Support is best received, and most meaningful, when it comes from someone close
Attempting to support a partner who is experiencing mental ill-health can be a stressful ordeal. Not only for your partner (for obvious reasons), but the invisible thread that connects their happiness with yours can put you too in a state of distress. When you find yourself in this position, it can be quite challenging to do anything, let alone something that might help them feel some form of relief from what they’re going through. Saying or doing the wrong thing, even if it’s backed by good intentions, can sometimes result in an unexpected, negative reaction. This shouldn't deter you from continuing to try, as support is best received, and most meaningful, when it comes from someone close.
In a situation like this, it’s not uncommon to find yourself feeling a range of different emotions - guilt if you accidentally set them off, frustration if you’re unable to connect with them or help them, sadness at the sheer magnitude of the emotional situation or exacerbation that things don't seem to improve.
The situation can be very difficult to navigate. What can I do to help? Who can I reach out to? Valid questions that don’t always have straight-forward answers. However, there are some small and simple steps that you can enact to show your support :
Showing Your Support
Impacting change is very different from showing support, and in many circumstances just consistently 'being there' can provide a strong foundation for a partners improvement.
Let your partner know that you’re there for them and provide them with a space where they can feel comfortable in offloading their thoughts and emotions. For men especially, the notion of a safe-space might be a foreign one, as conversations like these are hardly encouraged within the settings they often find themselves in. This makes you well-positioned to provide this space for them, and could be the difference between them opening up and talking about their emotions or bottling them up and letting them fester.
Performing kind gestures for your partner is also a good way to let them know that you support them and that you’re on their side in the battle they may be privately waging.
Clinical advice is not always necessary
Although it may be beneficial to read up on how you can support your partner, and to try to steer them away from engaging in unhealthy behaviours, taking the role of their therapist can create an unhealthy power dynamic that will not work as a long-term solution. As a partner, your role is to provide love and support for your other half, not to be an authority on how they should conduct themselves.
Although it may be frustrating to see your partner abdicate the responsibility they have to take care of themselves, these seemingly simple tasks may be harder for them to undertake than you think, and any pressure you apply in moving this process along might do more harm than good. Patience is key.
As mentioned earlier, experiencing first-hand your partner’s struggles with their mental health can take its toll on your own well-being. Although you’re looking out for them, make sure that someone is looking out for you too. You can do this yourself by doing all the healthy stuff: sleeping well, keeping active, staying social, journaling, doing what you love to do.
Sometimes our compassion can go into overdrive when witnessing someone we care about go through a difficult time, oftentimes resulting in burnout. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, don’t consider it selfish to take care of your own needs from time to time. Keep in mind that your own wellbeing is no less important (and sometimes necessary for you to continue offering your love and support to your partner).
It’s important to note that these tips aren’t meant to help you “fix” your partner. Keep in mind that it’s not your role to assume a therapist position. However, that doesn’t mean you’re not helping and that you don’t play an important role in their recovery towards a healthier state of mind. Although you mightn’t be able to help them, you can always strive to be a pillar of support that your partner can depend upon when they need someone to turn to. Sometimes the best thing you can do for someone is to be present and to give them every opportunity to share with you the world inside their head.
Although these times may be stressful, and there may be more times like these ahead, the remediating effects of proper love and support can never be understated. They might not be explicitly appreciated by the other party, but the supportive words and gestures that you extend to them might be what they need for them to stay on top of their mental health and to keep them in high spirits while they work through it.
The notion of support, however, comes with a word of caution. Their journey may be important to you, but it might not be healthy to let their journey disrupt or overshadow yours if it’s causing you too much strain. Part of your role as a partner is to make sacrifices for their sake, but there is a limit to how far these sacrifices should go relative to how well you can tolerate them.
For example, if the relationship becomes toxic, it might seem counterintuitive to your own sense of self-worth, and perhaps your sense of morality, to support and care for someone that is causing you pain. This can add another dimension of complexity to your relationship, and the difficulty of figuring out the best course of action is compounded (especially if you really care about them). Professional help is advised in situations like these to help you weigh up your options as they can be very stressful to work through alone.
However, if the sacrifices you’re making for your partner are manageable and you can see a future together for yourselves, sticking by them through their battle with mental ill-health and providing the support they need to manage it may be what they need to see them through to the other side.
To get in touch with mental health support services, click here.