Wise Counsel from Susan Quilliam: How can I support my partner better?

Dear Susan

I’m with a woman I love dearly and who means the world to me. But she’s going through a really, really hard time – she’s moved down South to be with her parents who are both quite elderly and ill, and that also means she’s taken on a new job which is proving challenging.

I’m moving down to be with her in the new year and we talk on the phone, sometimes twice a day. But I know very well that she’s not getting enough support. It’s not that she needs counselling, but she simply hasn’t got a support system. What more can I do?


Dear Stuart

What a nice man you are! So let me first reassure you that your daily calls are absolutely what your partner needs – not only so she can talk things through but also because your willingness to talk shows her that you love her.

How else can you help? You could try adding in different ways of showing love as well as the phone calls: anthropologist Gary Chapman lists seven signs of love including giving gifts, sending cards and doing little ‘acts of commitment’ such as helping out round the house when you next visit. But also, start making clear plans for when you and she are together, bridging the months you are going to be apart and making the reunion more real; that will help her cope.

I have another suggestion for your partner, which will not only start to give her an ongoing support system but also give her somewhere to turn when for any reason you can’t be there for her. There is a wonderful self-help network called “Co-counselling International”, through which she can get personal support in return for offering it to others.

The deal is that you do a basic 60-hour course in the skills of listening and supporting, and after that can arrange with anyone on the mailing list to exchange time – usually an hour each – when you can talk about issues with the support of the other person and then give them support while they talk about their issues. You pay for the course, but after that – because the process is an exchange rather than one-way – the support is free.

I’m a great believer in Co-counselling. It’s a training in listening (and being listened to), in supporting (and being supported). It’s not only useful if you hit a crisis, but as an ongoing help for everyday issues. Plus, in a strange way, giving back the time, attention and energy to the person you exchange co-counselling with is inspirational; you get to realise that everyone has problems and also that you can help others to feel better.

Do suggest co-counselling as a way forward to your partner. Also, as you’ve got a stressful time coming up when you move house and move in with her, consider taking the course yourself. For more information about co-counselling in Britain, look at the website www.co-counselling.org.uk


Susan Quilliam also offers email, phone and face-to-face coaching on relationship and sexuality issues. Contact her here

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