Life as a couple is one of the most beautiful and rewarding experiences this world has to offer. It can be immensely fulfilling to have a partner that loves and holds you unconditionally. Needless to say, this makes you a better and happier person overall. What is more, being in the right relationship can offer you the moral support you need to accomplish your goals.
Unfortunately, things aren’t always rosy and sugar-coated in romantic partnership land. If my experience over the last couple of years has taught me anything, it’s that life might take an unexpected turn for the worse when you least expected. For me and my girlfriend, this was around the time she started exhibiting what we now know were the symptoms of schizophrenia.
Our journey has taught both me and her a lot about the ways in which mental illness can affect the couple life of two individuals. If you and your significant other have been struggling with a similar situation, I hope that my story will inspire you to find a middle ground and cope with the issue in a healthier, more appropriate manner.
The Main Issues to Expect
When your partner develops anxiety, depression, schizophrenia or any other disorder of the mind, things are bound to change as far as your relationship is concerned. And some of the new situations that arise might be problematic. Here are the four ways in which mental illness can affect your couple life, as well as some advice on how to deal with them.
1. Communication Becomes Harder
Many mental disorders thrive on social isolation and loneliness, which is why you might notice that your partner is becoming more and more withdrawn and refuses to engage in daily activities they used to enjoy. This also makes maintaining proper couple communication almost impossible in the long run.
For example, as my girlfriend’s condition became more and more ingrained in her psyche, she started displaying what the medical community calls negative symptoms of schizophrenia. The term ‘negative’ doesn’t reflect their harmful nature, but rather the fact that they consist of a lack of normal responses and emotions.
The continuation of normal activities becomes impossible for the person suffering from this affliction. This is exactly what started happening to my partner. She could no longer find pleasure in the things that she used to enjoy, and she stopped talking to me after a while. This made understanding what was happening all the more difficult.
What is more, schizophrenia isn’t the only mental illness that affects one’s social behavior and ability to properly communicate feelings. A major symptom in the case of other conditions such as clinical depression or bipolar disorder also consists of a tendency towards isolation. Even though it might manifest itself differently, the bottom line is always the same.
While the sight of this will surely be disheartening at first if you are going through the same thing you need to remember that it’s your duty as a significant other to help the person you love cope with their condition. This doesn’t mean that you have to get used to the situation, but rather understand where it’s coming from and find ways to work around it.
2. Conflicts Are More Difficult
Although conflicts are an integral part of any healthy relationship, the important thing is to navigate them properly. But when your partner isn’t in the best mental state, this won’t always happen. In fact, things tend to get out of hand a lot easier in this situation. Thus, even a regular petty squabble can degenerate into something far more serious.
Tense situations need a resolution in order to disappear, and when they don’t get it, they simply intensify. Due to this, you might even find that the two of you are arguing far more often. It’s important to acknowledge if this is happening and seek proper help for it if the two of you can no longer sort it out and you feel that you fail to support your partner through rough times.
Talking things through always helps, but if you feel like resentment and contempt are starting to bubble up, you can also try couples’ therapy. Admitting that you have a problem isn’t shameful at all. In fact, it’s an important first step towards actually solving it. Nevertheless, when your partner is fighting their own battle, this will be difficult to attempt.
After my girlfriend got her diagnosis for the first time, she took up the problem of our constant fighting with her psychiatrist. He recommended various exercises for us to try at home whenever conflicts got out of hand. For example, every time things started degenerating, he suggested that we would look back at it once the tension dissipated.
This was supposed to give us both a chance to assess the situation with a clear head. Sounds like pretty standard relationship counselling, right? Well, if your significant other is struggling with mental illness as well, then you surely know by now that them having a clear head is sometimes out of the question for days on end.
Of course, her doctor warned us of this as well, but sometimes we managed to apply this strategy successfully. But what can one do when techniques no longer do the trick? As much as it pains me to say this, the process is one of trial and error above all else. You will mess it up sometimes, but that’s not uncommon.
Instead of living your life in a constant state of guilt and fear and deepening the gap between yourself and your partner, you need to accept that neither of you is experts and move on. Remember why you love this person and make a mental note of the fact that things do get better if you have the patience for it.
3. Additional Responsibilities Appear
Having someone by your side as you face life’s challenges and tasks are arguably one of the most reassuring parts of a relationship. Your romantic partner is called as such because they are more than just the person you feel physically and mentally attracted to. They are your ally and your confidante, your better half and your source of moral support.
But when the person you care about most in the world struggles with mental illness, you might find that this is no longer the case sometimes, at least until the adequate course of treatment is established once and for all. The cold, hard truth of loving someone whose mind is unwell is that you will have to take on more responsibilities than ever before.
Depending on nature and aggravation state of your partner’s affliction, they could still be able to maintain their daily routine with little to no discrepancies or difficulties. Still, that is rarely the case. Thus, it’s your duty not only to pick up the slack where they can’t but also to maintain a positive atmosphere so that they do not get discouraged by the situation.
When your partner will feel at their lowest, you will need to stop taking think personally and understand that they’re not doing it out of avoidance. Their condition is speaking for them, and they are on a journey to regain control of their life. You need to help them as much as you can through this trying time and not resent them for needing it.
4. Both of You Need Support
Nevertheless, when additional responsibilities do appear, you shouldn’t burden yourself with all of them because you will crack under pressure too sooner or later. Always staying strong for two can become immensely difficult and draining, which is why you shouldn’t be ashamed of needing help every now and then.
The American Psychological Association emphasizes the importance of both partners finding proper support to help them navigate the situation. This means that both you and your mentally ill partner need someone or something to lean on. For them, there is always talk therapy, and when all else fails you are still there for them.
But constantly being someone’s rock can take a toll on you. Thus, you need to find support as well. You won’t be selfish for wanting this. The best way to go about this is by connecting with other partners or family members of mental health patients. After all, no one can understand what you’re going through better than a person who is or used to be in the same situation.
There are many support groups dedicated to such people, and many of them are online as well. Joining such a group is essential especially if you’ve just recently started to experience these issues because some of the people on there surely have been through it all, and therefore can offer you valuable pieces of advice on coping with your problems.
Loving someone who is struggling with mental illness is only impossible when you aren’t willing to put in the effort. By understanding the difficulties that will arise and finding a middle ground between your needs and those of your partner, dealing with the issues that arise becomes easier. Thus, the effort should be a collaborative one as always.
Nevertheless, your partner might have a hard time coping as is, which means that you shouldn’t force them to discuss unless they are up for it. Although it will be harder to communicate and solve conflicts than it was before, you need to stay strong and not be ashamed of what is happening between the two of you.
When the additional responsibilities seem like they’re going to suffocate you, reach out to those who can understand what you’re going through. Seeking support in people who are going through the same thing that you are can offer you the extra strength that you need in order to successfully deal with what is happening and help your partner in the process as well.