Being in a relationship with someone you love can be beautiful, but it also can be challenging.
According to the American Psychological Association, couples who are marrying for the first time, have approximately 40-50% chance of divorcing.
It happens for various reasons. The most common reasons are communication problems, trust issues, domestic violence, substance abuse, financial problems, and too much conflict.
However, one thing that been talked about less is when one partner is dealing with a mental illness.
Mental illness is among the most common health conditions. In the US alone, nearly half of adults experience mental illness once in their lifetime. This means that almost 50% of people will be diagnosed with a mental illness or mental disorder at some point in their life.
The data shows that mental illness should not be taken lightly, especially if this happens to your partner. If you ignore your partner’s mental health, it can bring a negative impact on your mental health too.
So, instead of ignoring it, you can give your partner some support. Even though understanding the needs of someone with mental illness can be challenging, it is still possible to be in a healthy, loving and long-term relationship.
In this article, we will discuss a few ways for you to achieve that kind of relationship. But first, we will go through with the early signs of mental illness.
What Are The Signs Of Mental Illness?
Most partners can recognize the changes in their loved ones quicker than anyone else. That’s why it is important for you to learn about developing symptoms and early warning signs of mental illness, so you can offer some help to your partner.
1. Emotional outbursts
Rapid or dramatic shifts in emotions and feelings. Well, everyone was entitled to the occasional bad mood. But dramatic and sudden changes in mood such as extreme distress and anger can be a symptom of mental illness.
2. Feeling sad or down
Have you noticed that your partner is no longer interested in their hobby that they used to love? Have they seemed sad or unhappy for a few weeks or more? Or do you find your partner is lacking in motivation and teary all the time? If yes, they might be dealing with mental health issues.
3. Significant tiredness or problems sleeping
Pay attention to your partner if they are suddenly going to bed super early or not going to bed at all. Significant changes to a person’s sleep patterns could be a symptom of mental health problems. Sleeping too much or too little could indicate there is something more going on.
4. Problems with alcohol or drug use
The occasional drink is not usually a problem, but if your partner is starting to turn to alcohol more than usual, it worth your attention. Substance abuse, such as alcohol and drugs, can be a sign of (and a contributor to) mental health issues.
5. Little or no desire for sexual activities
Sexual desire can fluctuate over time, so it is natural for you or your partner to not crave sex all the time. Furthermore, they may just generally have a low sex drive. However, a significant drop in their usual sex-drive can be an indicator of underlying struggles.
Having one or two signs from the list above does not necessarily mean that your partner definitely has a mental illness. However, it may indicate a need for further evaluation. As a partner, it is important for you to gently and supportively raise these points with your other half.
Firstly and perhaps most importantly, do not think that mental illness is a relationship deal-breaker. In spite of the challenges, there are ways to maintain a healthy relationship when mental illness is a factor in the relationship. Nevertheless, both of you must have the skills and awareness to cope and communicate through these challenges.
Often the person with mental illness may feel shame, embarrassment, or guilt about their mental health issues. As such, they may try to hide their symptoms and fail to seek the help they need. Therefore, as a partner, when your loved one is struggling with mental illness, it is important to be understanding and supportive.
How to be a supportive partner
1. Educate yourself
Do your research and learn about mental health and mental illnesses. There are a number of ways to gain information about these topics, be it books, academic journals, lived-experience blogs and/or podcasts, and so on.
Mental health professionals can help to educate you about your partner’s illness and treatment. They also can give you advice about your role in terms of supporting your partner. By understanding your partner’s diagnosis, it will be much easier for you to identify how to be there for them when things get tough.
For example, if your partner has a generalized anxiety disorder, do not gloss over their worries by blindly reassure them with something like “things will turn out okay”. Instead, support them by asking about their specific concerns and listen in an effort to understand their experiences.
2. Do not try to become your partner’s therapist
You can educate yourself to help and support your partner in certain ways, but it is not your responsibility to be their therapist. Being your partner’s therapist will not work in the long term, even if you are a trained mental health professional. There is a conflict of interest, and your partner may be hesitant to reveal to you the extent of their issues. Maybe they feel scared, ashamed, or worried that you will leave them if you know the true nature of their problems. For your part, it is more than enough if you can provide love, empathy, and support during their recovery journey.
3. Embrace empathy and show sympathy
Being diagnosed with a mental illness can feel embarrassing and even frightening. Your partner might worry that you will not love and desire them anymore. Therefore, it important for you to show that you are there ready to love and support them. When your partner has someone they love by their side, it can strengthen their determination to get professional help and go through the treatment process.
4. Encourage outside support
As a partner, you might want to support your other half through recovery, but no matter how hard you try to understand their situation, there’s still a chance that you can’t fully relate to their struggle if you have not experienced it for yourself. Encourage your partner to join a mental illness support community. By joining in, they can greatly benefit from knowing that they are not alone with the diagnosis. They can share their daily struggles, their triggers, their ups and downs, and encourage each other to feel better and progress in their recovery. Having a healthy support system can also give them access to new ways of coping and brainstorming on how to improve their mental health.
5. Practice self-care
Self-care is a necessity for everyone, however, it becomes even more crucial if you have a partner with mental health problems. Remember, you are now part of their support system, so if you are not taking care of your own mental health, you run the risk of developing your own problems alongside your partner. To effectively support your partner, you must take care of yourself first. Get enough sleep, exercise regularly, spend time with your friends and family, and maintain your own interests or passions. Spend some time engaging in activities or hobbies that you enjoy.
You also can join a support group for those who support loved ones with mental illness. Take this opportunity to share your own experience and get to know other people’s experiences too.
Overall, it is critical to take care of own health first, so you can provide support, remain engaged and guide your partner toward appropriate professional care.
Mental illness is just that – an illness. It needs to be treated as such. Do not allow mental illness to destroy your relationship with someone you love. Instead, take it as a challenge to be managed and overcome.
Remember, when they are struggling, they are not a monster. Their behaviour may change, but they are the same person that you have always loved.
Thank you to Joyce for this guest post. You can find Joyce on her own blog, TheUglyFact.com.
Do you have experience of supporting a loved one with mental illness? Maybe you’re the one who has been supported? What worked/works for you? Let me know in the comments.