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If your partner has a mental illness, there’s a good chance you face some unique challenges in your relationship. No relationship is without its challenges though, and the important part of keeping it strong is learning how to work through them. Below are some tips and strategies to help you navigate your relationship and your partner’s mental illness in a healthy way:
  1. Don’t Try to Change Your Partner: Some people think they can “fix” their partner’s mental illness or “make it better.” It’s true that there are steps you can take to recognize triggers or to become more informed or aware, but you need to accept that this is an illness and your partner lives with this every day of their life. The best thing you can do is to be supportive, loving, and a good listener.
  2. Don’t Let Managing Your Partner’s Illness Become the Sole Function of the Relationship: Your partner is much more than their mental illness. You know this better than anyone, but it can be easy to fall into the caregiver role, wanting to make their life easier. You can’t do it all yourself, and doing so won’t help your partner. They still need expectations. If your partner isn’t keeping up with chores, or said something that hurt you, you shouldn’t be afraid to talk with them about it.
  3. Don’t Neglect Ordinary Relationship Needs: With so much on both of your plates, it can be easy to forget to make time for one another. Set aside time each week to spend time with one another, make sure you are communicating well about your feelings or about issues that come up. Spending this time together can help stock your resiliency “nest egg” for tougher moments  in the future.
  4. Take Time Out for Yourself: You spend a lot of time thinking about your partner’s needs, often placing them above your own. Self-care is a necessary part of keeping your relationship healthy. Think about that the next time you feel guilty for going to get a massage, stepping out for coffee with a friend, or taking a long walk.
  5. Take the Words “Your Fault” out of Your Vocabulary: Blaming does nothing to help the situation, regardless of what side you’re on. Instead, ask your partner questions about their mental illness–even the parts that are harder to talk about. Understanding what your partner is dealing with and where they are coming from can help you to feel more connected and can help you to understand what could be informing their behavior.
  6. See a Couples Therapist: A therapist can help you navigate some of the tough discussions you may be afraid to have. He/She can help work on developing healthy coping mechanisms and can provide perspective and guidance when needed.

Resources:

How to Cope When a Loved One Has a Serious Mental Illness. (n.d.). Retrieved May 19, 2015, from http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/serious-mental-illness.aspx
Tartakovsky, M. (n.d.). When Mental Illness Strikes: Tips for Couples. Retrieved May 19, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/when-mental-illness-strikes-tips-for-couples/0005771

Photo Credit: Katie Hickey

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