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When Your Partner Is in Crisis: How to Help

Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD - Blogs
By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhDPsychologistSeptember 17, 2014
From the WebMD Archives

It can be incredibly painful to see your partner in distress or caught in a pattern of self-destructive habits. Although it’s not within your control to fix the problem, you may be able to influence them to seek help for themselves. If you’re unsure how to encourage your partner to make a change or seek therapy, consider this approach.

Empathize and show compassion: Begin by letting them know you sense their pain and that their pain matters to you (whether or not you understand it). Explain that when they hurt, you hurt for them. Next, tell them you want them to be happier.

Ask them to share their thoughts, and listen: Encourage your partner to share more about their struggles. After they’ve expressed themselves, ask them how they think the situation could improve. If any of the ideas sound workable to you, discuss them. For instance, if your partner seems depressed and withdrawn, you might support them in spending more time with friends. If you don’t think their ideas seem wise, say that you appreciate their desire to improve things, but explain your concerns about their suggestions. For instance, you don’t see how giving them more time to make plans will help when they’ve failed to do so for months despite similar requests for deadline extensions. Perhaps the two of you can find a solution in this conversation. If your partner doesn’t want to talk things through, express your frustration with this and discuss the need for change. If talking devolves into nastiness or just ends in a stalemate, then you also need a new approach.

Consider therapy: After letting your partner know you feel they’re in pain, suggest therapy as a way for them to get help. If they refuse, explain that their struggles are negatively impacting you, making it a relationship issue. If they respond by saying that the problems are more with you than them, you can emphasize that this makes it a relationship issue. In either case, request that they join you in couples therapy. Then at that point, you can leave it to a therapist to figure out how to address the problems in your relationship and in your partner. Be advised, though, that many couples enter therapy together with the idea that their partner needs fixing, only to find out that they both must make some changes.

Seek treatment on your own: If your partner refuses to try therapy, consider seeing a therapist by yourself. You can talk with the therapist about how you might better engage your partner, or how you want to proceed if they are unlikely to change.

It can be extremely difficult to talk about issues with a partner who is reluctant to directly address concerns. So, make sure you approach the topic at a time when you are prepared to be patient and when your partner would be most receptive. Hopefully by taking this approach, you will find a path to greater happiness in your relationship.

The Art of Relationships blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for individual professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need help for an emotional or behavioral problem, please seek the assistance of a psychologist or other qualified mental health professional.

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About the Author
Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD

Dr. Becker-Phelps is a licensed psychologist in NJ and NY, and is on staff at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, Somerset. She is dedicated to helping people understand themselves and what they need to do to become emotionally and psychologically healthy. She accomplishes this through her work as a psychotherapist, speaker and writer. She is the author of Bouncing Back from Rejection and Insecure in Love.

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