Partners in romantic relationships become heavily intertwined; you may watch the same TV shows as your partner, eat the same foods, even pick up some of the same vocabulary. Yet, partners’ emotional paths are more similar to two different sets of mountain ranges than two parallel valleys. It’s likely that your girlfriend will go through a difficult time, whether it is the grieving of a loved one, a change in career path, or an injury or mental illness while everything is going fine in your life and vice versa. Empathy is the cornerstone of every important relationship; giving your partner the support and love they need—through both actions and words— will armor your relationship with the longevity and strength it needs to thrive.
Tune in to Her Emotional Energy
Everyone has different methods of dealing with the problems in their lives. Your girlfriend may not be ready to open up to you right away. Or she may only want to talk about the problem a little because it brings her back to a vulnerable, negative place which is uncomfortable for her. Let her know that you’re there for her and that you’ll help in any way you can, but don’t force it.
Listen to Her
If she does decide to confide in you about what’s on her mind, actively listen to what she’s saying. Many of us are guilty of tuning out while others are talking, thinking instead about what we’re going to say next or, even worse, talking over them. Even if what your girlfriend says is upsetting or confusing to hear, try to take it in, so that you can respond more effectively.
Find fun things for the two of you to do together to guide her thoughts away from ruminating on whatever is getting her down. Maybe she’s been talking about wanting to try the new trampoline gym in town or trying kayaking. Taking up a new and exciting activity together will not only take her mind off her troubles, but may also bolster your relationship satisfaction.
Make Her Feel Appreciated
Express gratitude for all the things she does for you, large and small. Convey to her that you don’t take her efforts for granted. Don’t forget to tell her all the positive thoughts you have about her such as how much you love waking up to her first thing in the morning or how much you look forward to seeing her after a long day at work. It’s easy to forget to voice your appreciation for your partner, especially after being together for a long time, but it makes a world of difference.
Express Your Gratitude in a Way That Focuses on Her
The way you thank your partner makes a huge difference. Instead of expressing your thanks in a self-absorbed way, center your gratitude on her. For example, instead of saying, “Thanks for planning the Christmas party. I had a really great time,” say, “You’re a fantastic party planner. All the decorations you picked out were beautiful and the food you made was delicious.”
Help Her Relax
Treat her to a home spa night to slow her tumult of emotions. Draw her a warm bath infused with her favorite scents and turn on some soothing, acoustic music. For a full-blown spa experience, follow the bath with facial masks and a massage.
Engage in a Physical Activity with Her
Aerobic exercise has been proven to improve people’s moods. Though it won’t solve the problem at hand, it will help her think more clearly about it. So, take her out dancing, go for a jog or go to a fast-paced yoga class. Breaking a sweat will help her reap the mood-boosting effects of fitness.
Surprise Her with a Thoughtful Gift
Gifts can be a powerful tool in showing someone how well you know them. A well thought-out gift shows its recipient that the giver paid attention to their likes and dislikes–their lingering look at an ad in a magazine or an item in a shop window. Steer clear of the obvious choices like flowers and chocolate and give her something she’ll really cherish.
Take it a Step Further and Give her Something Handmade
Use your creativity to make her a card using her favorite colors illustrating an inside joke the two of you share. Or if you’re more of a writer, buy her a card with a cover you think will resonate with her and write a heartfelt message describing how important she is to you.
Share a Heartfelt Embrace
It may sound corny, but both you and your girlfriend will experience physical and psychological benefits from touch. Cuddling with your partner after a stressful day will make you both feel more secure and relaxed. Additionally, the benefits of touch extend beyond you and your partners’ individual gains–touch also strengthens your bond as a couple.[i]
Lighten Her Load
If your girlfriend has a lot on her mind and is struggling to solve a problem in her life, she probably has less time and energy for the household chores that she usually does. Take some of the pressure off her shoulders by chipping in with the laundry, washing the dishes, cleaning the house, or any other responsibilities that she usually fulfills.
Cook Her a Meal
There are few more kindly gestures than cooking someone you love a warm meal. Make her favorite foods for dinner and pair them with a bottle of wine. Maybe even light some candles for a little romantic ambience while you’re at it.
Take Her to Spend Some Time with Animals
Whether it’s a petting zoo, animal shelter or cat cafe, hanging out with some furry critters is sure to brighten her day. The act of petting an animal causes humans to release an automatic relaxed response—a hormonal combination of serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin, all hormones known to be associated with mood elevation.
Break up Her Day with a Surprise
Much of the time sadness is not caused by an easily identifiable event, but by the monotony of the everyday. Many people feel stuck in a rut and bored with the predictability of their daily routine. Break up her day by surprising her at the office and taking her out to lunch, or if you really want to jolt her out of her quotidian, plan a weekend getaway or get her tickets to a new band’s concert.
Go Out of Your Way to Accompany Her on an Activity you Normally Wouldn’t
Is your girlfriend always asking you to go dancing with her when you feel embarrassed on the dance floor? Or to go walking on the beach when you can’t stand the lingering sand everywhere afterwards? Reaching outside of your comfort zone in an effort to spend quality time with her will show her how much you care, and will surely lift her spirits.
Maintain a Light-Hearted Spirit
Staying calm and cheerful yourself will help her get through this trying time in her life. Crack an inside joke when you can, or do that impression of Arnold Schwarzenegger that she finds hilarious. Take any opportunity you can to make her laugh and help her see things in a less serious light.
Accompany Her to Places She Doesn’t Want to go Alone
Perhaps your girlfriend is dreading going to a family member’s funeral or to her physics qualifying exam. Offer to accompany her to these sorts of events (or in the case of a test, to walk her there). Knowing she has your support during these stress-inducing events will relieve some of her anxieties and cause her to feel more relaxed.
Be Patient with Her
It may seem like the best way to help your girlfriend is to dive right in and solve the problem at hand. However, she may just need a listening ear and someone to empathize with her at first. She needs you to read her signals and match her pace. She will tell you when she’s ready to tackle the problem and whether she needs your help or not.
Don’t Dismiss Her
You may think that whatever is upsetting your girlfriend is silly or that she’s overreacting, however, expressing this to her will only fuel the fire. She will feel that you’re dismissing her and not listening. However small or large the problem she’s facing is, if you feel that your relationship is important enough, you’ll help her through it.
Don’t Cut Her off When She’s Talking
If your girlfriend does open up to you about her feelings, don’t interrupt or talk over her, or, even worse, tell her how she’s feeling. This is very insulting and patronizing. Presuming to know her emotional state better than she does will only make her feel worse. Only offer your thoughts and advice when she’s done talking, and even then, don’t proliferate if she signals that all she needs is for you to listen to her.
When Talking About the Problem, Focus on Her
When your girlfriend is telling you about the horrible fight she had with her father or her false alarm promotion at work, don’t start talking about something similar in your own life. Let her get everything she needs to off her chest. Showing her that you’re attentive and unselfish in this way will confirm that you’re there for her.
Help Her Take Strategic Action
Maybe she’s stressed out by a huge task she has to complete— something that seems insurmountable at the time. Help her divide the task into more approachable fragments. For example, maybe she has to write a 200-page dissertation by the end of the year. Suggest that she break up her page count into weekly increments to narrow her focus and make the task more do-able.
Make Her Feel Seen
Over time, we can grow so accustomed to our partners that we stop truly noticing them. We hold an invariable picture of them in our minds and new changes fly under the radar. Take the time to see your partner with new eyes and notice things that have changed about her. These changes can be as small as a new haircut or as large as a new vocation.
Provide Support in Small Ways
Obviously you’ll want to cheer your partner up in more noticeable ways such as cooking dinner and doing chores around the house, but providing less overt help is also effective. There is only limited research on this topic so far, but one shows that invisible support carries even more weight than overt support.[ii]
Help Your Partner in Ways They Don’t Notice
Be secretive in some of your attempts to brighten your partner’s mood. Replenish their supply of their favorite foods in the pantry when they run out, fix the wobbly desk in their office. Even though they don’t know that you have made an effort to cheer them up, their mood is likely to be elevated.
Analyze the Situations in Which Your Partner Gets Upset
Perhaps your girlfriend’s moodiness is a reoccurring feeling triggered by specific repeating events. Does your partner become irritated every time she has to talk to a certain friend, or when she has to ride on a cramped train? Try to figure out what upsets her and help her avoid or adjust to these scenarios.
Figure Out a Plan to Make Her Happier
The best relationships are built upon understanding each other’s needs and helping each other adjust to them whenever you can. Talk to her about whether that friendship that stresses her out is worth keeping or about riding her bike to work instead of the train for example. Predicting what will cause her stress and helping her to mitigate it will make both of you happier and strengthen your connection.
Show Her a New Perspective
If your girlfriend’s black cloud is looming ever larger and doesn’t seem to be letting up anytime soon, remind her that many of the unfavorable aspects of life are both impermanent and not her fault. It’s easy to get stuck in loops of negative thinking, but it’s also possible to learn a new way of thinking and reshape old cognitive patterns. [iii]
Help Her Train her Brain to Stress-Less
This one may seem like a tall order, but studies have shown that stress causes impairment in cognition, perception and emotional intelligence, so it’s in both of your best interests to decompress. Maybe her high pressure job is causing a strain on her. In this case, experts have found that forging new routines such as taking coffee and yoga breaks (if possible) can make a huge difference in outlook and even hormonal flow. [iv]
If she’s feeling insecure, remind your girlfriend of all her strengths and all the reasons people love her. One can tell themselves a million times that they’re great, but, oftentimes, it’s much easier to take praise to heart if it’s coming from someone else. Compliment her whenever you can, whether it’s something small like saying she looks great in her new dress or something more substantial like praising her guitar solo during her band’s recent performance, it’s sure to cheer her up a little.
Respect Her Choices
Once your girlfriend begins to tackle the problem bothering her, respect the decisions she makes. Don’t insist that she takes another path, or that you know what’s best for her. Even if you don’t fully agree with her choice, trust that she knows herself better than anyone else, and knows what’s right for herself.
Make an Effort to Get Along with Her Friends
When your girlfriend is in a bad mood, you should try not to prolong her funk by giving her other reasons to be upset. She may choose to be surrounded by her group of friends more often for moral support, so why not try to click with her friends? If you harbor any petty resentment towards any of her close friends, try to resolve it for both your girlfriend’s and harmony’s sake.
Encourage Her to Think Optimistically About Her Future
Some of life’s major stressors are work, family, finances and romantic relationships. It’s possible that the source of your girlfriend’s shift in mood is dread of negative outcomes in one of these areas. Suggesting positive outcomes for the issue at hand may inspire her to think similarly.[v]
Meditate with Her
Living in the present moment is one of the key behavioral patterns of happy people. Finding a quiet, relaxed space in her mind where she can just breathe and take in the sounds of the moment is a practice that will extend to other areas of her life. Having your support during meditation will make her (and you!) more likely to stick with it and derive as much benefit from it as possible.
Encourage Her to Commit to Her Goals
People can become bored and despondent when they feel they aren’t exercising their passions in life. One can get stuck in a rut in a job they don’t like or when they just aren’t putting in the time to do the things they truly enjoy. Without being too pushy about it, embolden your girlfriend to search for a new career or make more time for her hobbies if you think this is what’s getting her down.
Capitalize on Your Time Together
Maybe your girlfriend is simply bored of your weekend routine of movies and takeout. It’s easy to fall into a comfortable pattern after being with someone for a long time. However, it’s also important to spice up your time together. Check out some new restaurants in the area, take a pottery class together, explore a neighborhood you’ve never been to together. Trying new things could spark a mood change.
Think About Your Level of Commitment
This won’t be the case for every relationship, but it’s possible that your girlfriend is upset or confused because she wants more for your relationship than you’re currently providing. Maybe you’ve been dating for a few years, and she’s been dropping signs that she wants to move in together that you’re not responding to, or she even thinks it’s time to get married. It’s clear since you’re reading this article that you’re devoted to the relationship, so don’t be afraid to take it to the next level.
Be Present During Your Time with Her
Another important part of cherishing your girlfriend and your relationship, is to be fully with her during the time you spend together. Don’t look at Instagram or check E-mail on your phone over dinner. Don’t zone out and think about what you’re going to do over the weekend while she’s talking to you. Open lines of communication are essential to a healthy relationship and to happiness; be open and responsive when you’re with her and she’ll extend the same courtesy to you.
Communicate Clearly and Honestly
Unhappiness can arise when one partner feels distant from the other. Your partner should be one of the closest people to you in your life. If you’re not communicating openly about everything in your life–even if this is just because your nature is more reserved–your girlfriend may feel that you’re keeping something from her, or that you don’t feel you can confide in her. Share your life with her and the two of you will become closer, stronger and more content.
How to Use this List
Of course, every person and thus, every relationship is different, so don’t concern yourself with incorporating every item on this list into your life. Instead, pick and choose the points that you feel will work best for your girlfriend and your specific relationship. Furthermore, don’t be afraid to tailor certain points to your unique comforting approach.
[i] Debrot, A. & Schoebi, D. (2013). Touch as an Interpersonal Emotion Regulation Process in Couples’ Daily Lives. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 39, 1371-1385.
[ii] Bolger, N., Zuckerman A. Invisible Support and Adjustment to Stress. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79, 953-961
[iii] Martin, S. (2006). Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. New York: Vintage Books.
[iv] Boyatzis, R. E. (2018). Measuring the Impact of Quality of Relationships Through the Positive Emotional Attractor, 193-210.
[v] Lyubomirsky, S (2007). The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want. New York: The Penguin Press.
Christine Lavosky – Website/CV
Christine Lavosky is a graduate from Emerson College who uses her minor in Psychology to develop complex, realistic characters for her novel in progress as well as her creative non-fiction. She is particularly interested in the psychological phenomena that come into play in romantic relationships and trauma and uses empirical studies and research on these topics to inform her fiction.