Having driven across Canada (most of it, still haven’t been to Newfoundland) I often equate being in a relationship to taking a road trip. Sometimes they are long or short, bumpy, frustrating and other times can be a pure sense of joy, spectacular, quite fun—the terrain isn’t always the same. So, when taking a road trip (i.e. being in a relationship) with your partner who has mental illness (e.g. depression, anxiety, or borderline personality disorder) one of the things I advocate for is that you gas up your car! That means you need to learn how to take care of yourself before you can take a successful road trip. But how do you gas up your car?
- Educate yourself on your partner’s mental illness. Get a map before you start on a road trip!
- Talk to your partner about what you see and get a window into their world as well as your own. Create a self-written owner’s manual for you and for your relationship!
- Understand the triggers that impact you in the relationship. Know your blind spots!
- Learn how to become emotionally regulated. Learn how to merge onto the highway or slow down at stop signs!
- Sometimes we need to set boundaries. We can often put our needs aside (and feel guilty if we don’t) in wanting to help our loved ones all the time. However, if we don’t take time for ourselves that can lead to burnout. Learn how to stay in your lane!
- Put gas in your tank. This is where we need to learn to become self-nourishing and figure out what helps us cope. Telling your partner “you’re crazy,” “just snap out of it,” “you’re overreacting,” or fighting fire with fire (i.e. anger with anger) becomes tiring, fruitless, and counterproductive. One of the reasons for these conflicts is that we’ve become emotionally drained and frustrated—our gas tank is low or empty—and we just want our partner to stop whatever negative behaviour they are engaging in. But if it was that easy, of course, they would have already stopped it!
Some questions to ask yourself and the next steps to take:
- What do I do to take care of myself?
- Is what I am doing right now helping me?
- What would I like to be doing to take care of myself that I am not? How much enjoyment would that activity give me? How much energy would that activity cost me? Is this activity for a long-term or short-term benefit?
- What could get in the way of achieving my goals and how could I overcome these obstacles?
- What are the thoughts, activities, or situations that are emptying my gas tank?
Share these answers with your partner and encourage them to make their own list so you can learn how to help and support each other. Learn to be each other’s co-pilot on this journey! Don’t forget to check in with your partner and yourself to see how you are doing. Regular maintenance is important! Booking a session with a therapist may be a wonderful way to keep your car on the road!