When committing to a relationship, many people like to pretend that they are becoming one with their partner. The cliché is that they have found their other half. Unfortunately, this belief cannot last all that long.
There is one surefire scenario that shows people in relationships just how separate from each other they are. When your partner is struggling with mental health issues, you simply have no idea what they’re going through. This creates a tricky environment.
Of course, you want to be there for them in whatever way they need. You want them to share their struggles with you so that you can take care of them. However, people struggling with mental health issues may not want to talk about it or simply may not know how. They themselves don’t know what they need, and might not want to “burden” you with it.
This can lead to a deep sense of isolation. The person you speak everything over with cannot be there for you. Instead, you’re left trying to figure out what to do for them entirely on your own. It is natural for feelings such as worry, resentment, guilt, and rejection to come and go. The problem is that if you bring these into your conversations with your partner, it can end up becoming about you.
How do you speak to your partner about their mental health without feeling like you’re navigating a minefield?
Tell them you are there for them
You may think that this is not something you have to say. After all, you have committed to be there for each other no matter what. Surely they don’t think you’ll abandon them when they need you most.
However, there are a number of reasons that reminding them of your unwavering support is important. Mood disorders like depression and bipolar disorder distort a person’s thinking. There is a chance that they feel so worthless that it is difficult for them to see how much you love them.
Furthermore, they may not feel like they are worth your support. By telling them that you’re there for them no matter what, you remind them of their worth in your life. They may tell you that you don’t need to be, giving you the chance to reassure them that you’re not just there out of a sense of obligation. You want to be there with them.
Ask what they need… once
Assuming you know what they need can lead to decisions that make them feel worse. You may end up taking up space when what they want is some time for themselves. On the other hand, you might assume that they don’t want you there when they simply don’t have the energy to show you how much they value your presence.
It is a good idea to ask them what they need from you. They can give you an idea of what kind of care will help them most, and will appreciate that you’re listening.
However, do not badger them about it. They probably don’t know exactly what they need, and asking them over and over again can reinforce a sense of helplessness. Run things by them rather than making executive decisions for their sake, but don’t make them responsible for their own care.
Your instinct might be to walk on eggshells. After all, you don’t want to upset or irritate them. However, it is you they want to lean on, not some watered down version of yourself. This is not to say you should act like nothing’s wrong. On the contrary, being yourself requires you to acknowledge that something is wrong rather than dancing around the issue.
There is a difficult balance to find here. Trying to “be yourself” can often lead you to act most differently. Being yourself requires you to strip away layers rather than to add any on. Instead of trying to act differently, notice the instinct to do so. Let it go, over and over again, so that you are left unencumbered by the instinct to be tentative or patronising.
Speak to other loved ones
As it is your partner who is struggling, you feel the responsibility for them firmly on your own shoulders. While you certainly have responsibility towards them, that does not mean you should try and carry it yourself. Speaking to other loved ones is crucial for your own wellbeing. If you keep everything between you and your partner, you end up overwhelmed and will ultimately struggle to be of any help.
Support systems are necessary, even for people in loving relationships. There is only so much of oneself a person can give when times are tough. Letting your loved ones in gives your partner the potential for more love and care.