Helping your partner

If you’re concerned about your partner, or things are getting worse and reaching crisis point, this is likely to be a sign that professional help is needed.

You are so angry… I was so frustrated, and fed up”.  It seems so callous now – but all I could think was for god’s sake – get it fixed.

Many fathers and partners describe feeling ongoing stress, tension in the relationship and frustration, when living with and trying to support their partner. Often at this point partners are not aware that their partner may actually be experiencing an emotional or mental health problem.

The most important thing was for me to realise that she was not doing this to me – she couldn’t help it, it was happening to her and she wasn’t choosing to do it.  Then I stopped being angry and started working out how to deal with it. 

 

If you have noticed changes in the way your partner is are acting or behaving, or feel that you and/or they are not coping, be aware that this may be be that they need more practical or emotional support, or in some instances may be in need of professional help.

To help you identify what you and your partner may need at this time, here are some strategies for helping your partner get the support and help they may need.

Be aware of changes

A critical part of helping someone is being aware of the signs and symptoms of mental health problems that can occur. Sometimes this is not so easy to observe as you are both going through lots of life changes and things can change slowly and gradually build up over time.

I didn’t even notice we weren’t coping, but I thought that was normal…I was so tired and busy and stressed. I didn’t realise what was happening.

If you notice changes in your partner and you think that something is not quite right, talk to them about how they are feeling and what they may be experiencing. Whilst you may be inclined to think ‘it’s just part of having a baby’ if you see changes in the person’s behaviour this may indicate that she is struggling. Also be aware that for many women, having a baby is a time filled with expectations of motherhood – that may not be the reality. She may be too proud to admit it to herself or to others that she needs help, so it’s important to be aware and initiate the conversation.

Look beyond the conflict or frustration

Sometimes you may find yourself fighting and arguing with your partner, or feeling frustrated at their lack of motivation, interest. Despite offering practical support to get things done, some partners feel that whatever they do is never enough or meeting their partners needs.

She would say ‘you don’t help me’. I would say ‘I have come home from work and look what I have done’. She would say ‘but you still haven’t helped me’. 

It was hopeless.

This may be an indication that your partner does need help beyond the practical and emotional support that you are able to provide at this time, as that she may be in need of other professional help.

Gather some information

Accessing some high quality information may give you more insight and understanding and a context to understand what your partner may be going through. Talking through some of the pages of this website together can be a useful starting point.

It took a lot of understanding to realise she was unwell, and that made it all different.

Initiate a conversation

Choose a time when you both have time, are less likely to be interrupted, and your partner has had some rest and able to engage in the discussion. It can be helpful to begin the conversation by letting her know that you are worried about her and want to support her, and mention that you have noticed some changes in her. At this point it may be helpful to discuss the information that you have found and look through it together.

As part of the discussion it can be useful to acknowledge that motherhood can be a tough gig and that you can understand if and why she is feeling under stress or pressure. If she is defensive or does not wish to discuss it at this point, having the information there may encourage her to look at it at a time when she is ready and more receptive, without feeling judged.

Encouraging her to see the benefits of getting help not only for her, but also you and importantly, for the baby can also be a useful approach for some women. By getting help early she is best equipping herself to deal with the challenges and give herself the best start.

Seek help together 

The next step in supporting your partner is encouraging and helping her to get help. It can be useful that you view this as a partnership - two parents working together to support each other as a family.

I was driven to my GP by my husband who, with equal measures of support and tough love, refused to watch me deny the professional help I needed any longer. 

You can do this by either agreeing to attend a regular appointment that she has with her health professional (like a maternal and child family health nurse) or initiating making an appointment with her GP. When doing so it is a good idea to book an extended consultation, to give you both time and the opportunity to talk without feeling rushed.

Before attending together, reflect on the experiences that your partner has been having, and you can add your own experiences too.  Sometimes it is easier to start with the physical symptoms first, and then move to thoughts and feelings you have each been experiencing. List some of the information that you will share with the professional and identify any questions that each of you may have and can talk through together. The more detailed and accurate information you have, the easier it will be for the health professional to make an accurate assessment and/or diagnosis.

Providing ongoing support 

Depending on the diagnosis, your role in taking the lead in the care of your partner, baby and other children will need to be considered. In the case of severe mental health problems like bipolar disorder, peurperal psychosis, or severe depression or anxiety, your partner may need to go to hospital for a period of time and then once their symptoms have become more stable, you will need to provide ongoing supervision and support to them.

Below are some additional tips which can be useful for you as you support your partner on the road to recovery:

  • Draw on the practical and emotional support-  from family and friends when you can – this can lessen the load and reduce your stress.
  • Learn what you can about the condition – now that you have a diagnosis. This will help you to understand and provide a context for her symptoms and behaviour. It is invaluable to understand the importance of medication and/or therapy and it’s role in the recovery process
  • Be prepared for setbacks – treatment of mental health conditions is not always as simple, quick or straight forward as treating physical health conditions. The process of treatment may include having to trial different medications, treatments and/or health professionals, which is all about learning what works and what doesn’t for the person. This can all take time, persistence and patience.
  • Identify triggers – that may make things more difficult for your partner, and consider ways that you can reduce their impact.
  • Celebrate progress – sometimes when you are both living through the experience, as your partner begins to recover, you begin to forget how bad things were initially. Take note and celebrate small gains along the way. This can  remind you both that progress is being made, and encourage you to keep going.

 

See also…

Mental health under Medicare