If your partner has a problem with their mental health, it can be tough – and it’s ok to admit that.
Around 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem in their lifetime. The impact on the people around them can be significant. Dealing with mental health issues in a relationship can be painful and challenging for everyone concerned. It can also impact work and finances, which increases the strain further.
You might want to really support your partner but feel like you're treading on eggshells. Or perhaps you’re worried that you are steamrolling them by constantly checking in and trying to take control of the situation. It can be difficult to know what’s best for them.
There’s no rulebook or one “right” way to support your partner with their mental health, but there are some ways you can help maintain a healthy and happy relationship with them.
Here are some things you can do to help your partner with their mental health issues.
1) Educate yourself
Mental health problems can feel confusing for everyone involved. Your partner might seem distant, stop pulling their weight at home, or go off intimacy. While this might be a sign of problems in the relationship, it could equally be a symptom of a mental health problem.
Common signs of a mental health problem can include:
Feeling low or anxious
Changes in appetite
Withdrawing from other people
Stopping doing things they used to enjoy
Being angry, irritable, or restless
Drinking more alcohol than usual
Avoiding dealing with problems
Having emotional outbursts
Crying more than usual
Looking unkempt or disheveled
Expressing a sense of hopelessness
If your partner has a mental health diagnosis, try to learn as much as you can about their problem. This way, you’ll be armed with the facts. This can help you to better understand their behavior and feel more confident when talking about it with them. There’s lots of information online – just make sure it comes from a reliable source.
You could also read more about the medication they might be on so you understand any potential side effects or improvements you might see.
2) Be their supporter
You can be a tower of strength to your partner just by letting them know that you’re there for them.
Often, people with mental health problems feel ashamed and alone, and might even blame themselves for what’s happening. Showing your support by listening to them and validating their experience reminds them that they’re not alone, it’s not their fault, and it’s ok to feel the way they do.
If they haven't already done so, you can encourage them to seek help and even offer to attend any first appointments with them. If they say no, that’s alright. Try not to force the issue as this might make them withdraw. It’s enough to make the offer.
You might want to explore the reasons they don’t want to seek support at another time. In the meantime, though, try to be patient and gentle. You can also let them know you’ll still be there to help when they’re ready.
Most of the time, you can show your support by just being you and behaving how you normally would. Treating someone differently can make them feel even more isolated. That doesn’t mean you can’t offer them a kind word. It just means you can do all the normal stuff, too.
3) Talk to each other
Keeping the lines of communication open is always important in a relationship. It’s even more crucial when one of you has a mental health issue. Try to check in with your partner during the day with phone calls or texts, and let them know that you’re thinking about them. You could also set some time aside each day just to talk and see how each other is doing.
Don’t be afraid to ask your partner about their mental health. Try asking open questions about what’s going on for them, and really listen to what they have to say. You might not like the answers – but that’s better than putting your head in the sand.
Try to be honest too, without being judgmental. It takes great courage for someone to open up about their mental health. Just take a breath, and listen.
Empathy is also a key ingredient. Try to really understand the situation from your partner's perspective and show compassion, but not pity. Most people don’t appreciate others feeling sorry for them.
4) Set boundaries
Setting boundaries can help to protect your emotional wellbeing and stop you from getting burned out. Healthy boundaries are ones that both partners have agreed to and stick to, but also have enough flex to adapt to different situations.
For example, you might not want to be called at work unless it’s an emergency, or you might like to know when your partner needs some alone time to avoid worrying about it. You could also agree to spend a certain amount of time together. Why not set aside one evening each week where you can really connect?
If you want, you can even set ground rules about how you treat each other, whether it’s no shouting during arguments or no silent treatment. Setting boundaries around finances can be important too if it feels relevant to you.
Remember that it’s ok to say no. You don’t always have to put your partner first or make yourself less important to accommodate them, even if they have a mental health issue. You can offer your partner love, understanding, and support, but that doesn’t mean you’re responsible for their mental health.
You’re not their doctor or therapist and it’s important to remember that they need to make their own decisions and manage their own symptoms.
5) Look after yourself
Being in a relationship with someone with a mental health problem can lead to stress and even burnout. Make sure you take care of yourself. It’s important to recognize any difficult feelings you may be experiencing and talk about them to someone.
Is there anyone you can talk to? Perhaps friends, family or a neighbor can lend a supportive ear. You could also reach out on TalkLife, where you’ll find a global community of like-minded people to support you. It might also be worth considering couples therapy if that's something available in your area.
Getting a support network around you can really help to take the pressure off. You don’t have to tell everyone about what’s going on for your partner but you can definitely talk about how you’re feeling and how it’s impacting you.
Try to take regular breaks and schedule some time just for you. It’s also important to get enough sleep, eat well, keep active and make time for relaxation.
Join TalkLife to talk about the ups and downs of life with a supportive community.