PARTNER WITH MENTAL ILLNESS
Partner with mental Illness
A partner with mental illness can be challenging in a couples relationship. The stress can often reach a crisis level. You can fall into a pattern where managing the illness becomes a role around which the relationship is centred. For a newly diagnosed, this news can be devastating, embarrassing and even frightening. Mental health is something you cannot brush under the carpet and pretend it is not happening.
If things aren’t addressed, resentments and misunderstanding can create a toxic relationship which can make things a lot worse. Counselling and psychotherapy can help the partner with coping and problem-solving skills and refocus their strengths to enhance their resilience.
Partners who are providing care to their spouse with mental illness have been found to exhibit signs of burnout identical to that found in nursing staff at psychiatric settings. The partner may initially spend a lot of time taking care of that person and working hard to maintain the relationship and this can go on for years. Often the caregiving partner grows tired of this role because they have been ignoring their own needs. The result is that the partner may end up slowly retreating from the role of the caregiver, or may react in angry outbursts. Counselling interventions can help to get their relationship back on track before the situation reaches crisis proportions. Their mental health may deteriorate, and may develop changes in their daily functioning, thoughts of shame and hopelessness as they begin to feel less effective in helping their partner.
Life is most satisfying when we live in a harmonious relationship but losing the harmony in a relationship can be difficult especially if one or both of the partners develop mental health issues. Many people are uninformed about mental illness or rely on inaccurate information. Symptoms of mental illness can be off-putting and confusing. Sometimes it is easy to think that your partner is distant, lazy, distracted, irritable or irrational. Some of these “character flaws” might actually be symptoms of mental illness. It is not unusual to experience a range of scary emotions such as hate, anger and having emotional exhaustion is not unusual. Therapy can help you focus on self-care and prevent you of being sucked into the vortex of mental illness and put your relationship at risk. It’s possible to have a healthy, loving and long-term partnership with someone who has a mental illness.
How does Mental Illness Affect an Intimate Relationship.?
Mental illness can affect many aspects of life, including intimate relationships. A partner may experience hesitancy, embarrassment, resentment, guilt or fear of disclosure to their partner due to the continued stigma surrounding mental illness. They may try to hide their symptoms or fail to seek the help they need. They may feel confused or frustrated by their inability to help. For example, a person with depression or anxiety may find it difficult to follow through with household task, have limited emotional availability, struggle to maintain employment etc….For the partner, these behaviours and challenges can put a strain on the relationship which may lead to feelings of disappointment, rejection and disconnect.
- Intimacy problems. Having mental illness can make a person disinterested in sex- either as a result of the condition or treatment. They may feel inadequate, have performance anxiety and low self-esteem. For both partners, this can lead to a decreased opportunity for bonding and result in unmet needs.
- Co-dependent behaviours. Co-dependency is an unhealthy relationship pattern that manifests as one partner enabling another person’s addiction, or coping strategies. The partner of a person with mental illness may start to derive their self-worth from the degree to which they are “needed” or how much they are able to “take care of” their loved one. For example, increase the risk of abusive behaviours, including manipulation, name-calling, and other unhealthy dynamics.