Whether it’s the first onset of a mental health issue or you’ve just started a new relationship with someone that has a mental health disorder, trying to be a good partner can be exhausting, confusing and potentially relationship breaking. You might have a lot of questions and think that this is more than you can handle but here are some answers that might just ease your worries.
“I don’t know anything about mental health.”
If your partner already has a diagnosis, then learn learn learn. There are loads of resources on the internet that are invaluable if you don’t really have any experience of mental health.
And don’t believe that you can’t have a good, healthy relationship with someone struggling with a mental health issue.
“What do I say?”
One of the most difficult parts of being a good partner is knowing what to say. You might have the best relationship in the world but when it comes to talking about mental health you might feel awkward and not be sure whether what you want to say is going to make matters worse.
Maybe it’s a cliché but the old adage ‘It’s not what you say, but how you say it,’ is really quite pertinent here.
When it comes to being a good partner, it’s not about knowing the answers. So just be able to listen and make sure that they know that you are available to talk to. Also, don’t be scared to ask questions. Your partner might find it easier to open up if you can prompt them with questions about how they are feeling. On the other hand, though, your partner might not be receptive to this. But chances are, you will know best which method will help your partner the most.
“What about me?”
Being in a relationship with someone who is struggling with a mental illness can definitely take its toll on your wellbeing, so here are a few things that you can do so that your wellbeing doesn’t fall by the wayside:
Make sure that you also have support for yourself, whether that is through friends and family or more formally through support groups.
Take time out for yourself and continue to do the things you enjoy. Even if your partner struggles to leave the house or cannot currently enjoy things that they used to, it’s important that you get time to do these activities.
Indulge in self-care. This should already be happening but if it’s not then create routine that you can do weekly or fortnightly, whatever suits you, where you can thoroughly pamper yourself and make sure that your emotional wellbeing is as good as it can be. Take a long, hot bath, watch trashy television, anything that helps you wind down and look after yourself.
Poor diet and sleep is often a symptom of mental health issues. It might be that your partner sleeps through the day or doesn’t sleep much at all, or maybe they aren’t interested in eating healthily because they don’t have any motivation. However, you need to look out for your own health needs too so eating a balanced diet and getting exercise and good quality sleep will benefit both of you.
“What if they don’t want help?”
This is a tricky one. There are a multitude of reasons why someone might not want treatment. Your partner might not think that they are as ill as you think they are or they might be scared of the stigma attached to having a mental health diagnosis. This can be really frustrating when all you want is for them to get better. So unfortunately there isn’t much you can do other than to be supportive. Try finding out the reasons behind them not wanting to seek help and perhaps offer to go to an appointment with them to see if that would help.
“But I’m not their carer?”
That’s absolutely true. And even if you want to help them out at every turn, it’s not going to be beneficial for your relationship to do that. A romantic relationship is not the same when you are constantly prompting them to get dressed or to have to help them leave the house.
Here it’s important to know your boundaries. Work out yourself or together what you both feel comfortable with. So if you decide that your relationship would be jeopardized by you having to help them out with getting dressed in the morning then maybe think about looking into external support such as carers.
Supporting a partner with mental health issues can be really challenging but not impossible so look after your own wellbeing and know what is possible for you to keep your good relationship going strong.