Knowing the best ways to support a partner who struggles with mental health can be challenging. So often, we are afraid to do or say the wrong things. Still, it can be beneficial for you both to discuss the boundaries and how to support one another without compromising your own mental health. Read on to find out how to help a partner suffering from mental health issues.
Always Give Them Space
Often, your partner may want a little space to heal. Doing so can be challenging to deal with, but most times, it’s the right thing for them. However, if you feel they are in immediate danger, contact 9-1-1 and stay with them until help arrives.
When one partner has mental health issues, the other is affected as well. So you should be there to support each other through difficult times—and there will be many of them.
Neither of you should feel like the best thing to do is to keep your emotions inside. Holding in your feelings can cause resentment and frustration that may eventually resurface.
For instance, they may believe that the relationship is fine, but you may be bitter due to past treatment you’ve never confronted.
Avoid being confrontational during a discussion because they may feel attacked and withdraw further. If they become irritated, step back from the conversation and give them space. Giving them space and time to process a discussion is one of the best things you can do to continue a loving and healthy union.
Giving Your Partner Space in a Healthy Way
When your partner says they need time and space, your first inclination may be to become defensive. But giving someone space is a normal part of any healthy relationship.
Each person has time to do things they enjoy individually, which can strengthen the relationship when the couple comes back together.
Why Is Space Important?
Personal space goes way beyond a romantic relationship. For example, sometimes you can feel irritated after spending too much time with friends, family, and co-workers. When it feels too much, distance becomes necessary and often has nothing to do with the person.
It’s more acceptable for a friend to communicate the need for space. In most cases, that means calling or texting less often. However, it’s slightly more complicated when a partner needs space, especially if you live together. When your significant other decides on a little breathing room, their actions can make you feel hurt.
But, when you think about it, space is a good thing. No one wants to feel like a caged bird, so when you give your partner space, you allow them:
- Control over themselves
- Some self-care
- A stronger sense of self
- Time to themselves
- Improved sense of well-being
Most importantly, you give them trust that they can do their own thing but will always be there when you need them.
Ways to Give Someone Space
Ask how much time they need
This isn’t about how long until you “reel” them back in. It’s more about ensuring they have enough time to do what they need. Then, they can return to the relationship relaxed and refreshed.
Don’t ask why
If they tell you they need space, that’s what they need! You may feel rejected, but asking why may make things worse. If they need you to back off, crowding them with questions will only make them feel more suffocated.
Ask what type of space they need
Are they looking for complete “radio silence” and no contact whatsoever? Or does it look more like a check-in-once-a-week-to-see-how-they-are-doing kind of space?
Appreciate their communication
Show gratitude that they even came to you in the first place. Doing so demonstrates that you support their wants, needs, and personal goals.
Honor the request
Once you’ve committed to giving them space, support that decision, and don’t go back on your promise. Instead, reassure them that the relationship will survive even with some time apart.
Avoid constant communication
With smartphones and social media, it’s tempting to communicate. You’ve agreed to give them time, so do it. Stop texting and calling. When they’re ready, they will initiate contact with you.
Fill up your time
Just because you’ve given them space doesn’t mean you need to sit around and wait for them to contact you. Do your own thing. What did you do before you got into the relationship? Reacquaint yourself with your old interests or pick up new hobbies.
Don’t Overdo It
Avoid being the overly-positive person whose sense of helping involves statements like “Don’t worry!” and “Be positive. It’ll all work out!“
Instead of helping, statements like this offer no assistance and often make the person feel worse by causing them to feel guilty for their emotions.
Understandably, you want to help by being the voice of positivity, but as they say, actions speak louder than words.
So instead, ask what you can do for them. Is there something they need? Sometimes, it is helpful to merely be a sounding board for them to talk about their feelings.
Never Ignore It
Sometimes, we believe it will go away if we don’t give it attention. This is not true. Ignoring your partner’s mental health issues can make them feel more isolated than ever. It can also make them feel like they have no one to confide in. It’s essential to open up a dialogue but be sensitive when starting the conversation.
Use phrases like, “I was just thinking about you and wondering how you’re doing,” or “I care about you and want to be here for anything you need.” Let them know that you’re there to offer your support in any way you can.
Sometimes It’s the Little Things
People with mental health issues can sometimes become caught up in their thoughts and emotions. So one thing you can do to offer support is to encourage them to engage in a daily routine, including getting out of bed, taking a shower, or having breakfast.
People may struggle to motivate themselves to do simple daily tasks. To them, it may feel overwhelming, so having support helps. You must let your partner know that you love them and that assisting with daily tasks is essential to helping them overcome their challenges.
Communication is Essential
This is one of the most critical elements when helping a partner cope with their mental health struggles. Communication allows you to understand and process each other’s emotions and struggles and to figure out the best method to help them.
Discuss topics like boundaries and how best to support each other. Always encourage your significant other to talk about whatever they’re feeling. Doing so not only lifts a weight off their shoulders but can also give better insight into their situation.
For instance, if your partner is struggling with thoughts of harming themself, ask how you can help. You can also apply distraction techniques. These specific techniques include:
- Going for a walk in a new area
- Watching movies or TV shows together
- Listening to music together
- Playing an instrument or singing together
- Making plans for a trip you can go on together
Check in often and discuss your partner’s mental health because you cannot read their mind. They may appear fine but suffer mentally.
Abandonment Should Not Be an Option
Relationships are tough. Getting through a difficult patch is never easy, but neither is struggling with your well-being.
Support your significant other as much as possible, but do not give ultimatums or threaten to walk out on them because they are going through a challenging time. This is their time of need, and implying that you’re leaving may send them over the edge.
Instead, offer your support. While this is a difficult time for your partner, it’s also challenging for you. Sometimes you’re the one that needs space. So take the necessary time to get yourself together. You want to maintain your mental health while assisting your partner with theirs.
Don’t Give In to the Urge to Give (Unsolicited) Advice
We often feel obligated to give input, suggestions, or advice when people reach out to us. But, unfortunately, giving advice can sometimes feel abrasive, unhelpful, and downright condescending, especially for a person struggling with mental health. And no one wants to feel even lower than they already do.
Giving unsolicited advice may be viewed as ignoring the issue and attempting to control their decisions and feelings.
Your advice is one coping method, but remember, the option is always theirs. Your job is to offer support no matter what suggestions they decide to take.
Validate Your Partner
As we deal with mental health issues, your partner must feel validated, seen, heard, and supported. Doing so lets them know there’s nothing wrong with them or their experience, and these feelings are pretty common.
Often, they feel fear, confusion, shame, and anger. Validating these feelings shows them you care while demonstrating empathy and compassion for their plight. Say things like:
- “I see how you’re struggling and the effort you put into getting better.”
- “I totally understand what you’re saying and feeling.”
If you want to encourage them to open up more, use phrases like:
- “I’m afraid I don’t understand. Can you tell me more?”
- “I get it, and I’m here if you want to discuss anything.”
Along with validating their issues and struggles, learn to empathize. It’s easy to say, “Yeah, I get it.” But that’s entirely different from empathizing with what they’re going through.
So, don’t just listen to what they tell you. Try to feel it. Opening up to their emotions is what validates their struggles. And if you don’t fully get it, they at least know that you’re attempting to understand, which sometimes is all they need.
Validation lets your partner know they’re allowed to have their feelings, AND you’re there to support them through it.
Be Clear with How They Need to Be Supported
No two people are the same, and they’ll use different methods to handle their challenges. So, find out what your partner needs from you.
For example, they may need a sounding board or some quiet time. Maybe they crave a daily walk to help them clear their head. Be clear on what they need and do your best to offer support.
Learn to Be Vulnerable
Due to its stigma, it’s not easy to open up about mental health issues, particularly to close friends and family. If your significant other finds it difficult to open up, help them by becoming vulnerable first.
Discuss something particularly difficult for you, but do so without making it all about your issue.
For example, if you’re struggling with something, let them know how you feel. Then, tell them what you do to cope. Self-disclosure is an effective method to help someone feel safe enough to open up to you about their struggles.
Take a Break
Life isn’t, and shouldn’t be, always about struggling. Sometimes, you need to make plans to do something enjoyable to put the focus on something more positive. Plan activities that involve a little fun time, like a picnic in the park or a hike through the woods. Entertaining activities help shift the mood.
However, please don’t force it. If your partner is absolutely against doing certain activities, try something a little less energetic, like watching a movie or playing a board game. A massage is an excellent way to relieve tension.
Mental Health Activities
Stress is prevalent in the U.S. today. According to a recent study, several factors contribute to a lower sense of mental stability. Some factors include:
- Family well-being
5 Activities to Help Improve Mental Health
Even the smallest changes can improve our state of mind. So try these simple ideas to help relieve stress.
Stress can’t be avoided, but deep breathing helps keep you calm by inhaling through your nose and filling up your lungs. In addition, deep breathing helps to slow down the heart rate and stabilize your blood pressure.
Tending to a garden is a relaxing way to spruce up the landscape. It provides vitamin D and gives you exposure to fresh air.
Studies indicate that exercise contains the following benefits:
- Natural mood boost
- Better sleep
- Better mental alertness
- Enhanced stamina and energy
- Improved confidence
- Improved cardiovascular health
While you can partake in several solo activities to improve your mental well-being, you cannot do everything alone. In fact, scientific findings suggest that we aren’t supposed to.
When you feel stressed, your first inclination may be to seclude yourself. However, social interaction is sometimes just what the doctor ordered to stay on the right path.
People with satisfying relationships with friends, family, and community are happier and have fewer health problems.
Sometimes, immersing yourself in another world inside a book is an excellent way to relieve mental health difficulties.
Multiple studies suggest that reading works of fiction can be particularly beneficial because you invest in a fictional character, which helps increase a sense of empathy. Reading also decreases depression symptoms in individuals, eases muscle tension, and lowers your heart rate.
Understand You’re Not an Expert
Understanding where you can add value and where your partner may need professional help is imperative. Know your limits and refer your partner to a licensed therapist if needed.
If they take the initiative and come to you suggesting professional help, encourage them and offer your assistance in finding the right counselor or support group.
Of course, finding a coach or therapist doesn’t mean you won’t be there to continue supporting them. Instead, it means that you recognize your limits and set boundaries.
Then, reassure your partner that, after careful consideration, you believe that a therapist is the best solution for everyone involved.
Struggling with mental health is never simple. However, having a partner who supports you makes a big difference. Understand that you will have ups and downs, but the issues won’t last forever. So hang in there and practice patience because you will get over this and be stronger than ever.