Being the best partner — 13 February 2008
Is asking for or giving help a challenge to your relationship?

Some mates are hurt when their partners are not forthcoming with support and help when they feel that they are in need of it. The “non-helper’ often reports being willing to assist yet confused about his/her resistance to doing so. Understanding this dilemma is important for improving couple’s connection.

Melinda questioned Robert’s passivity when she occasionally asks for help or when he witnesses her struggle in accomplishing a task on her own. Robert, felt embarrassed and bewildered since he loves Melinda and is certainly interested in being helpful to her.
In discussing the possible causes of his withholding help, they ruled out his assumed unkind disposition, his resistance to being controlled, her manipulative style, or her manner of asking for help. As Robert complimented Melinda for her independent and self-sufficient style, he realized that he rarely, if ever, perceives her as needing help and thus feels that doing so would only undermine her competency.

In another example, Jason was viewed by his work teammates as a brilliant, creative leader, who was extremely resourceful about solving many problems for the team. When he, on occasion, requested help, his difficulties were ignored, dismissed or humored. He, too, could not understand why his teammates did not offer him assistance, as he has routinely done for them.

People view competent mates or co-workers as self-sufficient individuals who are immune to needing help, support or encouragement. The capable individuals are also less likely to be open about their vulnerabilities, mistakes or insecurities, and thus are less approachable. It is also assumed that the able mate or co-worker is “a contained unit’ not susceptible to input from others. For some, the achievers, movers and shakers appear so secure that offering them help may seem to be a disrespectful act.

Every individual, at times, needs advice, suggestions, support and help. When a super-competent mate, who is not very open about his/her vulnerabilities, asks for help he/she is truly needy at the time. Stoic self-sufficiency discourages others from approaching, while being vulnerable draws compassionate and tender responses from others.

Seeing one’s human-ness is appealing, its absence is distancing. People can identify with a solid individual who is humble enough to admit certain weaknesses. Being ‘perfect’ is intimidating to others, being vulnerable at times is endearing.

In love relationship, the balance of power is very delicate. An all knowing and super-able mate may trigger deeper insecurities and inferiority feelings in the partner. Some mates of the autonomous individual feel disempowered to offer help even when they know it is needed.
Research done by Bernard Davidson of Texas Tech University and colleagues reported in “The Relation Between Spousal Affective Self-Disclosure And Marital Adjustment”, that mates who saw themselves as closer to their mate’s self-disclosure style about love, happiness, anger and sadness, had a higher level of marital adjustment than did those who had divergent styles of expressing emotions.

Partners seek verbal or nonverbal cues as to their mate’s neediness. If a request is made harshly, it is likely to be perceived as an order and thus less likely to be accommodated. However, if a request for help is stated humbly and is accompanied by a need and an implied gratitude, that plea is likely to be responded to with willing cooperation.

If your partner is not responding well to your requests, ask yourself:

• Do I usually ask or order my mate to help me?
• Do my requests imply entitlement?
• Do I make it clear that I need the help and would appreciate the assistance greatly?
• Do I normally appear to be self-sufficient and needless?
• How safe do I feel in exhibiting my imperfections to my mate? How can I increase my comfort and become more open?

If you are reluctant to provide help to your partner, ask yourself:

• Do I assume that my partner is too competent to need my assistance?
• Do I fear being ineffectual, discounted, rejected or judged?
• Do I feel manipulated, rather than recruited as an equal, when asked to provide assistance?
• Am I more inclined to help in areas where I am known to be of greater skills?
• Can I use my love for my mate to abandon evaluating the intent or need and just give my help willingly?

An open dialogue between you can facilitate understanding and eliminate hurts about needed help.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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