Being the best partner to your significant other includes supporting them while they deal with things in their life: if they're having an issue with a friend or stressed about a particular class or project at work, part of your role as their partner is to help them through it. If your partner has a mental illness, that's one specific area of their life in which they might appreciate your care, love, and understanding. While dating someone with health issues isn't fundamentally different than dating anyone else, there are particular ways you can support your partner with a mental illness.
I spoke with co-founder of Cognitive Behavioral Consultants, a group of New York mental health professionals, and Yeshiva University psychology professor Lata McGinn, PhD, about the ways in which you can be there for your partner who has a mental illness.
Above all, remember that "mental illness is just as real as a physical condition," McGinn tells Elite Daily. "It doesn’t mean the person is weak, crazy, or flawed or that they are fragile, or it is just in their head and they can just get over it."
The legitimate chemical differences in someone's brain when they have a mental illness should be taken seriously. So here's how McGinn suggests you support your partner.
Listen to their concerns.
McGinn says that after your partner tells you they have a mental illness, you should listen to any problems they experience or special concerns they have.
Listening, in this instance, is key.
"Hear them without judgment," McGinn tells Elite Daily, "without trying to shut them down or interrupting or trying to solve the problem or minimizing the problem."
Work to understand your partner's illness.
Just as you wouldn't give someone with asthma and someone with diabetes the same support, don't treat an eating disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder as if they're the same. Do your research.
"It would good to know facts and figures about the condition and how it is treated so that you know what is helpful for your partner to do," McGinn says. "Equally important is for you to know what is unhelpful for your partner not to do so that you are not inadvertently helping them do things that are not helpful."
And if you're unsure about anything, voice your questions to your partner, using respectful language along the way.
Let your partner decide the support that's right for them.
Because everyone is different, and every disease is different, what your partner may want as support from you could vary from what you would offer them. So ask. Don't assume you know how your S.O. likes people close to them supporting them and their illness – it can be a sensitive topic that you have yet to explore comforting them on.
McGinn recommends letting your partner know you're there to support them – however that support may look.
She says it could be "listening some more, reading about it, meeting with their provider if the partner wishes it, understanding the treatment plan, [or] supportively encouraging them to carry out [the] treatment plan."
I'm sure you are anyway, but remember to be gentle, understanding, and loving when supporting your partner who has a mental illness.