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with Tarra Bates-Duford, Ph.D., MFT

Romantic Relationships and Mental Illness: 5 Potential Reactions

Dating and relationships can be difficult for anyone: what to wear, what to say, or what to do, are all common grievances in the dating scene. Once we’re in a committed relationship, communication problems, trust issues, and conflict can arise, but those with a mental health concerns have an added complication and may need to approach dating differently.

Living with a severe and persistent mental health condition can be challenging for anyone, however, when you add the stress of having to disclose this information to a romantic partner mental health concerns can become exacerbated. Many people struggling with a mental health concerns often wonder when or if they should disclose this information to a partner. Individuals that are seeking to be a romantic relationship may question if a healthy relationship is in their future. Unfortunately, many will assume having a severe mental illness will preclude them from locating and securing a healthy, stable relationship. It is important to understand that many people with serious mental illnesses can have strong, supportive, long-term relationships.

Being in a healthy, stable relationship can provide valuable support during challenging times by aiding with the reduction, severity, and longevity of mental health symptoms. Being in an unhealthy or unstable relationship can make symptoms more pronounced and increases longevity of symptoms. Mental health disorders can come with a wide range of challenges and symptoms that can make it difficulty for partners to disclose. However, the support and understanding from a partner or loved one is an important part of recovery.

6 Signs It Is the Right Time to Tell a Partner about your Mental Illness Include:

  • Your relationship is becoming serious
  • You feel safe to disclose your mental illness rather than obligated
  • When your mental illness impacts your behavior
  • When your relationship topics begin to consist of parenting or family planning
  • If your partners ask, e.g., he/she questions your sudden sadness, irritability, etc.
  • When you want your partner to better understand you and your diagnosis

Unfortunately, because of the stigma surrounding mental illness, many people are reluctant to tell their partners they have a mental health diagnosis. Many feel they will be negatively judged by the illness rather than the content of their character, hence, not allowing potential partners to “see past” the diagnosis. Ideally, individuals in search of a long-term relationship, will have a trusting relationship that provides an opportunity to share health information. When there is trust in a relationship partners often feel free to discuss any issues or concerns openly. Partners in a relationship with someone that has a mental illness can use this information to provide understanding and support during times of health crises. By sharing your health history, you share insight into not just your challenges but also your strengths. If you’re in a long-term relationship, it’s better to disclose your health condition when you are well than to conceal it until an acute episode.

5 Potential Reactions to The Disclosure of Mental Illness May Include:

  • Partners may become frightened and back away from the relationship due to the fears and stigma associated with mental illness
  • Your partner may not see your mental illness as a deal breaker
  • Partners may assume (and rightfully so) that everyone experiences challenges in life
  • Partners may become curious about your mental illness, e.g., questioning “were you born with it’, “when did you find out you had a mental illness” “does anyone else in your family have it”, etc.
  • Complete avoidance or denial that your mental illness exists

Not surprisingly, partners that carry a mental health diagnosis also have a tough time of accepting the disorder. Some people will not meet with a trained mental health provider to identify techniques to manage the illness or adhere to medication regime (if they are being prescribed) out of fear that talking about it or treating the illness will make it real. Mental illness is more than the stigma surrounding it but also the implications associated with it, such as, persons with mental illnesses are aggressive, unstable, weird, dangerous, impulsive, etc. Mental illness can disrupt your sex life in many important ways. Untreated mental illness can prevent you from fully bonding with a partner, trusting a partner, irritability, mania, mood fluctuations, and depression. There are also the potential side effects one may experience from certain psychotropic medications prescribed to manage symptoms related to your mental illness. Potential side effects may include, reduction in or elimination of sexual desire, impotency issues, difficulty achieving an orgasm, decreased ability to become aroused, difficulty obtaining or sustaining an erection.

It is important to both identify and acknowledge the issues that can negatively impact your relationship. Sexual dysfunctions can create barriers with intimacy leading to relationship breakdown. However, it is important that you do not discontinue taking your medication without discussing potential alternatives with your doctor. Mania or psychosis will likely do worse long-term damage to your relationship than a low libido. Intimacy includes more than sexual acts, it also includes affection and love for your partner in ways other than sex.




Romantic Relationships and Mental Illness: 5 Potential Reactions

Bates-Duford, Ph.D., LMFT

My name is Dr. Tarra Bates-Duford PhD, LMFT, CRS, CMFSW, BCPC I have a PhD in forensic Psychology specializing in familial dysfunctions and traumatic experience. I work with individuals and families struggling with familial dysfunctions, trauma, rape, and incest. I also have a masters in Marriage, Couples, & Family therapy. I am a certified relationship specialist with American Psychotherapy Association (#15221). I have more than 15 years in the field of mental health, relationships, and behavioral sciences.

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APA Reference
Bates-Duford, T. (2018). Romantic Relationships and Mental Illness: 5 Potential Reactions. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from


Last updated: 8 Aug 2018
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