Partner in a Life Transition? What You Should And Shouldn’t Be Doing.

Life never quite works out the way we expect. Someone once said to me that if you really knew what awaited us in the future, we would be totally shocked. Even though we, as humans, have the ability to predict the future, it is never spot on. The one thing we do know is that people change and the circumstances they find themselves in change as well. Sometimes by choice, often not.

I like to look at life in terms of life chapters and life transitions. Life chapters are phases in our life where things are stable, we are settled and things are running fine. There is no need for change and the thoughts around changing those circumstances are minimal. Life transitions are phases between life chapters where our lives can feel unsettled, we can feel stuck, anxious and trying desperately to find our path again. These transitions can be brought on by illness, loss of a loved one or relationship, financial difficulty or a myriad of other reasons. How we handle these times will determine how long the transition lasts. At least as important, maybe, is the influence of the people around us..our spouses and partners and especially if said partner is not going through the same thing.

It is never easy to be in a relationship with someone who is feeling that their life is off track. It is a big responsibility and one that some would try to avoid. However,  we can safely say that the strength of a relationship is determined by how good it is when things are not at their best…when sickness or depression or setbacks occur. We all have, of course, the ultimate responsibility to forge our own path but as a spouse or partner, we can either help or complicate the issue. Let’s look at this closer.

Often people going through life transitions have reduced energy and a perception that they cannot function in the same way as before. Small issues become big issues. Depression often occurs when there is a feeling of being stuck and hopeless. There is a withdrawal from routine, friends and pleasurable activities. When the feeling is at its worst, it could lead to a total breakdown and a distinct inability to function normally. Fear and anxiety dominate.

As a partner of someone going through such troubled times, a certain approach is essential if the situation is not going to get worse. The first thing to remember is that this is often a phase that will  pass eventually if things are handled correctly. A partner can help in the following ways:

Remember that it is not about you (unless it is about you) Even though frustration will often lead to flashpoints, it is important not to let it escalate into open conflict.

Be understanding and aware. Trying to be there for your partner means understanding and being aware of what they are going through. If you do not understand, find out. If your partner cannot tell you, you can research or ask a professional.

Encourage but don’t push. It is very easy sometimes to force solutions on the situation in your willingness to help. They would be your solutions however. What you think your partner should be doing is immaterial. It has to be their solution.

Listen don’t talk. Many people going through life transitions find it difficult to see a way out of their situation.. As a partner, it is important to listen and just be there. Sometimes all they need is someone to listen to whatever it is they have to say.  When they get to the point where they are talking solutions, encourage them to develop ideas by asking questions.

Set boundaries when needed. No-one has the right to smash boundaries under any circumstances. Sometimes when people are going through difficult times, they will attack the people around them verbally. it is important to set healthy, compassionate boundaries around this.

Look after yourself. When your partner or spouse is going through difficult times, it places more emphasis on you to hold things together. It is no good if you are also falling apart. It is important to keep yourself healthy mentally and physically. That means eating and sleeping properly, getting enough exercise and finding away to relive stress.

Know when to seek help. There may come a time when professional help is needed in the form of therapy or medical attention. Knowing when this is the right time might fall to you.

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Dr. Nicholas Jenner

Dr. Nicholas Jenner, a therapist, coach, and speaker, has over 20 years of experience in the field of therapy and coaching. His specialty lies in treating codependency, a condition that is often characterized by a compulsive dependence on a partner, friend, or family member for emotional or psychological sustenance. Dr. Jenner's approach to treating codependency involves using Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy, a treatment method that has gained widespread popularity in recent years. He identifies the underlying causes of codependent behavior by exploring his patients' internal "parts," or their different emotional states, to develop strategies to break free from it. Dr. Jenner has authored numerous works on the topic and offers online therapy services to assist individuals in developing healthy relationships and achieving emotional independence.

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  1. Anonymous

    Gosh, so true, and very helpful. It resonated with me and I found it really helpful at a time when I am making the transition towards retirement. All the negatives are there – depression (mild), anxiety, and strange verbal attacks on my spouse which seem to come from nowhere.