When Someone You Love is Struggling

*Disclaimer:  I am not a professional, all of this information is based on my personal experience - with myself and others - and my own research*

 

Everyone struggles with their emotions from time to time, whether we want to address it or not.  Some of us can attribute our struggles to mental health or illness, some of us are just learning and growing and coping, and some of us have no idea why we’re struggling or if our struggles even count as struggles.  I never want to diagnose anyone and I don’t wish to act as if I’m some all-knowing smart person. However, I have trudged through a fair amount of emotional journeys with people I love and I’ve learned a lot about how to handle such situations —  in a way that’s healthy for them and myself.

In all situations, there are two possible paths, and the one you take relies heavily on your partner's willingness to cooperate.  You can decide to hunker down and help your partner through their struggles however you decide necessary as a couple; or you can walk away and hope for the best.  

The latter may seem harsh or unreasonable or scary, but we must all be aware that no one else’s mental health is as important as your own.  If there comes a time when you’ve done all you can do, or all you’re willing to do, and your loved one shows little to no progress or interest - it is time to walk away.  Maybe you don’t have to go too far away and maybe you’ll find your way back to each other in the future, but sometimes people simply cannot heal in the presence of others.  Sometimes we are toxic for each other and have no idea. Sometimes people love each other to the point of exhaustion, to the point of indifference. It is important to realize that your partner putting you in charge of their mental wellbeing and forcing you to be their only sense of happiness is abuse.  Do what you can, help if you want, and always know that, no matter how deep you get, you are always allowed to back away.

But, if your partner is aware of their downfalls, willing and able to combat them, and desiring and benefitting from your help, here are some things to keep in mind:

Everyone copes differently, and it is crucial to discuss personal and group mechanisms in times of peace.  Figure out how each of you wants the other to react in the case of an incident or intense moment. Find out when they want help, what kind of help they want, and how you will be notified when said help is needed.  Do they want you to ask questions or talk to them? Do they want you to shut up and hold them? Do they want a glass of water? Do they want to talk about it later or just move on?

It is important to be patient at all times and to make everyone’s boundaries well known ahead of time.  Whenever I’m in a stressful or highly emotionally situation with someone, I usually find myself saying something along the lines of,  “I’m sorry, I’m not trying to turn away from you right now, I just need to relax for a second and we can get back to this in a few minutes.”  In general, I just try to make sure that those close to me understand that I am never going to abandon them during intense moments, but there are certain things I cannot handle and that after so long, I have to step back and relax, so I can come back with a clear and level head.

Meeting someone’s panic, anger, or sadness with more panic, anger, and sadness never helps.  This is why it can be so difficult to navigate these situations. You may want to flip out or show your own concern, but remember that this person may be depending on you to be calm or a type of safe place.  It is totally fine if you cannot handle that responsibility as long as your partner is aware of why you may react in certain ways. It takes practice to put aside your own emotions even for just a few minutes.  Again, patience all around, folks.

Dedicate time to learning why they are the way they are, and why they want the things they want - not to justify anything or try to make sense of things that just don’t make sense, but to simply understand.  If you can, relate to them but don’t get too preachy. Don’t act like you know it all, just offer reasoning or memories if they need it. Always talk about what helps and what doesn’t during happy times so you’re prepared when trouble arises.

Hopefully, and most likely, the situations you find yourself in are not life or death, meaning it is okay if this whole process has a bit of a learning curve.  No one is born knowing how to handle these things and we don’t know each other -- or ourselves -- nearly as well as we think we do. The main thing to remember is that helping someone through mental or physical struggles requires a lot of patience, work, love, and communication from both sides.  Talk about everything and commit to growing and learning together.  Accept that things are hard sometimes, and that we simply cannot be 100% perfect, helpful, and calm at any given moment.  We all struggle and we all mess up in unique ways, so make sure your loved ones know your intentions are good and full of love.

 

“You can’t pour from an empty glass”