What Does It Mean To Really Be Supportive?

‘Support’ is a word that gets thrown around a lot, but what does it actually mean?

By Keelia Clarkson3 min read
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When we imagine our ideal boyfriend, best friend, or husband – someone we’re meant to share a unique connection with – we usually envision someone who deeply understands us, cares about our woes, and is all-around a joy for us to be with. We think of someone who can make us laugh, always knows the right question to ask us, and challenges us to be better. We imagine someone who’s supportive.

‘Support’ is a word that will come up pretty quickly whenever we think about a good, healthy relationship, romantic or not. It’s ingrained in our minds that to be a good girlfriend/friend/sister/daughter/wife, we have to be supportive.

But as is the case with many things, just because we hear a lot about an idea doesn’t mean we actually understand what it means. So what does it actually mean to be supportive, whether in a romantic relationship or a friendship? What does it look like, in totally practical terms?

You Show Up

Starting with the most practical basics, being supportive means that we’re present, invested, attentive, and cognizant of our friend’s/boyfriend’s/husband’s life – we know what they’ve been struggling with, what they’re working on, what they’ve been thinking about lately, and what they’re hoping for. We have an in-depth understanding of their context.

But we’re not just present in the sense of knowing the details of their life. We’re also present in the actual moments we share with them. This looks like putting our phone down, maintaining eye contact, asking questions, and remembering and referencing any relevant topics discussed in our prior conversations with them. This helps the other person feel valued, heard, respected, and known – all of which are essential in feeling supported.

You Care About Who They Are, Not Who You Want Them To Be

When we care about someone, we always want them to be their best. We want them to find health and prosperity, whether emotional, mental, professional, or physical. We see all that they could be and want them to get there. This is an important part of caring for someone. However, it’s important that we support who someone truly is, and not just who we want them to be.

When we care about someone, we always want them to be their best. 

There’s a fine line between encouraging someone to be their best self and attempting to mold them into someone they’re not. To really be supportive, we have to take their personality, nature, gifts, desires, and temperament into account when we try to challenge them.

You Build Them Up While Remaining Honest

One facet of being supportive looks like encouraging someone in their pursuits, cheering them on, and building up their confidence – being the positive voice that they can always come to when they need to feel better about life and themselves, or when they need a safe space in which to vent and be totally unfiltered.

Another facet is being honest with them, even if it’s easier to skirt around an issue. Maybe our friend is dating an awful, toxic guy who she’s letting mistreat her. Maybe our boyfriend is forming destructive habits and drinking too often and too heavily. Maybe our best friend is in the wrong about a disagreement she had with a coworker. Maybe our husband is being dishonest with himself about how unhealthy his diet has become. Whatever the situation, if we want to actually support someone, this means we have to call their attention to their harmful or immature behavior instead of enabling or ignoring it.

But it’s not only about challenging them to be better. If all we ever do is tell them what we think they’re doing “wrong,” they’ll end up feeling less supported and more criticized. To be helpful in our support, it’s essential that we offer any advice we might have for them rather than just focusing on what should be changed or improved upon. This will help them feel like we’re on their side, on their team, all while still being honest and upfront with them.

You’re Genuinely Glad for Them When They Succeed

It’s natural to feel some amount of competition with our closest loved ones. If a friend gets engaged, we might feel a twinge of jealousy and think When will that happen for me? If our husband gets a promotion, we might get down on ourselves for not getting the same recognition at work. It’s understandable to struggle to not feel badly about ourselves and what we don’t yet have.

Our joy for them and our desire for something good in our own life can, and should, coexist. 

But to be supportive of someone, we have to be genuinely happy for their success and happiness, even if what they were just given is something we want for ourselves. Our joy for them and our desire for something good in our own life can, and should, coexist. 

You’re There in the Good Times and the Bad 

The most exciting time to be supportive of someone is when they’re riding a good wave. It’s simpler to offer someone support who’s already doing well and likely isn’t leaning on us at the moment for much emotional support. Joining someone in their celebration, while an important skill to learn, is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to showing support.

The reality is that in order to be a supportive friend, girlfriend, or wife, it’s deeply important that we’re available and present in their worst of times. This means answering their calls or texts when we’re able to instead of avoiding them, being willing to listen as they cry or vent, showing genuine sympathy for what they’re facing, and sitting in their pain/disappointment/anger with them. It might be uncomfortable at the moment, but they’ll remember that you didn’t desert them when it would’ve been easier to.

Closing Thoughts

Being supportive is something we all know we’re supposed to be, but we don’t always know exactly how to offer meaningful support. It’s most important to make your friend, boyfriend, or husband feel like you’re their cheerleader while holding them to a certain standard, always show empathy and understanding, and be ready to celebrate them at every chance you get.

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