Relationships don’t always work out, and that’s part and parcel of life. However, failed relationships can teach us so much about ourselves and why things might not have worked out.
When I approached Kelvin (his name has been changed to protect his identity) about his previous relationship, he shared his personal experience dating a girl who was clinically diagnosed with Depression. He pointed out that one of the challenges he faced was trying to understand what his partner was going through.
Reflecting upon his relationship, Kelvin realized his inability to understand her struggles led to his insensitivity in pushing for their relationship to progress. Though they parted ways eventually, it was heartening to hear some of the lessons he had learnt from the relationship.
1. Effective Communication
“Are the both of you willing to constantly engage in communication?”
Like every relationship, communication is important. Some days, you might be having a good day while your partner is having a bad one. It’s learning to communicate that you care for them, while avoiding blanket statements such as “I understand you” that would trivialize their feelings.
I know that today was a rough day for you. I might not know how to make it better, but I'm going to try… What can I do to help?
Sometimes, asking your partner how they would feel comforted, works better than trying to comfort in ways you yourself would feel comforted. It is also important to know that your partner might not be as forthcoming to ask for space, so it can be helpful to offer them time and space.
…if you need me to take a step back, I’ll be more than happy to give you the space. Of course, I’m not leaving you. I’ll be here for you whenever you want to talk about it.
By learning to give your partner space, you are letting them know that it’s okay for them to take some alone time, before returning to the conversation.
2. The Importance of Self-Care
During the course of the relationship, Kelvin’s partner experienced sleep problems. He often found himself sleeping at odd timings in order stay up with his partner. This disrupted his sleep cycle and since it was during his army term, it took a toll on him.
Furthermore, as Kelvin tried putting himself in his partner’s shoes, he unconsciously ended up mirroring her feelings of hopelessness and despair. Emotional contagion can take place between partners, and it’s crucial to note you don’t end up taking on someone’s emotional struggles upon yourself. While caring for your partner is important, so are your needs.
3. You Can’t “Fix” Someone
Initially, I was trying to be many different things for her. But when you try to be the answer, you’ll realize that you can’t fit in.
Savior complex was something Kelvin brought up. The term ‘Savior Complex’, refers to feeling the need to save others, at the expense of personal sacrifices. During the relationship, he felt the need to be the solution to his partner problems. However, he had to learn that he couldn’t “fix” his partner, nor be the help to her struggles.
At the end of the day, the decision to break up can be challenging. There might be feelings of guilt being the initiator of the breakup, especially if your partner is struggling with mental health. For Kelvin, as difficult as it was, he came to accept that:
Maybe I am not the person she needed. And maybe I am not the most suitable person to walk her through this journey, and that’s ok.
Perhaps, you’re reading this feeling the same frustration Kelvin felt. You want to understand your partner’s struggles. You want to support your partner. But after several conflicts, you can’t help but wonder if you’re the one making things worse. For individuals supporting their partners who are struggling with mental health, reaching out can be extremely intimidating.
During the relationship, Kelvin tried to confide in his friends the problems he faced during the relationship. However, one of his friends made an extremely hurtful remark: “What do you expect? You’re dating someone with Depression…”. The helplessness he faced, coupled with the limited resources he could find, Kelvin was at a lost for what to do next. Perhaps, that’s you. While reaching out is difficult for the individual struggling, it can also be challenging for their partners who seek to support them.
Sharing similar sentiments, another friend of mine shared his personal challenges when he was seeing someone who was diagnosed with Depression and Anxiety. He gave the analogy that really showed how reaching out can seem scary, but more importantly, how helpful it can be.
Imagine complete darkness. You can’t see anything, and when you reach out, you can’t grab hold of anything either. You’re free falling and it’s so scary because you have nothing to hold on to for a sense of security... The moment you have something you can identify with, that is your first hold. From there, it’s a lot less scary when it’s not so much about flailing around in the darkness. You can start climbing, exploring different options of reaching out.
If you’re reading this today, know that it is okay for you to talk to someone about the struggles you face in your relationship. You don’t have to bear the weight of it all on yourself. Today, more people who may not understand are trying to understand. There are more people who are increasingly aware on how to be more tactful in the way they approach the topic of suicide and mental health. It might be difficult to trust that other people won’t judge you for the decisions you’ve made, but there are many people who are ready to listen. While you continue to fight for your relationship to work, remember that while you’re trying your best to be there for your partner, take time to care for your needs as well.
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