How to help your partner if they have a mental illness

You need to remember that your partner is dealing with something that you may have not experienced before, and therefore their coping mechanisms may be very different to what you would do. We were married twenty-three years when I was diagnosed with Complex PTSD and Dissociative Identity Disorder which had laid suppressed for over thirty years from childhood trauma. It was a huge shock to us both. We had to learn how to communicate again in a whole different way. My alters were abusive and self-destructive causing great self-harm and numerous suicide attempts. Enormous strange on any relationship. So for partners, I would say the following:

Of course, this does not mean they can abuse you or treat you badly – but sometimes actions, like becoming emotional or locking themselves in bedrooms, can become common place.

As someone with Complex PTSD who has been in a long-term relationship, I’ve found that he dealt with it very differently than say friends who we have known just as long. Friends can really struggle with mental illness and some just fall by the wayside unable to cope.

Some have been more understanding than others and some have been more caring – I’ve found that it all depends on their personality.

I wanted to share some ways which my partner has helped me and taken actions that I still appreciate to this day. I hope this helps other people who are currently at a loss of what to do if their partner’s suffering from a mental illness.

Be understanding

It’s easier said than done – and obviously, you may not be able to fully comprehend what your partner is going through.

What I mean by ‘be understanding’ is, don’t get angry with them when they are upset.

Don’t belittle them if they are feeling anxious about something such as going to the shops, or walking in a public place. Don’t call them names such as ‘lazy’, when the fatigue from depression is getting too much.

But don’t be taken for granted

It’s very hard to define what mental illness is and what’s not – but either way, if your partner is screaming at you, insulting you or abusing you in any way, don’t stand for it. Do not let them use their mental illness as an excuse to treat you badly.

Trust me, in the end, they’ll thank you for it – because they themselves will then be able to distinguish what’s acceptable and what’s not.

Attend counselling sessions with your partner

While sessions are normally one-on-one, your partner can request you come along. I find this to be incredibly helpful because it means there’s someone else in the room to mediate your conversation.

I also find that if you just sit back and listen as your partner talks to her counsellor, you will learn a great deal – as few people with a mental illness are as honest as they are when with a counsellor. Of course, your partner should have sessions one-on-one as normal with their therapist but maybe you come in for the last fifteen minutes or attend once a month.

Don’t pressure them to do things they don’t want to do

Yes, you may want to go to a bar or out for dinner. You might have been invited out with friends and want your partner to come along.

But if your partner doesn’t feel ready to do that, don’t pressure them.

Simply stay in with your partner, should they need some company, or go out with your friends alone.

All you are doing by pressuring your partner to come with you is putting them in an incredibly uncomfortable position that may lead to a meltdown while out.

Join some online support groups

Online support groups are amazing – not just because you don’t have to leave your house to use them – but because you meet a whole variety of people all going through similar things to your partner. Facebook has lots of closed, totally private online groups.

You don’t even need to tell your partner you’re on the groups, and you don’t need to post, you can simply sit back and sift through other people’s comments to get an idea of what it’s like to live with a mental illness on different spectrums.

Know when to seek help from others

It’s important that you give your partner privacy and if they need to talk to you about the way they feel, respect that that is a private conversation that doesn’t need to be repeated elsewhere.

But also remember that if your partner is becoming a danger to themselves, it is important to seek help from a family member, close friend or medical professional.

They may be angry at first, but in the long run they’ll appreciate that you did the right thing.

And most importantly, just be there for them

That’s all we really need. Someone to talk to. Someone to cuddle at night while being told ‘everything is going to be okay’.

Just because someone has a mental illness, it doesn’t make them confusing aliens whose needs aren’t like other people’s.

In fact, all we need is just a little extra support than people without a mental illness. We don’t expect you to be our therapist or our doctor, we just want you to be a shoulder to cry on when we need it.

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