Mental Health and the Couple

To launch Mental Health Awareness Week 2019 The Duke of Cambridge has teamed up with stars from TV and Music to record the Mental Health Minute.  The theme behind this year’s minute is to highlight the importance of listening. Just by taking a minute to stop and really listen has the power to make a real difference to our mental well -being.

At Coupleworks we often see relationships under considerable strain but when a partner is suffering with mental illness the stress of coping is very challenging and can often reach crisis level and destroy the relationship.  

Anxiety and Depression are the most common causes of mental illness and these can be episodic or long-term

Managing the illness becomes the preoccupation of the relationship and often attention is focused mainly on the person with the diagnosis leaving the healthy partner to cope alone.  

In my work as a couples’ therapist I have witnessed the curative effects that a healthy relationship can have on a partner struggling with mental illness.  On the other hand long-term relationship stress can negatively affect a partners mental health and can make things considerably worse for a partner already struggling with mental illness.

It’s important to remember that there are two partners in a relationship and that your own wellbeing and needs are just as important as those of your partner

Mental illness does not have to destroy a relationship.  There are many ways to maintain a healthy loving relationship despite the obvious challenges.

Show Support

Reassure your partner that you are there for them and love them. Often in our efforts to “make things better” its hard to get the balance right.  There is a tendency to either ignore the symptoms in the hope they will go away or to take over and do everything you can for your partner to fix the problem

Take time to talk

Try to be empathic and really listen to how life feels for your partner.  Don’t dismiss their feelings.  Conversations about how you can improve things together and what changes you can both make offers hope and are more helpful than simply dwelling on the problems.

Educate yourself

Although mental health issues are being talked about so much more openly, there are still many people who are ashamed, confused and misinformed about mental illness, the symptoms and treatment options.  Finding out as much information about the condition is important for both partners as you work and support each other through this time

Finding the right help

Partners cannot be therapists for their spouse – it is too demanding and not appropriate.  Your role is to provide love and support and to engage with finding  the right professional help.  It can often be very challenging and shaming for a partner to accept they are suffering with a mental illness and need help. Willingness to take responsibility to manage their own illness and treatment plan because they understand how their illness affects you and those close to you is an important step towards recovery.

Finding Individual and Couples Therapy

Individual therapy can help process difficult feelings in a safe environment in a way that will help the couple and the individual communicate and understand yourselves and each other better.

As a partner of someone with a mental health condition, there are often negative feelings such as anger, frustration and hate that can be overwhelming.  Couples 

Counselling can help give meaning and understanding to these complex dynamics.

Looking after self

Feeling that you have to handle everything is natural but how you look after yourself is not a selfish luxury but an absolute necessity.  If you can’t look after yourself, you are not going to be able to look after another. Often the pressure to keep it all going can feel overwhelming.

Important areas to consider are boundaries – what you can reasonably give your partner in terms of time, energy, advice and emotion and what you can’t.  Discussing this with your partner is vital.  Having clear, consistent and manageable boundaries is your way of working to look after yourself because you care and are there for your partner.  This also means your partner has to take charge of their emotional wellbeing too.

Its important to remember that in all relationships there are periods of difficulties and drama that can overshadow everything.  When a partner is going though a mental illness it can be a major challenge that can threaten to destabilize the strongest union.  Challenges are a life force for a relationship and if we stop and listen, and have the right tools in place we can ensure a happier more successful relationship. 

Dawn Kaffel

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