When you have a partner with mental illness, you are likely always on alert for behaviors that might indicate the illness is progressing. Was that laugh too loud, and a sign of impending mania?…Does the fact that he doesn’t want to go to the party mean his depression is coming back?…Did he forget to pick up the dry cleaning because he didn’t take his ADHD meds?…Did she skip dessert because she’s full or because her eating disorder is telling her she should?…Is he jumpy because of his PTSD or did he just have too much coffee this morning?
As the supportive partner, it can be exhausting to have these thoughts all the time. You have likely been through the mill with your partner’s behaviors that are due to their illness, and having these kinds of thoughts are a defense mechanism to protect yourself from being caught off guard again.
But there’s a flip side to this story, too: your partner may not be feeling as if it is okay to be themselves.
I think John McManamy, author of the website McMan’s Depression and Bipolar Web, expresses it best from the perspective of a patient when he says:
I want to be able to laugh – laugh real loud – without my partner thinking I’m flipping into mania.
I want to be able to get upset without my partner thinking I’m out of control.
I want to be miserable without my partner giving me “the look.”
I want to express my visionary ideas without my partner thinking I’m grandiose.
I want to make off-beat observations and dream without my partner playing her “practical” trump card.
I want to bubble with enthusiasm without that “here he goes again” expression from my partner.
I don’t want to be told to snap out of it, take a chill pill, stop acting like a baby, be patronized, talked down to, and otherwise made to feel that I’m the weird and irresponsible one in this relationship.
I need to be safe. Emotionally safe. Otherwise, I’m the one walking on eggshells. Otherwise, I’m the one living in a constant state of stress.
Does your partner have that kind of emotional safety in your relationship?