Marriage vows often include the phrase, “for better or for worse.” If your partner is struggling with chronic mental health concerns, the worse can sometimes feel insurmountable.
Chronic mental health conditions such as Major Depressive Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and Bi-Polar Disorder, to name a few, can cause periods of disabling symptoms that prevent people from functioning in their daily lives.
Partners of individuals managing the symptoms associated with these disorders are often relied upon to do the extra work to keep the relationship going and their lives functioning.
Partner’s of chronic mental health patients have a lot on their plates
People living with chronic mental health concerns will experience times that the symptoms becoming so overwhelming, so energy consuming that they only have enough energy to function in one area of life.
They are charged with the decision of where to focus their limited energy; if they focus their energy on getting to work they won’t have the energy left over for parenting, household maintenance or social interaction with friends and family.
This leaves their partner in the position of caregiver, which is a very painful and exhausting position to be in.
Additionally, some of the common effects of mental health concerns such as agitation, irritability and pervasive pessimism, are usually directed at the partner causing damage to the partner’s emotional health and the relationship.
These periods are exhausting for everyone involved. Though it is hard to remember when you’re in it, with proper treatment and monitoring these symptoms will pass and the caring parts of your partner will return.
When you and your partner are going through one of these down cycles, there are a few things that can help you ride the wave while keeping your own emotional and mental health intact.
1. Talk with someone about your loss
Most of us are programmed with a desire to love and be loved, to care for and be taken care of by the one we love. Give yourself the compassion and grace to feel the loss of not having a partner during this time who is able to provide the love and care you need. Extend that same grace and compassion to your partner, knowing that they are missing an essential part of a relationship as well.
Find someone who is a friend to your relationship who you can talk with about the loss you’re feeling.
It can also be helpful to journal about your feelings and consider sharing them with your partner when they are in a healthy place.
2. Set self-care priorities for yourself and stick to them
Pick one or two things you do just for yourself that are non-negotiable. Maybe it is going to a coffee shop every Saturday morning for an hour, watching your favorite show uninterrupted every week, that weekly yoga class or nightly chat with a friend.
Whatever it is, put it on your to-do-list as a top priority and stick to it.
When our life partner is not able to prioritize your wellbeing, the only person who will is you.
3. Recognize your limits
It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking you can and should do it all. The truth is no one person can do everything without having a negative impact on their own emotional and mental health.
Instead, decide which balls you can let fall.
Maybe the laundry needs to be washed but not folded. Maybe it’s ok to skip that dinner with your in-laws, or to give your kids some extra screen time this week. If your partner had the flu, it’s likely you’d give yourself a pass on some of the things that get done when you’re both healthy.
During an episode of depression or other mental health flairs up, the same rules can apply. Mental health illness is just as legitimate as any other illness.
4. Have a plan in place for what to do if the symptoms become too severe to manage
Making a plan with your partner when they are healthy makes it easier to implement a plan when they are not. The plan can include which friends, family and health providers you’ll reach out to when you need to and a safety plan if suicidal intent or manic episodes are part of the problem.
Remember, you are not responsible for your partner’s mental health symptoms and you are not responsible for their actions.
5. Have a couple’s therapist you are both comfortable with
A couple’s therapist who is familiar with chronic mental health concerns can help you discuss the unique problems that come into your relationship, as well as help you leverage the unique strengths that your relationship has.
A therapist can also help you plan for and implement the above steps so that you and your partner are united in fighting the symptoms of mental health concerns together.
Problems of chronic mental health concerns in a relationship don’t have to mean the end of the relationship or the end of individual health and well being. Having a plan for managing the symptoms, implementing self-care and continuing conversations about the problem can help bring hope and balance back into life.