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Mismatches in Support? Why Trying to Help Your Partner Can Cause Relationship Conflicts: Research

Man and woman sitting on a bed side-by-side looking upset and avoiding eye contact

Do you ever find yourself in conflict with your partner when you’re actually just trying to help? Well, you’re not alone. According to research outlined in Psychology Today, there’s a common misunderstanding in relationships that can actually lead to quarrels when you’re trying to support partner.

Relationships often revolve around giving support to (and receiving support from) your partner. So why can that so often lead to an argument? This disconnect actually stems from misunderstanding your partner’s preferred support style.

Related: Looking at pictures of your spouse can re-light the love spark: study.

What are the three types of support in relationships?

Researchers have classified support into different types so that they can better understand how and why different forms of support matter in relationships. Three commonly studied forms of support are emotional support, tangible support and informational support. Each of the three support types meets a different need.

Where emotional support is all about “expressing concern, empathy, love or encouragement,” according to Psychology Today,  tangible support is about “helping your partner with hands-on practical things, such as cooking a meal or financial assistance.” Lastly, informational support is when you share “information, helpful facts, or advice” with your partner.

What happens when you misunderstand your partner’s preferred type of support?

Couples often run into conflict when there is a mismatch between the support one partner is seeking and the support the other partner provides.

A common mismatch occurs when one partner talks about a problem that’s causing sadness or frustration and instead of listening, the other partner immediately tries to “fix” the problem. More often than not, the partner who opens up about something they’re struggling with is actually seeking emotional support.

So, when someone is faced with a conversation around “fixing” the issue instead of feeling heard or receiving the compassion they’re seeking, they can feel emotionally invalidated. On the other hand, the partner offering support can feel rejected, confused or frustrated when their attempt to show up for the other person isn’t received well.

See also: Are green flags real in dating — or are they basic human decency?


This push and pull between hurt feelings and attempts to “fix” the problem can escalate to a full-blown argument, despite the fact that both partners likely approached the conversation with good intentions. This can stem from a person’s need for agency, as receiving unsolicited advice can make a member of a relationship feel belittled instead of supported.

“When your partner is reaching out to you for emotional support, they are actually making a very practical ask—even if all they want is to share their feelings,” the article continues. “Supporting them in processing their anger, comforting their sadness, or regulating their anxiety helps them to move into an emotional state where they feel grounded enough to respond to their own struggle.”

As a result, emotional support is often the form of support a partner is looking for. In a relationship, people tend to seek connection and to find comfort and validation in someone who cares about their well-being. Some relationship partners, however, can feel uncomfortable with emotional support and prefer tangible support when they’re feeling stressed or frustrated.

Communication is the solution

Ultimately, the solution lies in communication. If you can find ways to create a dialogue about the kinds of support that fits different situations and personal needs, then you’ll likely be able to avoid these conflicts altogether. Whether it’s discussing the type of support you are seeking from your partner, or asking what your partner needs from you, communicating your needs with each other builds closeness and trust.

It’s important to remember that conflict and miscommunication is a normal part of a healthy relationship, and finding ways to work through those problems will make your relationship even stronger.

You may also like: Want a better relationship? Share — don’t divide — chores: study.


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