For a long time, I thought my partner also needed to be my therapist. At some point, I stopped seeking new friendships or maintaining old ones. I blamed it on getting older and having responsibilities and no available time, but I’m sure there were lots of factors that played a role. This created a disproportionate and unfair dynamic within our relationship. I wanted to heal and I wanted her to help me heal. When she couldn’t handle the weight of my depression anymore because she had her own demons to battle, I felt incredibly lonely. It felt as if I had no one to talk to or lean on anymore.
Turning to our partner often feels natural because they usually know us best, but it can also create chaos and unrealistic expectations of them.
We can’t expect our partners to be everything for us, especially our therapists. Sometimes we need to create space and work stuff out with a trained professional or a close friend that we feel comfortable with because untreated childhood wounds tend to resurface again and again until they are healed. This trained professional can recognize toxic patterns and behaviors and teach us new coping techniques to deal with our trauma. Plus, your partner has their own learned behaviors and patterns that may not be beneficial to you.
Another reason this can be dangerous is because you or your partner may have suicidal thoughts or really heavy shit that needs to be worked through, and this can feel incredibly stressful and scary to carry the weight of.
It can be really hard for them to be objective about what’s best for you. They can often be doing everything they know how to do for you, but you can still feel distant or unloved by their reactions and responses to stuff you’re sensitive or vulnerable about.
I can remember having a very important (to me) conversation about my parents with my partner in the middle of the night as she was falling asleep. I was being open and raw and felt incredibly hurt by her reaction, but it was wrong of me to tackle such a heavy topic in the middle of the night with the expectation that she was going to fix it for me.
This doesn’t mean we can’t have conversations or be open and honest about our feelings. It just means we should be doing that in addition to getting the help of a professional. The thing about going to a professional is that they do not lean on you for support, it is 100% one-sided. You get to dump your feelings and walk away, but you can’t do that with your partner.
There is so much stigma around going to therapy. It can feel scary to let someone unfamiliar into your personal thoughts and feelings. Maybe you think if you go to therapy it’ll mean you’re weak, flawed, or crazy? If you start then it’ll be endless and drain your pockets? Maybe they will confirm some of your worst fears or blame and shame you?
I had all of these thoughts. I was so fucking scared to even take the initial consultation phone call. But my problems were not my partner's problems, and I had some work to do.
It turns out all different types of people go to therapy, for multiple different reasons and I’m not crazy or flawed for seeking help. My relationship has been able to thrive and grow while committing to weekly sessions. I stopped asking my partner to be my shoulder to lean on all the time and we’ve been able to have healthy conversations about difficult topics without expecting one another to resolve them and heal each other.
It’s given me the opportunity to hash it out and work out kinks with a professional and then bring some of my newfound knowledge into conversation. But I also don’t bring every conversation home with me either. Some things are just meant for my therapist and me and that’s perfectly healthy and acceptable. It’s important to understand what you need and keep open communication with your partner about what those needs are while also respecting their boundaries.
Mental health is complex, but so are relationships. Each of them needs their own space and room to grow while merging together. Doesn’t mean the process won’t be messy or complicated at times, but there will be a much healthier dynamic happening.