As a therapist, I often recommend to my clients who come to me with relationship concerns that they try couples counseling with their partner. There is only so much I can do with the individual in front of me–I can’t help the other person understand what’s happening in the relationship or encourage changes that will benefit both people. Couples counselors are specifically trained to look at the relationship as a whole, and to help both partners work together to either improve the relationship or figure out how best to dissolve it.
The majority of my clients either tell me their partner refuses to go to couples counseling or that they don’t know how to approach the topic, and so, let’s just work on them first, and maybe later…
Since this blog is aimed at you, the well partner, this post is for those of you who don’t want to do couples counseling. I am not saying the following information is an equal substitute for working with a trained professional, but there are some things you and your partner can try to iron out the kinks in your relationship before seeking help.
- Read up on your partner’s illness. Yes, we’ve been through this before, but if you haven’t done it yet, now is the time. If you don’t have a good understanding of what is happening for your partner, you are not going to know how to react appropriately. If you don’t know the symptoms of depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, ADHD, or whatever other illness your partner has, you are likely wrongly blaming your partner for things that are illness-based. Check out this post for a list of resources.
- Look online or in the bookstore for resources about improving relationships. Mental illness or not, most relationships need a tune-up every now and then. There are tons of resources out there with tips on how to be a better listener, how to communicate better, how to show more affection, etc. You have to be committed to learning though–no one is going to hold you accountable for following through.
- Change your attitude. It’s easy to find the faults in others, especially when your partner’s illness makes life extra challenging. Looking for the good things takes time, effort, and persistence. You may not like the way your partner folds the laundry, for example, but can you be grateful that your partner folds the laundry at all? If all your partner ever hears about is the things that drive you insane, it’s going to be hard to have a happy relationship. And giving out goodness generally finds its way back to you: your partner will notice you have changed your tune, and will likely start returning the love to you as well.
- Avoid the #1 reason for divorce: avoidance of conflict. Believe it or not, most relationships don’t end because of problems with compatibility, money, sex, an illness, etc. They end because the partners are not talking about what’s bothering them. You may feel because your partner has a mental illness that you cannot bring up your frustrations and anger, and you may be right: this may not be the time. But you do still have the right to be validated by others–family, friends, and other support people. When your partner is in a better place mentally, then you can begin to work on the issues together. Don’t wait though–get what you need now.
- Consider spiritual counseling or telephone counseling. Many couples find speaking to a priest, minister, or other clergyperson helpful, especially if their spiritual beliefs are aligned and strong. Alternatively, counseling done by phone can feel less threatening than sitting in an office with your partner, and meeting with a counselor face-to-face.
How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It
The Marriage Counseling Blog
10 Things You Can Do Now to Improve Your Relationship
Psych Central blog: Healing Together for Couples
Last reviewed: 4 Nov 2011
Thieda, K. (2011). No Couples Counseling For You? Try This Instead. Psych Central.
Retrieved on September 23, 2014, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/wellness/2011/11/no-couples-counseling-for-you-try-this-instead/