It’s likely you or your partner will experience stress or anxiety at some stage in your relationship. Unfortunately, any mental health issue can be challenging for relationships for many reasons – but tackling it together can help you come through stronger. Here’s what you really need to know, whether it’s you or your partner who’s affected.
What you need to know
This is key - mental health issues may not look the way the other person in the relationship expects them to. Unless your partner has a high level of self-awareness and is familiar with their patterns, they’re unlikely to come to you and say they’re experiencing stress or anxiety. Instead, it may manifest in a number of different ways, some of which may be directed at you, as the person they’re closest to. Whether you’re in a long-term relationship or are newly dating, here are some of the signs your partner may be struggling (and you can also watch out for them in yourself):
- Their sleeping patterns seem unhealthy – either they’re sleeping poorly or much more than usual
- They don’t eat enough, to the point where they’re losing weight even if they’re not trying to, or they’re comfort-eating and gaining weight
- They’ve lost interest in sex and may avoid all physical contact, even cuddling
- They don’t want to go out
- They’re drinking more than usual, or smoking heavily or using other drugs
- They’re brittle and angry and lose their temper over minor things
- They talk less and seem preoccupied
- They’re tearful and cry easily
As you can see, some of these can be hard not to take personally. Unsurprisingly, mental health issues can take a toll on relationships – if the partner doesn’t understand what’s really going on and reacts to the outward manifestations of anxiety and stress, things can quickly spiral.
How to help the situation
If you’re on the receiving end of difficult behaviour, try not to take it personally. This can be difficult, but even holding the possibility this behaviour may not reflect your partner’s feelings for you can be helpful. Then try these steps:
- Find a quiet time to talk. It may be easier to talk while you’re doing something together, such as DIY or walking in the park, so they feel less pressurised. Try not to blame. You could tell your partner you’ve noticed they’re behaving differently and are wondering if anything’s wrong.
- Encourage them to see a professional, such as a GP or counsellor. Offer to help them by making an appointment – stress and anxiety can be distracting and draining so even making a call for them can be very supportive. If you’ve been together for a while, are at a pivotal point in your relationship, or the relationship has really suffered because of their mental health issues, it may be helpful to go for therapy together, too.
- Tell your partner you’re there for them. They may not always want to talk about their problems with you but it’s important they know they can. If your partner won’t immediately admit there’s a problem, try to trust you’ve planted a seed and keep gently bringing up the subject, reminding them how common these issues are. It may take time for them to concede they need help.
- Show your support in other ways. Cooking healthy meals, encouraging them out to exercise with you, cutting down on alcohol together or taking up a joint hobby can all be very helpful to your partner and to the relationship, without putting pressure on them to talk about things all the time.
- Support yourself. Don’t underestimate the pressure of being in a relationship with someone who’s going through stress or anxiety. Make sure you take time to do things you enjoy. Try to open up to a trusted friend who won’t betray the confidence, and/or get counselling support for yourself.