Partnering in Mental Health

Loving someone with mental illness

Black Friday = Partner Black Mood?

The holiday season isn't happy for everyone all the time.

“Black Friday” gets its name from the fact that on the day after Thanksgiving, retailers finally make enough money for the year to “be in the black” - in other words, profitable.

For your partner with a mental illness, “Black Friday” - or really, any day this time of year - can feel darker than usual.

Since yesterday was Thanksgiving, it’s likely that you and your partner were with family and friends for the holiday (and they may even still be in your house now!). That “family togetherness” may have stirred up tensions that lay dormant the rest of the year, creating additional anxiety and depression for your partner.

Or perhaps you and your partner were alone, and that brought up other feelings, depending on the reason for not being with others. You could live too far away, or people you used to celebrate with may have passed away since last year, or perhaps your partner is too ill to participate in family get-togethers. Your partner may be grieving the loss of holiday traditions, or feeling anger, guilt, or shame if the reason you didn’t participate is because of their illness.

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Luckily, the holiday season is a finite span of time, and it will be over come January 1. But, we still have 33 days to go until then, so how can you ease your partner’s burden about the holiday season?

  1. Validate your partner’s feelings. The holidays are a crazy time of year, and most people feel overburdened by expectations. Acknowledge your partner’s feelings, and let them talk about what’s happening for them as they face this time of the year.
  2. Have realistic expectations. After doing #1, talk about what expectations you both have for the holidays so that everyone is on the same page. Maybe this year, you only give each other one gift, or nothing at all. Maybe you choose one or two holiday parties to attend instead of saying yes to every invitation. Maybe you don’t decorate the house as ornately as usual, or have Chinese food for Christmas Eve dinner instead of an elaborate meal.
  3. Be flexible. Once #2 is settled, still be flexible. Plans change, stuff comes up, people get sick with colds, etc. The best laid plans rarely happen without a hitch. The key is to not make or allow your partner to feel guilty or ashamed if the reason it doesn’t go as planned is because of their illness.
  4. Create new traditions. If you and your partner have decided to forego some old traditions because they feel out of reach this year, what new traditions can you try? By adding something memorable that is positive this year, it will more likely be remembered as “The year we started doing X” instead of “The year we did nothing because of _______ [mental illness].”
  5. Help out when you can. In the past, your partner may have had certain responsibilities that feel like too much this year. If it is realistic that you can take over some of those jobs (without complaining!), your partner would probably appreciate it. Ask first though–your partner may not want your help or for you to assume they are too sick to handle it.
  6. Maintain routine as much as possible. Eating moderately, exercising, maintaining sleep routines, and taking meds appropriately are important 365 days of the year, holidays or not. Do your best to keep yourself and your partner on as much of a schedule and routine as possible.
  7. Remind your partner that they are your most special gift in life. When the holidays are all said and done, this is what is most important. It’s not the amount of presents bought or received, the meals cooked, or the parties attended. Showing your partner that you love them will last far longer than anything they can open from a box.

Kate Thieda works as a therapist in private practice in Durham, North Carolina.

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