Guest blog: Support your man
Guest blog from Julian Pace, founder of Happiness Co and award-winning speaker and behavioural coach on the role of mental health in relationships.
If you have concerns your partner may be experiencing mental health issues and you’re afraid your attempts at helping aren’t actually helping, then I have a question for you: Are you trying to support your man or trying to fix him?
This is where I always start with this conversation because I am very fortunate to work with thousands of couples looking for some clarity in really difficult times and I can tell you, the line between supporting and fixing can get blurry.
Clarity is key
Clarity and understanding is really important when we are worried or concerned about our partner’s mental health challenges. Mental health is a large topic and we can easily get lost in what to do, so I keep it simple and start by encouraging individuals to get clarity on why their partner is unhappy.
Emotions play a huge part in our behaviour – look at some of these emotional triggers and behavioural patterns and see if you can relate to your experiences:
Emotional trigger and behaviour
Bored, may = Binge eating, staying on the couch being unmotivated
Frustrated, may = Talking badly of others, blaming others, being rude and snappy
Overwhelmed, may = isolation, not talking, being stand-offish.
Worried, may = Crying, drinking, shutting off
Angry, = Raising their voice, drinking, being aggressive toward others and you.
We feel on average around 12 emotions a day and I want you to “spark” curiosity over concern. “I wonder why he is acting like this” or I “wonder what he is feeling that is making him behave this way”, are questions you can explore.
Understanding the root cause of a behaviour is the first step to changing it. I know it can be scary and hard to do, but identifying the emotional trigger and then asking good questions around it is a great starting point. Try to take your emotion out of it and instead seek clarity on his Why. Curiosity is a great problem-solving skill.
Time spent and frequency of behaviours
Next, try to pinpoint any changes in your partner’s behaviour and/or increased levels of that behaviour. Another way of putting this is to focus on the time spent in that behaviour and the frequency of that behaviour, rather than the behaviour itself. For example, you notice he seems be getting angry more and more often and his bad mood lasts for hours. Remember time spent is how long he is behaving that way for and frequency is how often it’s happening.
This is important because it’s not so much about depression, but more about depressed moods and the effects those moods are having on your partner. We often are quite bad with self-awareness and your partner may not even been aware of your concern or the impact his behaviour is having on you.
The battle of understanding
All relationships have their challenging times but the effects of mental health are sadly becoming the reason why so many relationships breakdown. Is it from a lack of care? No!! Is it from a lack of love? Absolutely not!!
I believe it comes down to a lack of awareness in the differences between how women and men deal with challenges.
Let’s start with just a few challenges. One of the biggest I see right now in the space of mental health is the battle of understanding. There are three critical areas of dealing with your partners.
Appreciation – From them sharing and having a challenge.
Acceptance – Regardless of why you think they are struggling.
Understanding – This is not your understanding, but you understanding what they are going through. You will be working on being more understanding, which I know can be difficult.
It really comes down to this: it’s not about how you see it, but about how they are feeling. I get it can be really hard to help your man because you can feel helpless yourself and at times even hopeless. The fact is though, as men and women, we often see our situations very differently.
It’s not about being right, it’s about being better
To explain where I’m coming from, I want you to think about being “right” or being “better”. What I mean by this is you are probably right.
You are probably right about:
- Him not coming home on time
- Him drinking too much
- Him avoiding hard conversations
- Him partying too much
- Him working too hard
- Him not giving you enough time
- Him shutting down and not talking.
I know the list can go on and on and on but this comment is always hard to hear because it’s not so much about being “right”, because you are right and there is no contesting that. It’s more about being better. Which is coming from a perspective of, “I want to be better at supporting my partner because I want him to get better.”
When your partner is going through some mental health challenges it can put the relationship under stress and we easily begin to physically and emotionally distance ourselves from one another. We tend to avoid each other and when we do come together, it’s often strained, resulting in us not ever really dealing with the underlying challenges you and he may be facing.
The basic quality of working together as a unit to tackle common problems is torn apart as both partners feel an increased level of frustration and despair towards the other. But if you approach it from the position of: “I want to be better at supporting my partner because I want him to be better” a lot of this initial challenge of distancing ourselves can start to disappear because you approach it, and him, differently.
What men really want
Truly, all men really want is their partner’s support. To know that their partner is there, on their team, just letting them be who they are. Often, we can think that our help is support. But it isn’t. That’s why at times when you tried to help, it actually was creating distance between you and your partner.
Why? Because men still need to feel valued and supported for who they are and don’t want to be “fixed”.
Here are a few tips on how to support instead of trying to fix:
Listen with the intention to understand, not respond
Actually LISTEN without judgment and without a solution. People really do heal when they feel heard. Awareness precedes change and you may see something you have not seen before if you really listen.
Fix, restore or replace
What needs to be fixed, restored and replaced is a great way to help your partner understand the process of their challenges. Let them identify what they need to fix, what they need to restore and what they need to replace. So fix relates to any external factors, restore relates to any internal factors and replacing is about them taking out things in their lives that are not good for them. This is all about them taking responsibility.
DON’T use the past to define the future
I know this is so easy to do as the past is such a powerful driver but if you can look at each challenge in isolation this will help you deal with it in a more practical and logical way. We all know our emotions can take over at times.
What would love do and what would love say
I think unconditional love is a powerful way to help your partner and yourself through the challenge of mental health. I always ask my clients what would love do and what would love say, as it paints a very different picture and allows us a better chance to respond not react.
It can be difficult but remember, everyone goes through hard times and it can be really painful. When men are feeling low, we want to know that we are not alone, even if it seems like we are pushing you away. We want to know we are not going to be judged. We want to know that we are loved. We want to feel safe. We don’t want to be kicked when we are down, which is what trying to “help” someone who hasn’t asked for it sort of feels like. As women, it’s in your nature to want to “fix fix fix ”, to help someone feel better, to do whatever it takes to make sure someone we care about is happy. But men need to work things out for themselves.
I know your intention truly is to help and I know you are coming from a genuine place of love. But the best way to REALLY help is to support your man. We think that when we are giving him help, we’re supporting… but really all we’re doing is creating separation.
Before I finish, let me underline that mental health is not permission for your partner’s bad behaviour or avoidance techniques so don’t be scared of the hard conversation, just make sure it’s from place of love not control.
“HARD CONVERSATION, EASY LIFE. EASY CONVERSATION, HARD LIFE.”
You are doing a great job and don’t take the pain of another personally and don’t allow your man to treat you poorly just because you love them. Commit to progress together through the journey of mental health and never forget: ‘Pain is real and suffering is a choice.”