Sunday, August 8, 2021

Supportive Partner: Quantified

I believe there are 5 levels of “being a supportive partner” for any interest/ desire/ value your significant other may have. Partners’ level can vary between topics (which is common), and over time (more on that below), but usually still fits these categories. I’m assuming the partner is aware of the importance of this interest/desire/value (either via direct communication or because it’s very obvious by just looking at your weekly time/effort allocation) - if that’s not the case, it’s unfair to expect the partner to support you.


  • As always, the real world is more complicated than any model, and this is just a thought framework that gives names (or numbers) to feelings.

  • I’m writing about a female partner, simply because all the partners I ever had are female and it’s easier for me to think in these terms, but the ideas (and expectations) are completely unisex.

  • The examples are intentionally somewhat provocative. Why would she support a workaholic husband? Why would gaming be an encouraged activity? Why would anyone allow their partner to have other sexual partners? It wouldn’t be support if it was trivial...

Level 0: She is opposed. Not supportive at all. She might say “you should get a real job” to the struggling artist/entrepreneur. She can ridicule your passion for a game (“You play Magic: The Gathering every weekend?? Are you a 12-year-old nerd??”). She can be judgmental of your belief in sexual openness, maybe use rude phrasings as micro-aggressions (“you want to stick your dick into everything”).

This really sucks.

Level 1: She is accepting, but not really supporting. She won’t say anything as long as whatever it is you’re doing doesn’t interfere with her and doesn’t require any active effort on her part. It’s fine that you’re working long hours at your startup with little pay, as long as it’s not on your date night, and you can still go with her to that expensive restaurant she likes. Maybe it’s ok for you to sleep with other women - as long as it doesn’t affect your relationship in any way (maybe she doesn’t even want to know).

This might look acceptable, but remember that if you truly value the goal or interest - the clash will always come eventually. Perhaps it’s better to expedite the clash to see if she’s actually a level 0 or she cares enough to become level 2.

Level 2: She is understanding and positive, but isn’t an active participant. She understands that this is important for you, even if she herself doesn’t share this passion or interest. When you have to fly on a business trip at short notice, she will not be upset with you (even though it changes your plans, maybe leaves her with extra responsibilities). She’ll come with you to a professional gathering - even though it’s not her field - and stand patiently by you while you’re pitching your startup to an investor. She will be truly happy for you when you win the local Magic: The Gathering tournament, even if she barely knows the rules. She’ll applaud your romantic or sexual conquests, even though she’s not into casual sex herself.

Please be nice to level 2s. Don’t take it for granted or be condescending about it (“obviously it’s super important so of course you support it”). In a sense, this is the purest form of support and love: honoring your goals and values even though she doesn’t share or participate in them.

Level 3: Not only is she supportive and positive, she actively helps you achieve some of your goals. This can be listening and giving advice about complex work issues. Reminding you that you should practice for that upcoming Magic tournament (maybe even organizing your play group to meet tonight, or booking the trip to the tournament). Maybe suggesting date ideas for you and your new partner. Perhaps on that same professional gathering you can ask her to start a conversation with the targeted investor, bringing you in for the actual pitch (this might be level ~3.5).

Note that it’s usually possible to shift level 2’s to level 3’s simply by involving them more, sharing, asking for feedback, ideas or help. They usually even want that - as long as you don’t abuse their good will. If you do abuse it - don’t pull your weight on your projects, use her support as an excuse to avoid responsibilities etc - then her support level can (and should) drop.

Level 4: She shares your value/interest/desire. And she’s actively and enthusiastically pursuing it. Maybe she’s in the startup ecosystem herself - even if not an entrepreneur, she knows the lingo, she knows some people, she understands the social dynamics and company growth stages etc etc - and gets you an intro herself to that investor. When you come together to such an event, you both mingle and expand your professional network, and can pitch not only your own startup/resume/skills - but also each other’s. You are as close to being doubly efficient as possible without cloning yourself - but can still push back when you’re wrong or stupid.

At a party, not only does she know who you’d like to bring home tonight for a threesome - because she knows your taste and noticed that glance which lingered a second longer than usual - but she is already hitting on her, maybe even without you. And it’s not just for you, she wants it to happen as well - because she also values sexual openness and diversity.

Before that Magic tournament, you’re practicing and theory-crafting together, she’s an avid player herself. Maybe even she was the one who found the tournament in the first place and pushed both of you to go. She of course also participates, and you excitedly tell each other all about your matches - sharing the excitement or frustration not just out of empathy but as fellow gamers/competitors.

This might sound too good to be true - and usually it is. Note that, in principle, no amount of love for you can make her something she’s not. Partners do occasionally pick up each other’s hobbies, and sometimes even really get into them (not just for the quality couple time - actually get into them and do it even on their own) - but it’s rare and should never be expected or counted on. Even rarer are career changes, or value shifts. When it does happen - awesome. Remember to appreciate your partner if she did it intentionally. 

Getting such alignment on even 1-2 core aspects of your life can be a game changer. 

I would treat a level 0 support on any goal or even hobby you have as a serious red flag. Even if you decide that “actually it’s not that important anyway” and give it up - supposedly solving the issue - your relationship starts off based on you trying to fit your round peg into her square hole (pun intended) and it rarely stops at "just this hobby".

Level 1 is also not great - and should be transitioned into level 0 or 2, then reconsider the relationship if it’s a 0.

Level 2+ on everything is a sign of a caring and considerate partner, at least in my view. Congrats - she loves you :)

Goes without saying, but you should strive to be a supportive partner yourself: giving the same treatment you would want to receive. Be her level 2+ on everything :)

As with any other aspect of a relationship - it’s complicated. The level of support/alignment from your partner is very important - but it’s only another piece in the complex puzzle of long term relations. Don’t over-optimize!

Until next time, may you find your level-4-across-the-board unicorn.


1 comment:

  1. Hey Michael,
    (long time silent reader)
    Although your grades does seem to scale with how "enjoyable" a relationship might be, I think you've missed the aspect of a couple that complete each other.
    For instance, a spouse that is employed at a boring big corporation Can provide the economic safety for the entrepreneur to go on with his vision, despite not sharing the same passion for his startup, or startups as a whole.
    It might be less "enjoyable" than someone who shares this passion, but I think it would be better that two struggling entrepreneurs that passionately talk about what could be if only..

    Thank you for this blog.