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Monthly Archives: December 2016

Support Your Partner With Mental Health Issues

For many of us, mental health is a difficult subject to talk about. When someone has a mental health issue, it can be hard to understand what’s going on, or to know how to talk to them.

But mental health issues can affect relationships with those closest to us, like friends, family, and partners. So, if your partner has a mental health issue, it can be helpful to know what to do.

This article is designed to give you some tips on how to support your partner. It is not a replacement for professional support and, if you are at all concerned, you should consult a doctor or mental health professional as soon as possible.

Depending on the issue, and the severity of the symptoms, mental health issues can lead to changes in behaviour and even personality changes. If your partner is going through something like this, it can be hard to know where to start.

But, with a few simple changes, and some good communication, you can be a real support and can help your partner through the most difficult period – alongside any professional support.

Why is it so tough for a partner?

When your partner is dealing with a mental health issue, the stress can start to take its toll on you too. You may notice difficulties starting to show in your relationship, particularly with communication and support.

Your partner might be feeling sad, tearful, irritable, and exhausted, often for long periods of time. You may also notice changes in appetite and sleeping patterns, and a tendency to withdraw socially. Your partner may also lose interest in things you usually enjoy doing together, including sex.

Your partner’s concentration may also be affected, making it hard for them to enjoy even simple activities like watching TV. As a result of all this, you, the partner, can start to feel depleted too.

But there’s lots you can do to help. Even small behaviour changes can make a big difference. Little things like cooking a healthy meal together; making sure your partner gets to bed on time and gets up in the morning; or going for a walk with your partner, can help.

You could even put together a diary of positive experiences and things you are both grateful for. This is a very simple idea and it can really help you look for the positive moments in your day. It will also give you a reminder of good experiences to look back over, which can be particularly helpful if your partner is struggling to see the bright side.

What part can you play in your partner’s recovery?

You’ll naturally want to do the best for your partner and help them wherever you can. What’s really important is that you consider the long term as well as the short term.

While it might be tempting to protect your partner by taking on extra responsibilities and helping them to avoid difficult social situations, this could actually end up being more damaging in the long term.

Keeping up regular activities can help your partner maintain a level of independence that they risk losing if they become over-reliant on you. Visiting family and friends can help your partner to maintain important social ties, and even find solutions to practical problems. Ask your partner how much support they need but err on the side of encouraging them to stay active.

How do you improve communication?

Good communication becomes particularly important when your partner is struggling with a mental health issue. Research shows that attacking or challenging your partner’s behaviour could make them feel even worse, leading them to become more withdrawn and less confident in their ability to improve things.

Try the following tips to improve communication:

  • Drop your judgements. Set aside any preconceptions you have about mental illness so you can approach conversations with an open mind.
  • Hold the space. Encourage your partner to talk about their experiences. Let them know you’re there for them.
  • Listen. This means listening actively to what your partner is saying, and not thinking about what you are going to say next.
  • Acknowledge their feelings. Let your partner know you’ve heard and understood them. Sometimes it’s helpful to repeat back to them what you think you’ve heard so they know you’ve really understood.

You will probably need to exercise a little patience and sensitivity. You may not be able to relate to everything your partner is going through, but just let them know that you’re there to offer support wherever you can.

You can also help by reading up on mental health issues – there is lots of information available online, or you can ask your GP, or local support groups for information. Learning about how mental health can affect your relationship will help you maintain open communication with your partner, and reassure them that you understand what’s going on and are willing to support them.

If in doubt, seek help

You can also play a part in supporting your partner to seek professional help. If you are worried or unsure of what to do, professional help should always be your first step. Your partner’s GP can help and make a referral to a mental health specialist for further support.

If your partner wants extra support, you can go with them to appointments. As part of their treatment, you may be asked to go to couples therapy. This doesn’t mean your relationship is in trouble – it’s just that research has shown couples therapy to be particularly effective with mental health issues. It can also help you find more ways to improve communication and intimacy, and protect against further problems in the future.

Relationship Problems After a Baby Arrives

When you feel like things aren’t what they used to be in your relationship, it can be a sad time. Having a baby can bring this feeling on overnight, so it’s important to recognise and accept that all relationships change and adapt over time.

Having a baby is such an exciting time with so many positives that it’s easy to see why couples expect to feel happier together and it can come as a real shock to find that you are not getting on. But research shows that this is normal – parenthood is often the most difficult transition anyone will have to make.

Struggling with new roles

You may struggle to hold onto a clear sense of who you are when you first become a parent. You have to get used to a new identity and sometimes the other roles in your life become secondary, at least in the beginning. This includes your role as a partner.

New mums may also find it difficult to adjust to changes in their body like increased weight, stretch marks, sagging and scarring. The demands of breastfeeding can be difficult to adjust to and many new mums find themselves feeling unattractive or at odds with their body.

However, while some mothers and fathers may feel the loss of their old selves, others are happy with their new identity.

Loss of freedom

The demands of having a baby to look after can leave you feeling like you no longer have any individual freedom. Many parents struggle with not being able to come and go as they please, to go out and to enjoy their own interests.

Life with children brings a new routine of mealtimes, nap times and bedtimes. Adjusting to this new lifestyle with no letup can feel very suffocating for some parents and may take a lot of adjusting to.

Changes to other relationships

Having a baby can also change your relationships with other people, including your family, friends, parents and in-laws.

Many couples find they develop a stronger bond with their own parents and their in-laws. This often comes from a combination of enjoying a shared interest in the baby, and a reliance on support with childcare. But it isn’t all plain sailing. There are often difficulties with partners’ families, particularly if they interfere with your way of doing things. Some couples struggle with interference or criticism from their own parents, and difficult relationships may become even more strained.

Some partners want to go back to the traditional ways of doing things that they were brought up with, which can lead to conflict between couples because they each have different ways of doing things.

New parenthood can stir up past childhood experiences and feelings and it may also stir up old memories of parenting for the new grandparents.

If you have difficulties with your parents or in-laws, it’s often best to discuss them with your partner first and work out what you’re going to say. That way you can present a united front and avoid letting your in-laws or parents create any difficulties in your relationship with your partner.

Relationships with friends

It can be hard to keep up with old friends, particularly if they don’t have children of their own. They have different schedules and may not understand the demands on your time – especially at the beginning. But having a baby gives you lots of opportunities to make new friends with other new parents, who can be a great source of advice and support.

What else helps

Remember to look after yourself. This means eating well, resting when you can, and exercising if possible. Most importantly, though, try to recognise that things will get easier.

Meet other new parents Being with a baby can be lonely and isolating; other new parents can offer support or just be someone to talk to from time to time. Your health visitor or GP may know of local groups, or you can try your local Children’s Centre, library, NCT group, or faith centre.

Don’t expect too much of yourself. You, your partner and your family are the most important thing to care about, especially when the baby is small. Don’t worry too much about the housework or cooking fancy meals. Most other things can wait.

Take time to enjoy your baby. As parents of older children say, the time when your baby is small will fly by (although it may not seem like it!). It won’t be long before they’re off to school or leaving home, so enjoy this time while it lasts.

Dealing With Relationship’s Debt

Whether it’s a credit card or a bank loan, help from a family member, a quick dip into the overdraft, or even a payday loan, almost everyone has some experience of borrowing money.

In between borrowing money and paying it back, we are in debt. As long as we have the means to pay it back, debt can be a useful way of managing money – but it can end up costing more than it is worth.

How debt affects your relationship

Money worries are one of the biggest causes of stress and arguments in UK households, sitting in the top three relationship strains for 55 percent of couples and for parents, it’s 61 percent. A quarter of people have found money worries getting in the way of their sex lives and one study suggests that couples who get into problem debt are twice as likely to break up.

If you are worried about debt, it’s better that your partner finds out sooner rather than later. When you are under pressure financially, your partner will pick up on it and bear some of the brunt of that strain. Many people feel ashamed of debt, or think they can handle it better alone. However, keeping debt a secret can just make things worse. By sharing the concern with your partner, you can share the burden and work together towards a solution.

Getting into debt

Couples can get into debt when entering a new phase of the relationship, like moving in together, getting married, or having a baby. These times are always challenging, no matter how positive and exciting the change. Your relationship is intensified and magnified as you step up the commitment and costs can escalate.

In these times, couples tend to have big expectations of the future, and how their lives will be. While it can be tempting to load up a few credit cards to get the things you want, it’s important not to borrow more than you can reasonably plan to pay back.

Being in debt makes it much harder to live up to your expectations of the future anyway. The more debt you have, the more likely you are to argue, and the less time you are likely to spend together.

How to deal with debt

  • Talk to your partner. Get things out in the open and share the burden.
  • Put all your debts in front of you. Open your post and check your accounts. Hiding from debt won’t make it go away and could make it worse.
  • Make a budget. Look at what you are spending and where you can cut back.
  • Work out how much you can afford to pay off each month.
  • Contact your creditors to can organise a payment plan, even if it’s only a small amount.
  • Speak to a debt advice organisation. Free services like The Debt Counsellors or The Debt Advice Foundationcan help you get all this information together and offer tips on how to negotiate repayment plans with creditors.

Dealing with debt takes time and understanding. You can make things easier by getting help from debt organisations, but keep in mind that money issues can persist. You may need support not only with money issues, but also with the relationship strains that can accompany them.

If you and your partner want some extra support, counsellors such as those at Relate may be able to help you deal with relationship issues, whether debt-related or not. The good news is that once the debt has been paid off, relationship quality has been shown to improve again.

Tips to be Understood

Picture this: you’ve had a long day at work and you’re glad to be home. There’s some washing-up left in the sink from last night and you want to get it done so you can sit quietly in a tidy kitchen and have a cup of tea from your favourite mug. While you’re washing up, you remember an incident at work today that you didn’t handle very well. As you replay the moment in your head, you let out a big sigh.

Because your partner isn’t inside your head, they might think you’re sighing over the washing-up. If they’ve had a tough day too, they might leap to the defensive and explain why they haven’t had a chance to wash up yet. Before you know it, you’re arguing about something that hasn’t even happened, and your hard day at work has gone unacknowledged by the person you rely on most for support.

Why it’s important to feel understood

Relationships are all about communication – not just what you communicate to each other, but how you each understand what’s being communicated.

When you need something from your partner, the first step is to communicate that need. The second step is for them to recognise the need. Without that recognition, it’s unlikely you’ll get that support. And that’s why understanding each other is so important to having a satisfying relationship. Being understood helps us feel secure and looked after.

What you say and what you mean

If you want your partner to know you’re feeling sad, do you tend to sulk until they notice, or do you step up and say, “I’m feeling a bit down today”? When someone misunderstands you, or fails to even notice you, it’s easy to get cross and to blame them for not listening properly, or for not caring.

What difference could it make if you decided to take responsibility for everything you communicate? What if, when someone misunderstands you, you make the choice to re-frame what you’ve communicated until it makes sense to the other person? Try applying this not just to the words you convey, but also to the emotions.

Don’t assume your partner knows what’s going on in your mind

Your partner may be the person who knows you best but it’s not their job to read your mind. So, while sulking might work from time to time, the direct approach is almost always more helpful. How many times have you moped around waiting for your partner to notice how sad you are? It might feel like your partner doesn’t care, but the reality is that many of us tend to over-estimate how much emotion we are conveying.

Many of us also assume that our partners instinctively know what we’re feeling, but that isn’t always the case. These assumptions can be among the biggest hindrances to communicating effectively in relationships, leaving you feeling unheard, rejected and liable to lash out in response.

Being clear about your feelings can protect against all of this. The next time your partner misunderstands you, take a moment before you respond. Try to remember that they’ve only misunderstood you because they don’t have all the information, and take responsibility for filling in the gaps. Being clear about how you feel almost always makes it easier to get what you need.