A post by Firestorm.
I have been in a committed relationship for the past six years. My partner suffers from several different Mental Health Issues (MHI) rolled in to one nasty ball of doom and gloom. The short version: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Depression and Anxiety.
At times, it feels like there is a third person in my relationship with my partner: – The MHIs. They come between us, and constantly sow doubts and confusion. What I’m writing here is my guide, based on personal experiences on how to help and support your partner who has MHIs). But before going any further, please understand these few basic things:
- These are REAL. They are NOT made up.
- They are NOT a weakness.
- They can be debilitating and prevent people from having a normal life.
- Nobody wants to have them, especially those who do have them.
- They ARE treatable and manageable and a relatively normal life is possible.
Supporting your Partner: Get a Therapist
The most important thing that I can point out here is work with a therapist. You are their partner. NOT the therapist. Trying to be the therapist will emotionally drain you and make you resent your partner. You are NOT responsible for providing therapy. Get them to a therapist who is qualified to teach and help them improve how they deal with their MHI, inside and outside the relationship.
You need to trust your partner here, and the therapist. Let the therapist do their job. The sessions between your partner and their therapist is a PRIVATE affair. You can ask how it went but DO NOT pressure them for details. Remember: – Your job is to be the support, so support them by being there.
If your partner does not feel comfortable with a therapist after several session, CHANGE the therapist. The cause of this could be something specific, or just a vague sense of unease or discomfort. A good therapist won’t take this personally and will recommend other therapists. Their focus is on helping!
If the therapist wants you to join in (couples therapy) please do so. The importance of just doing this for your partner is immense. Actions truly speak louder than words in this case and will help prove to your partner that you are committed to helping them cope better to build and share a life together.
Support your Partner: Understand the Issue
In general, once a diagnosis has been made, it falls to you as their partner to educate yourself about the condition, so that you can provide the best support possible, to ensure that your partner can adapt and overcome the MHI that they face. It is also common for the diagnosis to cover several different conditions and this means that being there to provide support requires different things from YOU. Please, educate yourself because knowing and understanding their MHI is the first step in providing support. Your understanding of their condition, is acknowledgement that there is an issue to address, and proves to your partner that you have been listening to what they have to say.
Support your Partner: Acknowledgement
Your partner has admitted that they are suffering from an MHI. Remember to acknowledge that. The stigma attached to having a mental health issue is HUGE. Admitting that you are suffering from such a condition is borderline Taboo. Acknowledge their commitment to getting better. When the issue in question rears up, quiet words of support and encouragement are good. A few quiet words can help calm them and prevent a meltdown from occuring.
Support your Partner: Listen
Whatever the MHI, it is going to make your partner anxious, and nervous. They are going to want to talk. Sometimes about the issue, sometimes just to air their fears and concerns. No matter what: – Listen to them. Even if it is something that they have said before, that you have heard before. Listening helps them know that you care about them, what they say, what they think.
Support your Partner: Structure the Day
Over time, any MHI will sap your partners willingness to do things. Whatever that thing might be. There will be days when even the thought of getting out of bed will seem like too much. Try to build a structure/routine that can be broken down into simple steps on a checklist that can be followed and ticked off as they are done. The sense of accomplishment, of pride in getting that thing done – whether its a load of laundry, breakfast or just getting out bed can be the “pick-me-up” that helps make the day more positive.
Support your Partner: Do Things Together
Block time, plan activities and things to do together. This can be anything from playing games together (gaming/consoles/cards/board games) to watching YouTube together. Let your partner decide what to do, and when to do it. Give them control of making their life better, with you as a part of it. This helps give them something to look forward to – mini-reward if you will – and it can help give them a focus. My partner and I use this daily. We schedule “us” time and vary the activity. Sometimes it’s cooking together, or just cuddling. Block the time. No interruptions. It’s just the two of you.
Taking Care of Yourself: You deserve it
You are the support, the one who will be there for them as much as you can be. As time goes by, you will be doing a lot to support them. It becomes important for you to take care of yourself as well because burning yourself out is bad for both of you and the relationship. This means that you have to make time for yourself and also set some boundaries ahead of time to prevent that burnout from happening.
Taking Care of Yourself: Setting Boundaries
You have to strike the balance between boundaries and patient with their MHI induced negative behaviors. It will take time to learn what behaviors are caused or triggered by the MHI. At this point, you need to be patient, acknowledge and listen and support them through the crisis as it were.
However, there IS a limit. Mental Health Issues do not give anyone a license to be cruel or hurtful to another person. Setting boundaries is critical here, because you cannot always be the one to give ground. Doing this all the time, will make you resentful and bitter towards your partner, NOT the condition caused by the MHI. The hard part will be putting your foot down, gently but firmly when they start hurling insults, accusations and threats. You are their support. Not their doormat.
Taking Care of Yourself: Enforcing Boundaries
Whatever happens, remember that it is not about you. Take a deep breath, remind yourself that it is just that: – You are not the source of the problem. This is about helping your partner through this difficult period. Listen and address what your partner is saying and feeling. How you react is more important than how your partner reacts. Set the boundaries and follow them. This will allow you to be there for them, instead of becoming their doormat.
What NOT to do!
I’ve talked a lot about what to do, what you can do to support and be there for your partner. I’ve also said a little bit about how you can take care of yourself. It’s what I do to help me manage the situation.
Now… I feel that it is also incredibly relevant to mention briefly what you should NOT do. A lot of this is common sense, but in my view, Common Sense is not common and is as rare as a superpower. DO NOT:-
- Criticize them for having a Mental Health Issue – as stated right at the outset, nobody actually wants these issues
- Dismiss their concerns about anything. I know it will test your patience, especially when they bring up the same things repeatedly, but the things that they bring up are their fears. Listen, reassure, comfort them.
- Try to “fix” your partner, or more accurately become their therapist. Your job is to support them. Do your part, let the therapist do theirs. Caveat: – If you have been in couples therapy or joined in the therapy sessions and your therapist has recommended activities/events/things you can do to support, then do so.
- Lose your temper or patience every time something flares up. It’s not easy. It is hard on you? Definitely. Remember it is your role to support them through these issues, not become a source of stress or a trigger for those Issues.
- Give them medications or recommend medication to them. Again, you are overstepping in to the therapist’s area of responsibility here. Caveat: – Some medications are meant to be taken to help manage flare ups of MHIs such as Alprazolam (a.k.a Xanax) for anxiety/depression. If your partner has gone in to full crisis/panic/meltdown, and you have the approval of the therapist (you are following their instructions), give them the medical dosage prescribed.
My relationship is not an easy one to be in. These days, there are more good days than bad ones. There are good days with dark spots in them. There are bad days where everything seems to be wrong with everyone and everything. My partner has a better understanding of her condition, and takes steps to minimize their impact. Progress and improvement is there. Slowly. Steadily. Things are getting better for us both. My partner did not choose this.
The question I get a lot: “What about you?”
Well… what about me? I am in this relationship. With my partner. For lack of a better term, I have “chosen” this. I chose to be their support. I chose to be there for them. I chose to support them to the best of my ability. I am in this relationship, with my partner. Mental Health Issues included. I love her. Nothing changes that.
In the Next Article: Dealing with the Meltdown.
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