7 Tips for Helping a Partner in Need

Your partner is undergoing a painful, traumatic experience—the loss of a job, the death of a loved one, or a business failure. While you want to be supportive, he's not the easiest person to help. So the two of you start going at it, and before you know it, you've got a crisis brewing between you that just seems to grow worse by the day.

"Any personal crisis always changes the dynamics of a relationship," says Lisa Rene Reynolds, Ph.D., author of Still a Family. "It can put a lot of stress and strain on a couple."

But, she says, it doesn't have to. To help your partner and to save your relationship, it's important to:

1. Avoid minimizing the crisis, says Edward Schechtman, Ph.D., a psychologist in private practice in Commack, New York. "Don't say to the person, it's not as bad as you think." Instead, let the person who's hurting be the one to express how badly he or she is feeling. Verify his feelings.

2. Understand that recovery time is specific to the individual. The person should grieve for what he decides is an appropriate length of time. In time, your partner will begin to put things into perspective, Schechtman says.

3. Respect your partner's request to go it alone. Tell him, "I understand that you need to be alone right now to work on this, but I am here if you want to come to me," Schechtman suggests.

4. Talk to each other. Communication during a crisis is more important than ever, Reynolds says. "When the person doesn't know how to articulate what he needs, you have no way of knowing," she says. "So encourage communication." Ask your partner, what can I do to help? Do you want me to just give you your space, and sit and be quiet together?  Over time, some people who are grieving will open up and ask for help.

5. Recognize that your roles may change. If you have always been the one to lean on your partner, and you're suddenly thrust into the role of emotional caregiver, it can cause anxiety. Suddenly, your source of support is asking for help, and you're not sure how to give it. "When partners take on a certain role in a relationship, it can be hard to get out of that role," Reynolds says. Conversely, the person who's used to being the rock for the other partner can find it difficult to be asking for help. If both partners work to put extra effort into the relationship, the result is a mutually supportive partnership, Reynolds says.

6. Watch for signs of depression. If he's chronically not eating, sleeping and withdrawing socially, suggest counseling.

7. Be patient. Everyone handles profound loss in his or her own way. "Some people want to be nursed and other people want to be left alone," Schechtman says. "Grieving is a very individual process."