What Someone's 'Support Style' Says About Their Relationship Needs

We may receive a commission on purchases made from links.

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you were desperately in need of emotional support from your partner? You wanted them to sit and listen to you while you talked about a problem you were going through, but they seemed intent on preparing the evening meal, while listening to you. This might have looked (and felt) very insensitive to you, but your partner was, in fact, trying to do something nice for you. In their minds, putting away dirty dishes and cooking you dinner was a thoughtful way to support you during a difficult time. It is unfortunate that what you wanted, instead, was undivided attention and a sympathetic ear. 

Scenarios like these are very common in a relationship. Support is such a big word and there's lot that's been said about how to be active listeners, empathetic lovers, and a good teammate. Psychologists and therapists might give you tools on how to support your partner when they're depressed, but what happens when everyday needs get neglected? 

You may have heard of the five love languages by therapist, pastor, and author Gary Chapman. The idea is that all of us have one of five love languages – words of affirmation, acts of service, gifts, quality time, and physical touch. Identifying your and your partner's love languages can go a long way in building a meaningful relationship. Did you know that there's something similar to be said about support styles too?

What are the different support styles?

Depth psychologist and psychological astrologer Jennifer Freed discusses support styles in her latest book "A Map To Your Soul" (via Poosh). She's divided them into four categories – Fire, Earth, Air, and Water — based on how people feel most supported.

Those who fall under the Fire category are those who look for "action and bold demonstrations" in order to feel supported, according to Freed (via Goop). This could look like your partner turning up with dinner when you're feeling low or giving you gifts, keeping their word and being punctual, or taking you out for drinks to celebrate your recent promotion. Earth refers to "consistent effort" writes Freed — whether that's handling the dishes each night (without needing reminders), or being dependable. If you fall under this category, you'd value a steady show of support that doesn't require having to ask for it. 

With Air, the kind of support you or your partner might be looking for has to do with thoughtful communication. It could come as words of praise because you've accomplished something significant or time carved out regularly to sit and discuss your ideas and thoughts. The final support style — Water — comprises those who look for "genuine feeling," per Freed. Holding space for your emotions, showing empathy, giving you space when you need it, and prioritizing you when you require it, are all ways in which you'd feel supported. 

The idea is to support your partner the way they want to be supported

Love languages and support languages can get tricky, mainly because we make assumptions of how to support our partners based on the kind of support we ourselves would like to receive. Making assumptions is probably one of the fundamental things you should avoid doing in a relationship. Freed writes for Goop that guess work or mind-reading aren't the best ways to navigate relationships. 

The psychological astrologer told Poosh, "We tend to grow up thinking, 'They [our partners] need what I need.' But that's not true. Everybody's made up very specifically with their own kind of cosmic DNA." Figuring out what you need (and don't need) as support and doing the same with your partner ensures you avoid unnecessary conflict and hurt feelings. 

And when your partner has learned your support style and delivers on that when you need it, Freed advises that it's good to offer positive reinforcement. Tell them that they did good and that you feel supported. "Everyone feels better being encouraged than criticized," she adds.