A popular book by Dr. Gary Chapman, The Five Languages of Love, describes five different ways people express their love for people they care about. He explains that trouble in relationships often occurs when the partners are not “speaking the same love language,” such as when one partner shows love through physical touch but the receiving partner really values receiving gifts as a sign of love more.
Reconciling those differences and making an effort to “speak the language” of your partner can make a difference in the relationship.
How can this apply to your relationship with a partner who experiences mental illness? You can look at it from two perspectives: identifying your partner’s “language of health” and their “language of illness.”
Let’s look at your partner’s “language of health” first.
How do you know your partner is feeling well? What actions do they do? What is their verbal language like—are they optimistic, forward-looking, upbeat, positive? What is their physical language—able to get out of bed, dressed and groomed appropriately, exercising? Do they make plans, see friends, go to work, get chores done, keep on top of the bills? How do they treat you?
The more specific you can be about identifying your partner’s “language of health,” the better you can support your partner in maintaining wellness.
Now let’s examine the “language of illness.”
What are the early warning signs that your partner is not feeling well? How does their mood change? Are there physical signs of illness: poor grooming, excessive sleeping or absence of sleep, changes in eating? What about verbal changes, both in quality (how they talk) and content (what they talk about)? Do activities that were once important get pushed aside? Is your partner attending to activities of daily living?
Once you recognize the “languages” your partner speaks, the better equipped you will be to handle the times when illness takes over. Catching the changes in your partner early can be key to heading off an episode of illness or at least shortening its lifespan. Being able to articulate the changes in behavior of your partner can not only help them recognize the problem, but also provide valuable information to their treatment team.
As the partner of someone with mental illness, you are best able to speak and interpret your partner’s “languages.” The key is to recognize what each language is saying and react in a way that best supports their health, your health, and the health of your relationship.
What signs do you notice in your partner when they are not feeling well? What tips can you suggest for talking to your partner when you notice they are acting differently?