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How You Can Help When Your Partner Is Hurting

There’s a lot of advice out there regarding how to live with a mental illness, but not so much information on how to be a good partner to someone who is suffering from one. So, what do you do when your partner has depression, anxiety or another condition of this sort?

When is the right time to get them to seek professional help? How do you go about helping when they’re emotionally fragile and possibly also in denial? In this article, we discuss some pointers for helping your partner get the help that they need. But first, what are 3 signs to look out for, indicating that a mental illness is harming your relationship?

1. Obsession Over the Mental Illness

Has your partner’s disorder has become something of a third party in the relationship? This happens when you’re both constantly ‘checking’ on the disorder, to the point that the two human beings in the relationship have faded into the background. A lot of us have mood swings, but when those changes start seriously detracting from the quality of your relationship, this may be a sign that it’s time to seek professional input.

2. Issues in the Bedroom

Sexual intimacy is often one of the first things to be affected when things are not entirely OK outside of the bedroom. For example, if you feel uncomfortable with and not entirely trusting of your partner on an emotional level, you may struggle to relax enough to be intimate in the bedroom. What sort of issues are likely to manifest?

In men, premature ejaculation (PE) is one of the most common forms of sexual dysfunction. This is diagnosed when a man climaxes too quickly, sometimes within just a few seconds of penetration. This can be incredibly distressing for a man and his partner, creating anxiety and limiting the amount of intimacy that exists in a relationship. If you’d like to learn more about what you can do to support your partner through PE, click here to read a more comprehensive review that we wrote on the topic.

Another common form of sexual dysfunction is known as erectile dysfunction (ED). This is diagnosed when a man struggles to get or maintain an erection. Although erectile functioning can also be affected by certain medical conditions, both PE and ED are largely influenced by psychological factors. Research shows that sexual dysfunction is more common among men who have a diagnosis of depression or anxiety, and all three conditions warrant professional input.

3. Co-dependency

A co-dependent relationship involves one partner being overly reliant on the other for emotional support. Signs of co-dependency include:

  • One or both of you are only happy when you’re with the other.
  • If you’re fighting, one or both of you struggle to function and may neglect work, friends or other commitments because you’ve become fixated on solving the issue.
  • One or both of you gets anxious when the other is doing something alone. The partner sitting at home may put pressure on the other to return to them, for example.

Often, we are unconsciously attracted to people whose problems are more clearly visible than our own. This serves as a distraction, helping us to avoid introspection and painful inner-work. If you recognize signs of co-dependency within your relationship, this is a sign that some professional help may be needed – not just for your partner, but perhaps for yourself as well!

Okay, My Partner’s Illness is Hurting our Relationship & They Refuse to Get Help. What Now?

While it’s important to be open about your feelings in the relationship, it’s vital not to make your partner feel guilty about their condition. They are already carrying the burden of a psychological disorder, and instilling a sense of fault isn’t likely to be fruitful.

Rather, one of the most helpful and healing things that you can do is to acknowledge the role that you might be playing in maintaining the problem. This means letting go of the blame-game and asking your partner how you can work together to resolve the issue.

By making yourself vulnerable in this way, you’re modelling to your partner that it’s OK to be not-OK. You’re also demonstrating that you support and care for them. Your partner is then more likely to be receptive to suggestions that they seek out professional support – perhaps from a doctor, psychologist or even a couple’s therapist. Whatever form of professional is needed, by having this sort of an open and honest conversation, you will have created the environment of safety that’s necessary for emotional healing to take place.

Daniel Sher

Daniel Sher

Daniel Sher is a registered clinical psychologist, practicing in Cape Town South Africa. He serves as a professional consultant for the Between Us Clinic, which provides sex-therapy online programs. A component of his training and practice involves working in the context of sexual and sex-related issues. Practice aside, Daniel is... Read More

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