Providing support to anyone with a mental health issue is challenging, to say the least. But when that person is your spouse, the situation is even more complicated. At worst, it’s confusing and overwhelming. At best, you might be walking on eggshells. However, being there for your partner during this difficult time will ultimately bring you closer together.
Here are a few ways to support your spouse so you both can emerge from this stronger than you were before.
1. Help Them Help Themselves
In the United States, nearly half of those with clinical-level mental health issues don’t seek help. Instead, they try to handle their illness on their own or simply give up hope, both of which can quickly send them into a downward spiral.
Therefore, if you notice potential symptoms of a mental illness in your spouse, it’s important to encourage them to seek help. Work together to find a therapist, counsellor or physician (doctor) who can provide medical advice or guidance.
2. Understand the Diagnosis
Once they see a professional and receive a diagnosis, read up on their condition. Maybe you’ve noticed some of the accompanying symptoms but failed to attribute them to their mental illness. Now that you’re more aware, you can stay calm and avoid feeling triggered or attacked when these symptoms show up in everyday life.
On the other hand, if your partner hasn’t visibly shown signs of depression, anxiety or other issues, you might have been unaware of their suffering. Understanding their diagnosis will help you notice symptoms in the future so they don’t have to go it alone any longer.
3. Implement Support Tactics
Now that you know what to look for, you might notice more mental health flare-ups, so what should you do when things start going south? Implement support tactics specific to their condition.
For instance, if your spouse is dealing with depression, you might notice they’ve neglected to wash the dishes or do the laundry. In this situation, consider offering to complete these chores yourself or suggest doing them together.
4. Be a Good Listener
Sometimes, your loved one will want to talk about their experiences or past trauma that may have prompted their mental illness. When they express interest in discussing things, create a safe space for them by being a good listener.
Pay attention to every detail in an effort to better understand their perceptions and beliefs. Let them talk it out without worrying about how to respond. Then, when you do react, try to do so not from a place of judgment, but of empathy and compassion. Validate their feelings to help them accept their emotions and move on.
5. Be Patient
It may be difficult to hear, but certain mental illnesses can ebb and flow for years without reaching a resolution. There’s no magic timeframe for recovery.. Therefore, it’s best to let go of idealised timetables and take things day by day.
This is when love becomes a choice and your commitment to one another carries you through — for better or worse. Instead of running away, resolve to stay steadfast and patient. Instead of holding their illness against them and growing bitter, choose to see it as yet another challenge you can overcome together. No matter how long it takes, you’ll be there to give them support, encouragement and affection.
6. Practice Self Care
If you’ve ever been on an aeroplane, you know the flight attendant recommends putting on your own oxygen mask before helping others. After all, you can’t assist others if you don’t take care of yourself first. The same is true in your marriage — and every other relationship, for that matter. Therefore, it’s incredibly important that you practice self care and take care of your own mental health before trying to help your spouse with their issues.
Take time to be alone each day. Revisit an old hobby or pick up a new one like knitting or journaling. Mind-body exercises and autoregulation techniques can also relieve stress and help you tune into sensations you wouldn’t have otherwise noticed. Engaging in these activities will help you stay healthy and better support your spouse during this difficult time.
7. Keep the Love Alive
Mental health issues and the symptoms that accompany them can become all-consuming. However, it’s important to focus on your relationship apart from this conflict to keep your bond strong and the love alive.
Spend quality time together, go on dates and continue to communicate openly. Do things that bring you both joy and focus on enjoying each other’s company. Doing so will remind you why you fell in love in the first place and give you more reason to fight for your spouse’s mental health and your relationship as a whole.
Communication Is Key
After some time, you and your spouse may begin to resent the patient-caretake dynamic. When these sentiments arise, communication is key. Talking about your feelings will help you understand one another better and may put you on a level playing field again. Once you realise that it’s you two against the world — and not against each other — you can take on mental illness together and emerge on the other side stronger than ever.
This article was written by freelance writer Kara Reynolds, Editor in Chief at Momish.