10 Ways to Support a Partner Struggling with their Mental Health

Mental health struggles are like dark and invisible shadows. For some people, they’re always lurking. For others, mental health struggles flare up during short and aggressive bursts.  Regardless of exactly how the struggle plays out, dating someone with mental health issues comes with unique challenges. I’m familiar with these challenges because I have mental health diagnoses myself and I’ve dated others who do as well. Our issues don’t define us, though, and you can support your struggling partner in these ways: 

  1. Create a plan of action. Being a supportive lover includes a mix of stepping back and gently stepping forward. A concrete way you can step forward for your partner is to help them create a plan of action for a crisis while they’re in a good head space. A plan of action could include their doctor and therapist’s phone number and what hospital they’d go to in case of a psych emergency. If and when your partner has a mental health flare up that brings them to a dangerous head space, you’ll have a plan of action to take care of them/help them take care of themselves. 
  2. Get used to being flexible. Having a partner with a mental health issue like anxiety means unpredictability. One moment they’re totally up for a night out with your friends, then the next moment they aren’t. It’s okay to make plans, but it’s more important to be flexible whenever you can. There’s a good chance there will be many nights cuddled up watching Netflix instead of the original plan of going out.
  3. Don’t try to fix your partner. This is perhaps the most important, yet highly overlooked way of supporting your partner who is struggling. Do not try to fix them. More often than not, they just need to cry, be angry, or feel numb. You will be most helpful by being there for them without offering your unsolicited advice. A listening ear and a warm hug are the greatest gifts for a partner with mental health issues. 
  4. Don’t take it personally. When someone has a mental health diagnosis, symptoms can be unpredictable. Take bipolar for example: when it’s coupled with life circumstances and perhaps a missed dose of a medicine, flare-ups can occur. Your partner may go from a depressed ball in bed to a seemingly superhuman cleaning machine. In both cases, they’re not really interested in you at the moment. You may think you’ve done something wrong, but don’t take it personally. When they get to a clearer headspace, you can talk about what’s happening for both of you.  
  5. Remember to laugh. Mental health struggles color the world dark. They can really be a damper, to say the least. When there are moments of utter humanness, be sure to let your laugh out. Don’t be afraid to laugh at one another and with one another. Take cues from your partner. If they wake up with a sense of humor about their unwashed pile of laundry, know that you can laugh lovingly, too. 
  6. Exercise patience. Depressive spells can seem like they will never end. If your partner is seeking help and is doing their best to take care of themselves, be patient with them. Don’t just stick around for the sunny days, but be there with them on the cloudy days, too. They could use your loving patience. 
  7. Practice setting boundaries. If your partner’s state is infringing on your well-being you need to do what’s right for you. If this means ending the relationship, do so in a way that is kind, but firm. If you just need to set boundaries like asking your partner to include their friends in their support system, that’s okay. Boundaries are another way of taking care of yourself and your partner. 
  8. Take care of yourself. As much as you love your partner, you need care, too. Be sure that you’re taking care of yourself. Pay attention to your own mental health, make sure you have a support network, and keep doing activities you love. Sometimes this means going out while your partner stays home.
  9. Communicate your needs and feelings, too. If it’s all feeling like too much for you, it’s totally okay to say so. Regularly communicating how you feel with your partner is important for you both to feel like you are connected. If you need to take a step back or need your partner to try to be more affectionate, you can let them know. At the end of the day, it’s okay that you’re a human being. You also have wants and needs. 
  10. Practice forgiveness for both of you. Romantic relationships are tough enough to begin with, nevermind the additional factor of a mental health struggle. You’re both inevitably going to mess up. There will be times where your partner is an jerk and it has little to nothing to do with their mental health. Or, it has everything to do with it, but it still isn’t okay. There will be times when you react totally inappropriately or you just don’t know what to do. It’s so important to practice forgiveness for yourself and your partner. You’re both doing the best you can with a damn hard situation.