Relationships and marriage are about developing an emotional bond with another person. Dr. Sue Johnson, author of Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love, says that it is important to “recognize and admit that you are emotionally attached to and dependent on your partner in much the same way that a child is on a parent for nurturing, soothing, and protection” (pp. 7, 2008). Given these needs, depending on each other can be complicated when either you, your partner, or both of you, struggles with mental health challenges.
How can you best support your partner?
With these challenges, a number of questions follow: How can you ensure that you get your needs met, too? Is this a healthy relationship for both you and your partner? How can you make it a healthier one? I hope to provide enough information, resources, and insights, to help you find the answers to these questions. It is also important to note that I come from the perspective of a social worker, and believe that we all have the answers within us of what we need for ourselves. As individuals, we know ourselves best – who else has spent every waking moment with us, from the time of conception to present day? For this reason, we all know ourselves better than anyone else would.
Communication, trust, and respect are the avenues through which you discover the needs of your partner, respond to those needs, and strengthen your bond with each other. However, there may be times in your relationship when the needs of one partner exceeds what the other is able to provide.
Susan Pease Gadoua, LMSW, author of Contemplating Divorce, notes that “these unmet needs are the leading underlying factors behind most disputes and disappointments couples have” (Psychology Today website). Finding a way to meet, or negotiate your needs in your relationship is essential to making it work with your partner.
My suggestions for navigating your way through the struggles with each other are to focus on the positive moments. Pay attention to the laughter you have together, the moments when you connect, and enjoy each other’s’ company.
A Tibetan proverb says “Seeking happiness outside of ourselves is like waiting for sunshine in a cave facing north.”
So, recognizing that positivity must come from within, what follows is a focus on the positive aspects of a situation.
Your partner’s mental health can certainly affect you, but when it comes to the individual getting professional help, that needs to come from the person who needs the help. This idea can pose certain challenges, especially if your partner is resistant to it. Regardless, you can still have a strong influence. To have this conversation, I would suggest finding a time when both of you are calm and lucid. Both parties will be more receptive to what the other is saying, rather than when your adrenaline is on high, or if there is a lack of thought clarity. I also want to encourage taking a perspective of someone who is concerned for your partner, and also curious about their point of view. This will help the conversation to go a little more smoothly, as your partner will feel supported rather than attacked. Communicate your concerns based on changes in behavior that you have noticed.
Sometimes, they may still be resistant to the help. If this is the case, you, as the partner providing support, can get professional help to learn how to cope with the intensity of the relationship, and your partner’s needs. The counsellor or therapist can help you to make the right decisions for yourself, based on your needs and goals. Keep in mind that while relationships complicated by mental health challenges can be difficult to manage, as long as both people want to work on it, deepening the bond, and strengthening your relationship is still possible.