- If you’re in a relationship with someone who is dealing with mental illness, figuring out how to support them can feel daunting.
- Do your own research on the topic and ask them personal questions about how they want to be treated. Every person’s experiences and preferences are different, even if they have the same diagnosis.
- In order to protect your own emotional and mental health, it’s important to remind yourself that you aren’t a martyr for your partner or their condition.
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My partner was recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder and they are still figuring out how to process and handle the diagnosis. We’ve been together for about four years now and I love them very much, but I’m unsure of how I can support them through this since I don’t have any experiences with mental illness myself.
How can I be supportive without being condescending, or letting myself get sucked into some of the low-lows I’ve experienced with them in the past?
– New York City
You’re right: the line between supportive and pushy is a fine one that can be easily crossed, especially when it comes to someone you care about deeply.
As someone with a loved one who was also recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I can say that asking lots of questions and never assuming anything about their experience has helped us remain close.
If I’m ever curious about what it’s like to live with bipolar, I always preface my question with something along the lines of, “If you don’t mind answering this…” to take the pressure off. After all, it’s no one’s responsibility to educate another person on their diagnosis or experiences.
Matt Lundquist, a relationship therapist and founder of Tribeca Therapy, told me that he refers to this approach as “being curious with permission.”
“It’s a balance between letting them talk and you doing your own work to understand their experience,” he said.
As you and your partner continue your relationship, doing some simple internet searches about bipolar disorder (if you haven’t already) will likely answer your immediate questions about the condition. Still, you shouldn’t assume that one person who has bipolar wants to be treated like the next, or even that two people react to bipolar medications in the same way.
That’s why questions like “When you’re going through a depressive episode, how can I be there for you?” are helpful for zeroing in on exactly how you can be supportive.
Taking the direct-yet-sensitive approach also allows you to create boundaries and protect your own emotional wellbeing, since you’ll have a general game plan on how to help your partner when they need it versus being in a frenzy when problems arise.
Perhaps the best way you can protect your mental health is to remind yourself that you’re someone’s partner, not a martyr. “The last thing folks struggling want is others around them to ignore their own needs or pity them,” Lundquist said.
As Insider’s resident sex and relationships reporter,Julia Naftulin is here to answer all of your questions about dating, love, and doing it – no question is too weird or taboo. Julia regularly consults a panel of health experts including relationship therapists, gynecologists, and urologists to get science-backed answers to your burning questions, with a personal twist.
Have a question? Ask Julia at [email protected] All questions will be published anonymously.
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