This time of year is notorious for mental health struggles. Many of us suffer from some winter blues; temporarily kept at bay by holiday lights and festivities, they have a tendency to feel more potent in the early months of a new year. The holiday season may have kept us busy and bolstered us with anticipation, but now that season is over. We may be exhausted from all the goings-on and mental stresses or processing some fallout with a family member or friend. All the while, the “theme” of this time is fresh starts and resolutions while we are feeling depleted and down. These issues can exacerbate year-round mental health struggles, so you may find yourself needing to provide extra support to a partner who is having a tough time.
No matter the time of year, the struggles of our loved ones can be challenging. Mental illness can present itself in many ways and impact many aspects of our relationships. When your partner has depression and/or anxiety, you can feel as though you are both constantly at the mercy of a negative force, waiting to see if it swoops in to disrupt your lives. We see and treat these issues, as well as OCD and addiction, here at our practice in Woodland Hills, 91364.
It is not your responsibility to heal your partner but rather to be supportive and understanding. Everyone comes to relationships with their histories and issues, and a strong partnership is one built on mutual respect, honesty, and strong communication. You may have that with your partner, but find that his/her/their mental health struggles are particularly challenging. This doesn’t mean that you are not doing your best or that your relationship is doomed to fail. Mental health issues affect the sufferer, so of course, that has an impact on that person’s ongoing relationship with you.
How Mental Health Issues Affect Relationships
1. The mental health disorder takes a toll on the relationship:
As a couple, you both may have dealt with many challenges due to the mental health issues of one partner. You might have canceled events or left early because of an unexpected panic attack or onset of depression or distress.
You may have done your best to cope with the change of plans, but at times they can lead to isolation and disconnection from others and/or each other.
There may have been times when you had needs that couldn’t be met because the other person’s needs were greater. No matter how much you love your partner, you may experience periods where you feel that you can’t understand them, or they can’t support you the way you need. Adapting to your partner’s needs may require you to make concessions on things that are important to you, creating stress and anxiety about your own identity.
2. You’ve never dealt with a mental health issue this closely before:
No matter how long you’ve been with your partner, this may be the first time you’re encountering a mental health struggle. While we sometimes know about a person’s struggle with anxiety or low self-esteem as soon as we meet them, there are other instances in which severe episodes like depression, OCD, or addiction may not strike the relationship for years. You may have seen others struggle with similar issues; maybe you had a friend whose boyfriend dealt with addiction or a friend who had panic attacks. But as the mental health illness of your partner worsens, you might feel unprepared to cope with its daily impact on the relationship.
3. It feels like your social circle just doesn’t get it:
It goes without saying that we are never fully aware of the goings-on of the lives of others. This can create tension and disappointment when we try to explain our struggles to our loved ones. When your partner is struggling, you may find that you need a safe space to share your issues but don’t receive quite the response you would hope for. Your loved ones may be quick to dismiss the emotional burden you have shouldered, as you are not the person who has the issues.
They may also begin to view your partner as a burden or obstacle to you; you may be told to walk away or leave when all you really want is encouragement. While it is true that there is a limit to what you might expect yourself to concede or overcome in any relationship, you may feel hurt or lonely when others expect you to walk away from something that is important to you.
Regardless of how long you have been with your partner, a deterioration in his/her/their mental health can be a stressor. When we encounter mental illness in a couple’s relationship, it helps to approach it as we would any issue that might arise. Mental health struggles are very common and have real-world solutions, tips, and tricks to facilitate communication and dialogue. The severity of the struggle can be a factor, but more often than not, a willingness to be honest and work toward a solution goes a long way. This responsibility falls to both people: the partner with the struggle has to want to utilize coping tools, and the other has to want to preserve their mental health while continuing in the established relationship.
5 Tools to Deal With Your Partner’s Struggle
1. Educate yourself:
Understanding the biological, psychological, or societal factors that play a role in your loved one’s mental health disorder is a crucial step towards healing and recovery. Family history may play a part; your partner could have strong feelings based on the way a mental illness in the family was handled in the past, including his relationship status with that person. There may be stigmas around the disorder that your partner may find especially hurtful or counterproductive; being aware of them can help you to avoid alienating your partner. It also benefits you to be aware of behaviors not associated with the disorder so that you can establish healthy boundaries.
A mental health struggle is not a free-for-all for lying, cheating, or abuse. Being on the same page as your partner about what to expect with this particular issue will help you to feel secure that you are not being manipulated or gaslit, which are common worries to have when we are being tested or feel we are backed into a corner. I know you lived through many experiences, but truthfully, witnessing their mental health disorder and symptoms do not equate to knowing about it. In educating yourself, you are arming yourself to be curious and compassionate when needed while also feeling secure in the fact that you aren’t being exploited in any way.
2. Stay consistent:
No matter how bumpy the road to recovery may be, you have to stay the course. I know there are days you are going to feel tired and think, “Just this one time, I won’t wake them up early” (if your loved one is struggling with depression), or, “Just this one time, I will check that the front door is locked” (if your loved one is struggling with OCD), or, “Just this one time, I will let them have a beer.” There are going to be days you are going to feel busy with other things. There can be hundreds of reasons and stressors that will make it difficult for you to keep up with your boundaries and expectations. However, staying consistent is not about being stubborn; it is about being predictable.
You and your partner had probably discussed what is best for both of you, at a time when he/she/they wasn’t/weren’t struggling. Having clearly established boundaries gives you full permission to uphold them. No matter what state your partner is in, they/she/he will find your response to be the same: a previously agreed-upon action that is best for both of you. This not only facilitates your partner’s goals but makes clear where your exit point will be, should you need one. These exit points are not set as ultimatums but as an expectation of a certain standard. If you don’t want to be with someone who sleeps until noon, and it is getting harder and harder to wake your partner up in the morning, then neither of you are meeting your agreed-upon goals. Whether this is a deal-breaker for you is up to you, but it might be.
Consistent communication of expectations is key to navigating this dynamic.
3. Take care of yourself:
Your partner’s problem has probably taken center stage in your relationship and family life while this struggle has been going on. It is important to make time for your needs; you may have
neglected them. This is not a bad thing for a period of time; maybe it was necessary. However, as your partner’s mental health needs became the priority, your needs were ultimately neglected. You may feel guilty about prioritizing yourself, especially if your partner is still working on climbing out from an upsetting or unsettled period. Still, you can’t pour from an empty cup. You deserve to look out for yourself, and you are also better at supporting your partner when you provide yourself with care. This can include carving out time to do things you enjoy on your own, like taking a fitness class, an art class, going for walks, or going to the cinema. It can mean staying connected to family and friends outside of your romantic relationship.
Taking care of yourself may also mean that you seek individual therapy for yourself. You might think, “Why me? I don’t have depression or addiction or OCD.” But you don’t need to have a mental health disorder to seek therapy. There are a lot of benefits to meeting with someone who holds a neutral position in your life, who can provide objective observations and guide self-exploration and expression.
4. Lean on your support system:
While fostering self-care is beneficial, it doesn’t mean that you have to have all the answers for yourself, nor all the strength. It can be scary to think of going through hard times alone, worrying that you can’t or shouldn’t reach out for support while you are supporting someone else. You don’t have to be able to guide your loved ones through their mental health experience on your own. Sometimes you will need other family members, friends, neighbors, or colleagues to help, and help may look different for every situation or family. Some days, the help might mean that they bring you a dish for dinner or help pick up the kids from school. Other days help means that
they take your loved one to therapy.
Your friends and family members, and those of our partner, may be well-meaning but not fully able to understand your situation. As well as utilizing your support network for day-to-day tasks, you also need to expand your support system by connecting with others who are going through what you are going through. There are Al-Anon meetings for family members who are affected by addiction; NAMI or IOCDF has resources for family members as well.
5. Don’t take it personally:
Whatever happens, you cannot take responsibility for someone else’s journey. It is not your fault that your loved one is depressed or struggling with addiction. Their struggle is also not a reflection of you or their feelings for you; it is not that “If they just loved you more, they would fight it.” This has nothing to do with you. And while it is understandable and commendable that you want to help and support your partner, there is truly a limit to what you can do. If your partner isn’t willing or able to take steps to feel better, no amount of your assistance can change that. If your partner is doing all that can be done and you are still having a hard time, that doesn’t make you a bad
You may find that you have many questions, concerns, and/or fears about your relationship when your partner is struggling. These sorts of events can trigger insecurity and confusion, and guilt for both parties. While you are worried that you’re not doing enough to support your partner, your partner may be concerned about being a burden. While your partner is trying to
explain their feelings, you might be nervous about expressing your own. You and your partner may want to explore couples’ therapy as a means of opening up dialogue and considering your situation from another point of view, under the guidance of a qualified professional. Every relationship has ups and downs, and times when one partner needs more attention than the other. Navigating those ups and downs with mutual respect, love, and honesty is what matters.
Other Services at Embracing You Therapy
Here at Embracing You Therapy Group, we invite you to explore with us how life would be different if you had more control over your thoughts and emotions, and we invite you to consider that it is possible to accept things just as they are, embracing imperfections to create a gentler place for calm in your life.
At our mental health practice in Woodland Hills, CA, we offer individual therapy and couple’s therapy. Both Dr. Menije, Ani Seferyan, AMFT, Cindy Sayani, AMFT, and Ani Seferyan, AMFT offer virtual therapy to treat mental health concerns including panic attacks, OCD, phobias, and stress; Mood disorders including depression; Relationship issues, both in couples therapy and with individual clients; Perinatal mental health issues such as postpartum depression, Codependency, and Addiction.
Let’s learn what drives your unique perspective on anxiety and stress. Then, let’s find the tools-your unique tools-that help you respond to life in a healthy, calm way. Contact us today for your complimentary 20-minute phone consultation with our Client Care Coordinator.