thing I have ever done. It can be unbearable to think about.” It can be extremely difficult, and sometimes requires the help of a therapist, to help manage emotions of shame, guilt, and fear when you have hurt your partner. To be there for one’s partner in a comforting and healing way, it is necessary to manage these strong emotions within oneself.

It can be extremely difficult, and sometimes requires the help of a therapist, to help manage emotions of shame, guilt, and fear when you have hurt your partner.

How to Provide Comfort: 6 Tips

1. Recognize how much your partner needs you. When you are the source of your partner’s pain, it can be easy to think “I’ve caused your pain, I’m the last person you want to comfort you.” Exactly the opposite is often true. If you have caused pain in your partner, you can be one of the most helpful people in comforting that pain.

2. Find a support person. It can be a difficult, daunting, and frustrating process to rebuild and repair a relationship after major hurts have occurred. Your efforts to make things better may be rejected or criticized by your hurting spouse. You may need a therapist to help you manage your emotions of shame, frustration, hopelessness, and rejection in order to keep showing up for your partner in a comforting way. Also, if you feel stuck in your efforts to repair hurts in your relationship, you may need a couples therapist to help guide you.

3. Be flexible with what your partner needs. One day your partner may need to be left alone. The next they may need to be held. When there have been relational hurts, these needs can change by the hour or the day. There is often not a single, foolproof approach that works. Be willing to adapt your approach as your partner’s needs change.

4. Learn what comfort feels like for your partner. There are a lot of ways to provide comfort for your partner. According to Dr. Sue Johnson, physical and emotional closeness from our partner is one of the most powerful ways to experience comfort. Physical closeness can be achieved through being held, hugged, holding hands, or cuddling. Emotional closeness can include the following:

  • Providing reassurance: “I love you,” “I am here for you,” “I’m not going anywhere.”
  • Validating the hurt: “Of course this hurt you deeply.”
  • Understanding the hurt: “Tell me more about what you are going through.”
  • Hearing the hurt: “You can tell me how you feel. I want to know.”
  • Showing remorse: “I’m so sorry I hurt you. I’m so sorry you are going through this.”

A great place to start is, “When you are hurting like this, what helps the most? What do you need from me right now?”

5. Express a willingness to do whatever it takes. It can be easy to feel like there is nothing you can do to make this better. You may think, “Anything I say only makes things worse” or “I don’t know what to do to make things better.” It can be comforting for your hurt partner to hear “I’m not sure how to help, but I know I want to help.” Let them know that although you might not always know how, you want to make things better, and you are willing to learn how to do that.

6. Open up. Expressing your emotions and showing vulnerabilities may not be your strong suit. However, it can be comforting for your hurting partner to know you are hurting too, and that they are not in this hurt alone. It can be very healing for your partner to hear and see that you hurt because they hurt.

Reference:

Johnson, S., (2008). Hold me tight: Seven conversations for a lifetime of love. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.

© Copyright 2018 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Lori Epting, LPC, therapist in Charlotte, North Carolina

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • 5 comments
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  • Nicole

    Nicole

    September 18th, 2018 at 1:48 PM

    Great article!
    I’m sure many people will find it helpful.

  • John

    John

    February 24th, 2020 at 8:56 AM

    I have a question. You started out with a great example, where you caused your child’s distress by taking her away from her friend, and you talk about how it’s hard to provide comfort because of your own emotions. So, since I’m sure you are a great mom, you manage to overcome that and provide comfort. Later, you describe several forms this can take (reassurance, validating, understanding, hearing, and showing remorse). My question is about the last one. In this situation, is it appropriate to show remorse? What if your child were to insist that you apologize and promise never to do it again? Would you do that? I think no, that would not be appropriate. And I wish you would address that, because in the article you go straight into an example that is not at all analogous (husband had an affair). The problem for me comes up when a need for comfort gets equated with a need for changing behavior, when that change is not necessarily something that I’m willing to do. It feels like coercion: “When you do X, I feel hurt, therefore you should apologize for doing X and promise never to do it again!” Um, no, sorry, we can talk about X and how I can do it without hurting you, we can compromise, but X is important to me, and it’s not fair that you demand I give it up. Can you address that?

  • Carlton

    Carlton

    March 30th, 2020 at 12:07 PM

    I am writing for a friend of mine, Carlton. I am very worried about both him and his wife, Charlotte. Carlton resently left Charlotte, recently meaning the last 3 months or so for another woman. We live in a small town and I fear that once it becomes public about his affair he will face terrible shame. It is a surprise to the few of us who know of the affair. His wife, Charlotte adored her husband, Carlton. It is my understanding divorce papers have been filed. I do not know which of them filed for divorce. I feel this couple, my friends got off track and need to realize what all they have together. I worry about my friend, Carlton. The shame, humiliation and shunning he will face from cheating on Charlotte will be astronomical. I would like for him to rethink what he has done by bringing this affair between him and Charlotte. Carlton could not possibly love anyone more than he loves Charlotte. I fear he got wrapped up in the affair and lost sight of what he has in Charlotte. He will face terrible embarrassment, I wish to save my friend from this embarrassment. How can I help him to see what he has done is wrong? How can I help my friends? This woman who came between Carlton and Charlotte needs to go on about her business and leave Carlton alone. Carlton needs to remember the love and care he has for Charlotte. I hate, I mean hate to see Carlton and Charlotte to divorce. Please help them, help me to help them. Please help me to know how to bring my friends back together, to save Carlton from the shame and the hurt he will bring his family. Concerned friend.

  • Fummy

    Fummy

    May 25th, 2020 at 7:52 PM

    I did something really really bad to my husband and this is one year now it seems it can’t get off my head not to talk of his

  • Bruised soap

    Bruised soap

    July 3rd, 2020 at 1:56 PM

    My best friend had a crush on me and she told me about her feelings and I was trying to send her in some indirect ways that I don’t have the same feelings by trying to get away from the main topic like “woah” “you are so strong” “I’m proud of you” and she literally felt even proud of herself but when SHE REALIZED..she felt really really bad..that’s just ugh.. love literally suck..but food and money don’t tho lol that’s why I never want to be in any relationship

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