It can be incredibly tough knowing what to do for the best if your Partner is having mental health problems or experiencing tough emotions. We’ve put together some basic ideas from our leading team of Psychologists and Therapist to help you cope…
Where Do I Start?
It’s important to remember that in any relationship there are two partners. So as you’re reading the ideas below it’s often a good idea to keep in mind that your own wellbeing and needs are as just as important as those of your partner.
It might sound ‘corny’ but remember the expression when you get on an aeroplane about putting on your own mask before helping others? This makes good sense, because unless you’re in a good place yourself, it could be very difficult to help your partner cope with emotional problems.
1) Support – Rather Than Taking Over
If someone you care about is struggling, there is often a ‘pull’ to do as much as you can for them.
Sometimes this can be helpful, for example if your partner is laid up in bed with two broken legs then they will certainly need lots more help. However, when someone is experiencing emotional difficulties it can be harder to know where the balance is. With psychological issues it’s often important to help someone get back to leading as normal life as possible, as soon as possible.
For many emotional problems your partner might be facing, an important ‘antidote’ can be getting involved with day-to-day activities that can provide a sense of accomplishment, enjoyment or mastery over a particular problem area. The hard bit can be supporting someone to take on more responsibility for doing these things – especially if their motivation is low due to the problems they are experiencing.
A great idea here is to provide as much encouragement and praise as you can when your partner does things that seem like they are steps closer back to a ‘normal life’, and to respond less to things they do that seem less helpful. Take care not to bully them into activities, but firm encouragement and gentle suggestions are usually fine.
2) Validate Their Experiences But Try Not To Be ‘Sucked In’ To Them
There’s a difference between empathy and sympathy.
Try to be empathic and really listen (and hear) how life feels for them. But aim to avoid sympathy where you actually start to ‘feel’ their pain too. It can be difficult to know whether to have conversations about how they are feeling, and many partners often struggle to know the ‘right things’ to say – after all, you aren’t a trained Therapist!
The truth is, conversation is usually a good thing as long as it is focused around how things can be improved, rather than simply dwelling on what the problem is over and over. All too often it can be tempting to listen to how much someone is struggling, without asking them to think about how things might be changed. It’s OK to say that you don’t have answers to their problems, but see if you can balance this with maintaining a sense that answers can be found if they continue to look in the best places for them.
If you feel out of your depth then it’s usually a good idea to encourage a partner that is struggling with difficult emotions to seek professional help from an appropriate Therapist or Doctor. This is especially the case is some of their experiences seem unusual, or very different from usual – or if they have struggled over a longer period of time.
3) Open Lines Of Communication
If you are feeling a bit ‘out of depth’ with knowing what to say for the best, then it can put a strain on your relationship with your partner who is experiencing mental health problems. In turn this can sometimes exacerbate their problems even more, and create problems for you too.
A particularly effective therapy for couples where one person is experiencing a mental health problem is called Behavioural Couples Therapy. At a basic level it helps couples understand what eachother’s behaviours ‘say’ or mean – a bit like decoding a foreign language at times!
A good course of behavioural couples therapy will help you to try and understand how they see life, and make clear to them, in a helpful way, how you see things. If there are differences, your Therapist will help you to both use your relationship as a way to help your partner overcome the problems they are facing, as well as to help you both to strengthen aspects of the relationship that might have been put under strain.
4) Encourage Help-Seeking Behaviours
Perhaps one of the most important tips in the list…
Try to remember, you are a partner, not a therapist or ‘saviour’ – and nor should you try to be. Whilst it is natural to try and do your best for your partner, this might involve encouraging them to engage with the right people to help them. Sometimes, if we try to ‘go it alone’ this can mean that they don’t actually get the opportunity to see someone with particular knowledge and experience in treating the problems they are facing.
Whilst you can’t force someone to seek help, the research shows that the right types of psychological therapies can actually reduce the likelihood of problems reoccurring in the future. So it’s important to try not to ‘do the best you can’, when they may actually need to address things more fully in order to benefit both now and in the long term.
5) Know How To Keep Compassionate Boundaries
It’s important to ‘be there’ for someone, but not at any cost. Ask yourself how much you can reasonably give your partner, and what things you really can’t. It’s ok, and in fact healthy to have boundaries as long as they are clear, consistent and reasonable. Take some time to think about what you can offer, and what you can’t…
Important areas to consider are: Time, energy, emotional heartache, finances, advice – and so on. Only you know yourself best, and so when you think about these areas try to be honest with yourself – everyone is different. It’s really key to stick to your decision and explain this to your partner. By having clear boundaries it will help them to know that you care, and that you are there for them, but that they also have to take charge of their own emotional wellbeing too.
Keep an eye out for signs of Carer’s Fatigue, and take immediate steps if you see signs appearing.
Need More Help? If you are struggling, or feel that your emotional wellbeing is slipping – our team can help. Why not get in touch to find out about Private Therapies we can offer from our UK Clinics…