All romantic relationships go through ups and downs; they all take work, commitment, and a willingness to adapt and change. But what if you have the extra challenge of being the partner of someone with a mental illness? It's hard to understand what someone with a mental illness needs. And you might not know how to help your partner with a mental illness while also taking care of yourself.
Here are some things you can do to find that balance.
Understand their diagnosis
Get to know more about the specific disorder your partner experiences. Take the time to learn about their mental health disorder. Mental illnesses are just that: illnesses. If you were in a relationship with someone with a heart condition, you'd likely try to find out all you could about lifestyle changes and treatment options. The same applies to mental illness.
Understanding your partner’s diagnosis can make it easier to identify how to be there for them when things get challenging rather than blindly reassuring them that things will be okay. For example, if your partner lives with panic attacks, ask about their triggers and specific worries and if there are ways you can help them.
Let them know you are there for them
Tell your partner that you love them and are there for them. Listen to your partner's experience and acknowledge their feelings. Ask your partner how you can best support them and listen to what they share with you.
Be a good listener
It's easy to think you know what someone else is going through, but usually this isn't true. People with mental illness are affected differently, so it's essential to listen to them to understand their perspectives better and help them in the best way possible.
Build a support system for yourself
Build a support system to lean on as you navigate your partner's mental illness. This can include trusted friends, family members, or maybe even a support group. When possible, reach out to other friends and family members to help ease your responsibilities. If you let them, you might be surprised how happy they are to lend a hand.
Don't become their therapist
Remember that it is not your responsibility to be your partner’s therapist. It creates an unhealthy power dynamic between you that will not work as a long-term solution.
Your role is to provide love and empathy for your partner so they feel supported and empowered to care for themselves and take responsibility for their treatment plan.
You'll be better able to support your loved one if you take steps to maintain your own physical and mental health.
Ideas for self-care include:
- Practicing good sleep habits.
- Getting regular physical activity.
- Eating nutritious foods.
- Spending time with friends and other loved ones.
- Doing things that you enjoy regularly.
- Journaling about your thoughts and feelings.
- Practicing mindfulness meditation and relaxation, especially when stressed.
And be mindful of signs of burnout or caregiver fatigue. These include:
- Neglecting your own needs.
- Spending the majority of your day caregiving.
- Experiencing difficulty relaxing or finding enjoyment.
- Spending very little time with friends or other loved ones.
- Being more irritable or impatient than is typical for you, especially with your partner.
- Feeling alone and helpless.
Get help for yourself
If you're living with someone with a mental health illness, it is not unusual for you to experience a range of emotions such as frustration, anger, and sadness. Seeking out individual therapy, couples counseling, or family therapy that aims to strengthen your relationship can be immensely helpful during this time. Both couples counseling and individual counseling may be appropriate.
As a partner of someone with mental illness, you can be a great source of support. Though you will experience some challenges, a combination of these tips, and an accepting and positive attitude, will carry you through.
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