Supporting a partner with mental health challenges
Posted by Admin
11th Apr 2019

Everyone has mental health. When mental ill-health is affecting your partner, it can be difficult to offer the support that they need and want, whilst providing yourself with adequate self-care. Knowing how to support your partner and yourself can lead to a happy and healthy relationship.

When your other half is struggling, the pressure to provide them with the best support mounts, and it can be hard to manage those expectations that you, or others, put on yourself.

Counsellor and trainer Laurele Mitchell BA (Hons) PgDip MNCS (Snr Accred) says: “Supporting someone you love with a mental health condition can be challenging and has the potential to impact your own mental health. Borrowing from the safety demonstration before a flight: in order to support someone you love, you must first put on your own oxygen mask.”

In every relationship, times can be challenging, that’s part of life, but these emotions can be heightened when one or the other is struggling. With moods changing day by day, just like our physical health, it can be helpful to have some supportive techniques in place to support your partner. Laurele shares four tips to keep in mind when supporting a loved one with a mental health condition.

1 Communicate on a daily basis

As in every relationship, communication is key. Aim to listen to your partner without trying to fix them. Accepting that this is the way that life is at the moment will, in turn, help you to accept your partner and to trust that they are doing their best. 

Listening to and being accepting of your partner and their mental health condition is incredibly powerful and sends out the message that you’re there.

2 Plan for challenging times

Mental health conditions don’t follow a straight line. Writing down what both partners need, including from each other, before an episode, can take some of the stress out of an otherwise challenging situation by giving you one less thing to think about.

You can take away some of the guesswork and forms an agreement, to which you can both refer, if, for example, your partner needs to withdraw as a way of coping with their mental health condition. The potential to hurt feelings is minimised and, instead, replaced by understanding.

3 Don’t define your partner by their mental health

It is not who your partner is as a person, but something that they are experiencing. To that end, continue to invest in your relationship as you would if your partner were not experiencing a mental health condition by doing things as a couple.

4 Set realistic boundaries and limitations

Know what support you can reasonably offer your partner and, almost more importantly, cannot. Perhaps a family member or even a mental health professional needs to pick up where you left off. If the situation requires it, it can sometimes be necessary to have a sense of and communicate clearly with your partner what your limits are and what you will and will not accept.

Poor mental health can affect our relationships in many different ways, whether you’re the partner struggling with a mental health condition or the care-giver. And if you are the care-giver, pressure can be felt to always be jolly and strong, but you too may be struggling with your partner’s struggle.

Referring back to the oxygen mask, whatever form this takes will be different for everyone. Examples include maintaining your life outside of the relationship, such as making time for and getting the support of family and friends, exercising, going for a massage, keeping up with your hobbies and interests, or seeking professional support such as counselling.

Whether you’re providing care of struggling yourself, there is help available. SANEline is available every day from 4.30pm to 10.30pm on 0300 304 7000 or you can contact a counsellor in your local area via the Advanced Search on Counselling Directory.

Written by Katie from Counselling Directory, a dedicated resource hub for mental health, connecting over 15,000 professional counsellors with the general public nationwide. Visit their dedicated Caring page for guidance and help for the effects of giving support for a loved one with mental ill health.

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