Marriage and Mental Health
Perth Concert Hall – WA Mental Health Convention – Marriage and Mental Health 2017.
“He never told me he was bipolar. When we first met and started dating we were both on an emotional high, it was as if it was always meant to be. I’d never met someone that had so much energy or life. I thought he was amazing. We could stay out all night partying, he’d go home after dropping me off, have 3 hours sleep and be ready to go again, I hadn’t met anyone like this before.” “Then I wouldn’t see him for 3 or 4 days, no contact whatsoever” “I should have known back then something wasn’t quite right”
This was a young couple I was working with that were experiencing problems, they remain committed to trying to understand one another’s needs.
Mental health doesn’t discriminate
As we know, mental health can affect anyone at any age and at any stage of their life. If you happen to be in a relationship at that time and it’s your partner that’s affected, how can you navigate through this very sensitive situation and be supportive?
I’d like to explore several questions relating to recognising a potential mental health condition in a relationship, and what action you could possibly take to be a supportive partner.
As you get deeper into a relationship and you develop a closeness and fondness for one another, you become more attuned to your partners mood swings and behavioural changes.
If you became aware that your partner has been acting out of character lately, or you’ve noticed they’ve been struggling with their feelings and emotions, it may send a signal that all is not well. What might be some of the signs to look out for?
Irrational behaviour – extremes in their personality
Irritability – quick tempered, heightened state of arousal
Negative outlook on life – and in general, self deprecating language and fail to see any good in themselves.
Increasing fatigue – lack of energy to participate to engage, time off from work, more frequent illnesses,
Isolation – withdrawing from normal family life or more time on their own
Diet – poor food choices, may lead to weight gain or loss Absenteeism from work
You’ve established that your partner isn’t their usual self.
How would you question your partner to find out what’s going on?
- Timing /Situation/Location
- Body language
- Language: words used, sympathy, apathy or empathy?
Empathic statements/questions – tone relevant
- I’ve noticed you’re not yourself lately, how are you feeling?
- I’m here if you need to talk about anything
- I feel you’ve become more distant over these past few weeks, know that I’m here for you
- What can I do to be there for you and help you feel as supported as I can?
What you don’t want them to do is withdraw anymore or feel they cant reach out to you.
Adopting a supportive position is crucial. They don’t have to face this on their own.
If your partner struggles to accept they have a mental health condition what would be the best course of action for you to take?
Wait until they’re ready to take ownership and either reach out to someone for help, then make an appointment to see their GP or ask you to do it for them.
What reaction would you receive if you took the lead and said “c’mon, I’m taking you to see the GP” or “I’ve made an appointment” Occasionally that may work depending on your relationship but in general it’s not recommended.
Mental illness has a way of directing the relationship rather than the partners taking charge of the direction. It can become the sole focus of attention. Remember, this is a crisis that will require attention and effort, bear ing in mind time still has to be spent working on connecting with your spouse.
Find out how to help:
Know the condition, research how it affects your partner,
What can you expect?
What are the treatment options?
View the condition as another challenge, what measures can you take to work on your marriage as if there wasn’t a mental health condition –
maintain an open dialogue (communication)
make sure you tell your partner you love them.
catch them doing something good
A ratio of 1 negative or critical interaction to 5 positive conversations, below 1:5 means you’re headed for divorce
ask them something about their day before they go to work, ask them about it when they come home
one way text messages or emails, be grateful for your partner and show admiration (reduces stress)
rituals of connecting – embrace, oxytocin
As a partner this is often very challenging and draining – in what ways can you practice self-care? –
Recognise, relational needs may not be met at this time,
it will seem and maybe the case that it’s only you doing all the work. Relationships aren’t a ledger, the books won’t always balance.
Time spent just being.
Seek professional help if required as the supportive partner
Avoid blaming, resentment and definitely criticism, you may need to adopt a different strategy in managing conflict situations.
Strategies may include:
- notice the patterns or situations when conflict arises
- discuss strategies beforehand, in the cool of the moment
- do not avoid conflict, this often leads to rumination. Reach out, make repair attempts
- View this as an opportunity to learn about: yourself, the relationship, self reflecting, personal growth and growth for the relationship.
Mental illness doesn’t end a marriage – people do.
Like to know more about Marriage and Mental Health? Contact me now for more information.