Author: Christian Howard, MA
With mental health being widely talked about due to suicide affecting our communities. There are many other symptoms individuals are experiencing that the media may not be addressing such as depression, manic episodes, drinking, gambling, anxiety etc. Having a strong support system can assist our love ones, coworkers, peers and ourselves, when experiencing these symptoms.
What we haven’t discussed is dating someone experiencing a mental health illness or symptoms. What is it like for that person in the relationship and how can you honestly support your partner during the challenging times? Everyone deserves love and a loving supportive partner, but how can you love someone dealing with mental health issues? I never asked myself this until I dated someone experiencing major depressive symptoms. He would sleep a lot and his aura was always so dark. Drinking contributed to angry outbursts. He didn’t know how to deal with transitions in life due to his anxiety and his lack of coping skills to fully deal with adversity.
Being a therapist and living with a parent experiencing addictive symptoms, I was aware and more equipped to support his maladaptive behaviors. It wasn’t an easy task. There were nights were I felt I was more of a caretaker than his girlfriend. I eventually obtained compassion fatigue and asked that he see a therapist.
Before he went into therapy, I was his therapist. I would organize things for him, assist him with writing tasks. I found myself constantly cleaning or fixing his mess. It was draining and honestly took a toll on my sanity. I felt I was seeing clients all day and then have to come home and deal with another client, my romantic partner. Compassion fatigue made me angry and less willing to appropriately support him while going through those dark spaces. I became resentful and needed therapy myself.
Therapy helped our relationship. We were able to put a routine in place so that idle time wouldn’t lead to depression. I’m a firm believer of not sleeping in on the weekends and treating the weekend like the weekday. My whole house is up by 8am. I notice once we implemented this routine we were able to plan dates, go out doors and explore.
Scenery can assist someone in better coping with depression. Adding activities to our busy schedules that allows an individual to release tension. For example, working out, yoga, zip lining, rock climbing, going on hikes etc. These activities allow endorphins to be released which helps enhance your sense of well being. Some call them the feel good endorphins. Be mindful that the symptoms don’t necessarily go away, you both just have more of a plan to address those symptoms when they appear. You can also discuss with your partner what his or her triggers are. Them opening up to you is key if you want a successful relationship.
Knowing how to support your partner is key but also knowing how to not enable your partner is the perfect balance. As natural nurturers, caretakers, or just simply caring for someone, we may want to fix them. We must understand that we can not fix anyone, they must be willing to do the work themselves.
Being a partner/spouse of those experiencing mental health symptoms may be difficult to comprehend, but meeting your spouse where they are and allowing them to have autonomy is the only way we can support our loved ones. Make sure you incorporate your partner in any activity you plan but most importantly get their feedback and input so they are actually planning the events. Remember you are not their therapist. You as the spouse may need a support system as well. Love is challenging but teamwork makes a dream work. Everything is love.
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