Experiencing mental illness, also called a mental health disorder, can be very difficult for a relationship, especially when you live together.
Stress may reach crisis levels, and you may fall into a pattern where managing mental health disorders becomes the center of the relationship. Mental illness does not necessarily reduce relationships, even if it may cause stress.
Despite the challenges, there are ways to maintain a healthy relationship when your loved one has a mental illness. If you have a relationship with someone who has been diagnosed with a mental illness, try these tips.
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How mental illness affects relationships
If someone living with you is diagnosed with a mental illness, they may hesitate to tell you. Maybe they worry that once you know you will end the relationship. The two of you may want to know if you can resolve their symptoms together.
Communication is always important in a relationship, especially when someone in your life has a mental health problem. You must be able to trust that they will master their treatment plan. If they are unable to perform the duties you agree to, such as paying rent or maintaining a tidy living space, you may feel pressured.
If your loved one’s symptoms become uncontrollable, it can be frustrating; for example, you may have to take on more responsibility when they can’t take it.
If your partner’s mental health prevents them from engaging in stable jobs, this can be stressful, especially if you are financially dependent on them. You may need to develop other plans, such as finding a job yourself to contribute.
If you are raising children together, you and your partner need to find a way to explain your partner’s situation to your child. You need to find a way to solve the family’s problems.
You and your loved ones may feel emotionally exhausted when dealing with daily life with mental illness. It is especially important to put self-care first to prevent exhaustion.
If the relationship is romantic, you may also encounter intimacy challenges. Depending on your partner’s mental health and any medications they take, they may experience hypersexuality (strong sexual drive), or they may not be interested in sex at all, both of which can cause difficulties in relationships.
Understanding the lives of people with mental illness
There is a lot of misinformation about the causes of different mental health disorders and the best treatment options. To understand the condition of your partner:
Signs of mental illness
Depending on the person’s age, the symptoms of a mental health disorder may vary. Some signs and symptoms of mental health disorders may include:
- Changes in appetite and/or sleep patterns
- Experiencing extreme emotional shifts
- Chronic low-grade depression and/or major depression episodes
- Increased irritability, sadness, anxiety, anger, and/or worry
- Express thoughts related to self-harm or hurting others
- Hallucinations and/or delusions
- Increased unhealthy coping habits (drug and alcohol abuse, or engaging in other dangerous or compulsive behaviors)
- Emotional outbursts are not a typical characteristic of a particular individual
- Retreat and don’t engage in activities that once brought happiness
When someone is newly diagnosed, the news can be devastating, embarrassing, or even scary for them.
However, for some people, the diagnosis may validate the symptoms they are experiencing. But the uncertainty and stigma associated with mental health disorders may make them worry that you will see them differently.
Whether it is your partner, your children, friends, or a roommate who has been diagnosed, there are many ways to show that you support them.
But remember to respect their privacy. Although you may be curious about their treatment courses and their progress, they may only want to share certain things with you and keep other details private.
Always keep yourself away from potentially emotional and/or physically dangerous situations, and if they are at risk of harming themselves or others, please contact emergency services.
For your partner
Let your partner know that you are by their side and love them. To show support to your partners, please listen to their experiences and verify their feelings. Ask your partner how you can best support them and listen to what they share with you.
Build your own support system—this can include trusted friends, family, and maybe even a support group—you can rely on it to deal with your partner’s mental illness.
In addition, acknowledge the positive changes or changes your partner has made. Let them know that you appreciate them taking care of themselves.
For your child
When your child talks about their symptoms, be sure to listen to them. You may not fully understand what they are going through, but it is important that they know that you believe them.
Don’t force yourself to solve all problems. Communicating with your child and their doctor is key, so you can come up with solutions together. If you have other children, you may also want to involve them in the conversation. Find a way that everyone can support your child’s mental health.
To your friend or roommate
If you live with a close friend who has a mental illness, you may notice a change in their behavior. Maybe they are quitting social activities.
Ask your friends how you can help. If you feel necessary, you can ask them if they want you to contact mental health services for them.
If you have an unfamiliar roommate, you can still provide as much support as possible. In any case, you have to remember to respect the boundaries between them and yourself. If you feel unsafe, please don’t interfere.
Don’t be their therapist
In addition to educating yourself how to support your loved ones, remember that it is not your responsibility to be their therapist. Even if you are a trained mental health professional, this is not appropriate because it creates an unhealthy power dynamic between you, which will not be a long-term solution.
Your job is to provide love, support and compassion to your partner, child or friend during their recovery. Your loved one is responsible for managing their mental health disorder symptoms.
These roles provide opportunities for your loved ones to feel supported and empowered to take care of themselves and prioritize their well-being as individuals.
You should avoid contributing to unhealthy behaviors and allow them to take responsibility for their treatment plan while still providing appropriate support.
Self-care is essential for maintaining healthy relationships. Self-care is especially beneficial if someone around you is diagnosed with a mental illness. Self-care ideas include:
- Develop good sleep hygiene habits
- Make sure you have regular physical activity
- Nourish your body
- Spend time with trusted friends and relatives
- Engage in activities or hobbies you like
- Record your thoughts and feelings
- Practice mindfulness meditation
- Stay in touch with your body through progressive muscle relaxation, especially during stressful times
Watch for signs of burnout or caregiver fatigue. Experiencing burnout not only affects your own happiness, but also affects your relationship with your loved ones.
If you are experiencing signs of burnout, then you must prioritize your health and take necessary rest. Signs of burnout include:
- Feel overwhelmed and/or exhausted
- Experience increased stress, symptoms of anxiety, and symptoms of depression
- Experience changes in appetite and sleep
- Feel more easily irritated
- Feel helpless
Treatment can help you process your thoughts and feelings in a healthy way, which may improve your own coping skills as well as your communication skills. Consultation can be a useful resource that can provide you with a new perspective and useful guidance when you feel overwhelmed and stressed.
If you live with someone with a mental illness, it is not uncommon for you to experience a range of emotions, such as depression, anger, and sadness. During this time, it can be very helpful to seek personal therapy, couples counseling, and/or family therapy designed to strengthen your relationship.
Through couples counseling, emotions can be explored effectively. Couples can learn to establish appropriate expectations and set healthy boundaries. Couple counseling may also help prevent you and your partner from getting into an unhealthy situation.
Even if your loved one is not ready or comfortable to receive treatment, you may find it helpful to have a safe, supportive, and unbiased place for yourself.
If your child has mental health problems, you can consider family therapy. Family therapy can help control the impact of your child’s mental illness on all members of your family. You can also learn the best ways to support your child through illness.
Consider consulting your own personal counselor to help support you during this period, even if you are already receiving couples counseling or family therapy. Treatment can help you deal with your emotions and allow you to continue to appear in front of your loved ones in a healthy way.
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If the person you live with is diagnosed with a mental health disorder, there are steps you can take to maintain or even improve your relationship. Remember, as individuals and in your relationship, both of you should prioritize your own happiness.