When you first hear that your partner has been diagnosed with a mental illness, it can cause many emotions: shock, sadness, anxiety, fear, or maybe even relief.
Once the novelty of the news wears off though, life resumes. Sometimes things haven’t changed much; sometimes things change a lot; and sometimes, things change slowly, but you stop one day to look around, and realize this is not the relationship you once had with your partner, and it’s not the one you want, either. You’ve been looking at your partner differently, treating them differently, and thinking of them differently…and you’re not feeling too good about it.
How can you reframe your thoughts about your partner and their illness? Try some of these:
Old thought: This illness is ruining our relationship.
New thought: This illness gives me the opportunity to truly show my level of commitment and caring for my partner.
Illnesses of any kind challenge relationships. We’re all familiar with the wedding vow of “in sickness and in health,” but how does anyone know what that means until it happens? By reframing your thoughts to the illness being an “opportunity” instead of a “challenge,” you immediately put it in a more positive light.
Old thought: My partner should be better by now.
New thought: Treating a mental illness takes time, and my partner is doing their best. I’m doing my best to cope, too.
We all want instant relief from pain, whether it is physical or mental, our own pain or the pain of a loved one. Treating mental illnesses does not happen quickly, and often, there is no “cure,” but only remission. As long as your partner is treatment-compliant and communicating well with the treatment team, patience is needed to see results. Also, reminding yourself that you are doing your best is important as well. Being the partner of someone with a mental illness is often a thankless job, so acknowledging your own best efforts is paramount.
Old thought: My partner is not the person I fell in love with anymore.
New thought: My partner has an illness that is masking their best qualities. They are still the same person I fell in love with–I just need to look for the little things that remind me those qualities are still there.
This one is tough, especially if your partner is not talking like or acting like the person you knew before the illness hit. Making a concerted effort to find even the smallest hints of the qualities you love in your partner will not only keep hope alive for you that they will recover, but telling your partner what you are noticing will encourage them to remember as well.
Old thought: I can’t handle this illness much longer.
There are many, many resources out there for families of people with mental illness, and little excuse to go through this experience alone. Use what’s available.
Old thought: When do I get to stop being the caregiver and be taken care of myself? Isn’t this a partnership?
New thought: It is unfair to everyone involved that my partner has a mental illness. However, I have a choice about how to feel about it. I can choose to be bitter, or I can choose to make the best of it.
It’s true that our perspective on life affects how we think and feel. It’s really easy to slip into a negative mindset, and takes far more effort to maintain a positive attitude. But ask yourself: are you, your partner, and your relationship worth the extra effort? I hope the answer is, “Yes!”
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Last reviewed: 17 Jul 2011