Tips to Gain Partner Support for Mental Illness & Attend Therapy

couple holding hands art print
art print

One of the questions I get asked frequently is how I get Nick (my husband, if anyone is new here)  so involved with my treatment and how I get him to go to therapy. (as if i can get that man to do anything, lol)

I am blessed with the fact that Nick has never seen therapy or medication as a weakness and was in therapy for years when he was a teenager for reasons that are his to share.  He had probably not been to therapy 20 some years when we started going together and I only visited a therapist for the first time in my life when I had PPD. Nick’s current “treatment”  is mindfulness therapy.  

Our couples therapy- we only started AFTER we were having some major issues.  I strongly do not recommend to only see a couples therapist after problems happen (although definitely do it).  I think a wellness couple check is just as important as physical and mental health check ups.  There are no perfect couples.  One of the ways a couple is successful is a willingness to work together.  Nick initiated the couples therapy and it took me awhile to not think our marriage was a failure because we needed outside help.  However, the communication skills, the trauma work realizing why we emotionally over react at times and the amazingness of a therapist to give a REALLY SIMPLE solution that for some reason you never thought of is so helpful.  Therapy has a lot of light bulb moments.

My personal therapy and Nick’s help– Nick did not start out as helpful with my depression.  This was not on purpose.  It was a lack of understanding about what I was experiencing and how I was acting.  I felt the same way.  I did not know what was wrong with me and neither did Nick.  If I could not help myself or know my own needs, how was my husband supposed to understand it? His wife changed before his eyes, just like Nick changed before mine with his own issues.

As we slowly learned that I had severe depression and then PTSD, Nick became an active participant in recovery and support.  He went to therapy sessions with me to learn from my therapist what he could do to support me.  He knows breathing techniques to help me through a panicky trigger.  He learned mindfulness techniques to ground me (he does mindfulness therapy on his own and picked up many things in mindfulness therapy that are helpful for both of us).  I now have a system of self care that I do and he encourages me to follow the list when I am having a rough time.  Today, he held my face, looked in my eyes (intimacy is very important) and said some days you just have a bad day, it does not mean your depression is back.  It may mean today is just a bad day.  (I live in fear of my severe depression returning and probably will be fearful for a long time) At this point, he knows faster than I do when I am getting sick. That is very common, one of the questions my therapists ask when trying to find the right medicine is if your partner/friends/family notice a difference. Anyhow we are living through a pandemic right now, of course I will have bad days but that is very difficult for me to know sometimes. 

As I said, I am lucky that Nick enjoys therapy, improving himself and providing support for me.  But, what if your partner does not understand mental illness, therapy or any of that stuff?  Nick is far from perfect and these are things I did and still do:

I send him articles and ask him to read them.  Any article I send is usually a very accurate description of how I feel and how I experience depression or trauma.  Just the other day I asked him to start following an instagram account from a trauma therapist because I could not believe how much of it rang true for me.  Nick gaining a larger understanding of my experience helps both of us to gain sympathy and empathy.

  1. Sending information & simple articles I think is a great initial step in involving your partner that may be resistant to therapy or lack an understanding of a mental illness.
  2. Ask your partner to talk to someone who goes to therapy or has used therapy in past.  Nick discusses it freely and therefore, talked to other men about it when their spouse asks me how Nick goes.
  3. Remember to not take it personally.  How long did it take you to understand, come to terms with what was going on- And you are in your own head and know your experiences.  Your partner is an outsider to that.
  4. Remind your partner not to take it personally.  Unfortunately, I take out some of my pain and frustrations on Nick and sometimes he can be patient and other times not.  I am unable to do certain tasks often, not because I am lazy, because I am sick.  We are both learning to navigate those waters.  Nick reminds himself that I am sick, it is not me, it is my illness. Since we are both getting help, we hope these issues will get smaller and smaller. They have VASTLY improved.
  5. They will never fully understand what you are experiencing.  It is impossible unless they have the same illness and even that manifests differently. 
  6. They may never go to therapy and learn therapeutic skills but you can be open and honest about your needs. Example: After a therapy session, I would like you to cook dinner that night.  
  7. Accept they may never go to therapy.  The bottom line is you can only help yourself.  If they truly lack any effort to understand or any support, than that is a whole different issue. 

I know it is not much, but I hope it gives you some hope because having an active partner in support of my recovery is essential to me. I feel less alone.  I cannot stress enough though, we fail ALL the time.  We have setbacks.  Sometimes it is two steps forward and five steps back.  Do not beat yourself up for that and celebrate the successes and recognize the setbacks will come.

I am not a doctor or a mental health professional, just a person who has depression and sharing my experiences. If you are suffering from depression and/or suicidal thoughts, please reach out- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Call 1-800-273-8255


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