If you’re reading this blog, I think it’s safe to assume that you have at least some interest in seeing your partner recover from their mental illness. Knowing how to be a supportive partner can be a challenge at times, though, and you may be unintentionally (or not) doing or saying things to your partner that undermines their recovery process.

Below is a list of five common errors healthy partners make when their partner is pursuing recovery, and an explanation of why these are actually detrimental to the process:

  1. Saying that you are happy that your partner is in therapy…and then asking how long therapy is going to last. Yes, therapy can be expensive, and like any service, you would like to know exactly how long it will take to see some results. Unfortunately, resolving mental health issues is not the same as taking your car in for a tune-up. On the other hand, a good therapist should be able to explain the therapy process and mutually decide with your partner what goals need to be reached that will indicate therapy is progressing in the right direction. There are a lot of factors that go into successful therapy, such as good therapist-client fit, how much your partner is engaged in the therapeutic work, and–yes–support from outside sources to reinforce change.
  2. Not asking about what’s happening in therapy at all. As previously mentioned, your role is vital to your partner’s recovery. If your finding yourself feeling detached from the process, there may be a bigger issue at stake. On one hand, you may feel that what happens in the therapy office is your partner’s business; on the other hand, it takes two to have a relationship, and there is no way your partner’s illness is not affecting you as well. Take a few minutes to consider why you are not involved in the process: Are you afraid of something? Do you need more education about how therapy works? Are you feeling burned out? Or something else?
  3. Telling your partner that they don’t really need medication or talking about how you believe your partner has the ability to “get over it” without meds. If I had a dollar for every client who has said to me, “I don’t want to take medication forever,” I’d have a pretty sizable retirement account going. There is a lot of stigma around taking medications for mental illnesses, and the truth is that finding the right combination is both an art and a science. However, meds can help, especially in the early stages of treatment. Having to take medication is not a reflection on the character of the person. Medications help regulate biological processes that have gotten out of whack. Depending on the illness, it is often possible to stop taking medication after a period of time. Hearing negative statements about meds from you, however, can lower compliance, and delay treatment progress.
  4. Saying that you understand your partner doesn’t feel like sex, but then (subtly or not) blaming them for your unhappiness. Mental illness is tough on everyone involved. There may be several reasons your partner is not interested in intimacy right now: medications are lowering libido, your partner is working through past trauma in therapy that is lowering/eliminating desire, or your partner just may not have reached a point of recovery where sex sounds like a good idea. Finding ways to be intimate without having sex may satisfy your needs as well as help your partner feel as if they are still connected. Blaming or punishing your partner for not meeting your sexual needs will not improve the situation.
  5. Glossing over the extent of your partner’s illness, to your partner or to others, because you feel that not making a big deal out of it will help your partner feel better. I did a post recently on whether telling others about your partner’s illness was a do or don’t. Minimizing your partner’s illness may sound like a good idea, especially if your partner is expressing feelings of shame or guilt around how the illness is impacting your relationship. However, not acknowledging the effects can eliminate sources of support for both of you. You may have been taught that “keeping a brave front” in the face of adversity was the right thing to do, but mental illness, and its effect on relationships, is not something that can be ignored. It is okay to ask for help, whether it’s from family, friends, or other helping professionals. People often are surprised by the positive responses from others, as well as the number of other people who have been there, done that before.