It can be scary and overwhelming to notice a change in your partner’s mood and behavior, especially since it’s difficult to know whether your spouse’s symptoms require intervention. Is this a situational change? How long should it last? What’s “normal” stress? Some clients tell me they also feel pressure to diagnose their spouse, since they feel it’s easier to say, “I think you have depression” instead of “You’ve been really irritable lately.” Fortunately, it’s not your job to diagnose your partner; your primary responsibility is to pay close attention to your spouse and guide them towards a helping professional.

What exactly should you pay attention to? When I work with clients, regardless of the specific diagnosis, I am always thinking about how they are functioning. How is their social life? What’s going on at work? Are their intimate relationships in distress? I remind myself that while mental health issues typically touch all aspects of our lives, some areas might be more affected than others.

In some ways, functioning is a vague concept. Luckily, Dr. Dan Siegel has a great tool that illustrates functioning. He describes the River of Well-Being as a flowing river. When you’re peacefully floating down the river, you feel good about yourself, other people, and your life. You’re stable and centered. Sometimes, life pulls you towards the river’s two banks (i.e., chaos and rigidity) that lie on either side of the river. If you get pulled towards chaos, you may feel out of control, confused, and experience your life as constantly in turmoil. If you get pulled towards rigidity, you may feel as though you are imposing control on everything and everyone around you. When we are closest to the banks of chaos and rigidity, we are farthest from mental health. And, when our time spent on the banks is significantly more than our time floating down the river, we are not usually functioning very well.

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