I’m not a therapist, but I have been in a happy marriage for nearly two decades and these are tips based on my personal experience (these tips are not intended to take the place of professional counseling or help).
Growing and maintaining a long term relationship when one of the parties has a mental illness can present unique challenges. With some time, attention, understanding, and empathy those challenges can be overcome. These five tips can help build and repair a bond when mental illness strains a relationship.
- If you are in a trusting relationship, try to share the details of your symptoms with your partner or significant other. By sharing the details of your illness, your partner will be able to distinguish between the core of you and the symptoms of your illness. Sharing details can be helpful if you have symptoms like irritability, anger, fear, terror, confusion, etc.
- There are going to be times (days or weeks even) when the majority of the energy of the relationship focuses on you because of an episode of depression, mania, psychosis, etc. When you start to recover and are stronger, try and turn the focus on your partner – have his/her favorite dinner, let him/her pick the movie, try to do the things that your partner enjoys. If your partner loves video games, spend an hour or two learning how to play his/her favorite game.
- Encourage your partner to talk and focus some time on learning how to listen. In our current culture, someone who can, and does, listens to someone else is a rarity. Active listening can be a gift when so often people get together and spend time looking at their smartphones. No one likes to feel ignored or unimportant and active listening does the opposite; it makes the person feel heard and understood.
- Realize that although your illness is the hardest on you, it is also difficult for the people who love you. It isn’t easy watching someone you love suffer from depression, suicidal ideation, terror, rapid thoughts, delusions, compulsions, psychosis, mania, etc. Try to understand that your partner or significant other may need support, encouragement, and space to grieve or to recover if you have active symptoms.
- If your partner is supportive and believes that your health is a top priority, consider having your partner take an active role in assisting you to manage your symptoms. This support can be as simple as filling your pill box for the week, taking responsibility for filling your prescriptions, driving you to doctor’s appointments, or it can be as significant as sitting in with your psychiatrist and becoming an active member of your treatment team.
All couples have issues or difficulties to deal with and couples where one party has a mental illness are no different. Many people living with a mental illness have happy and healthy relationships – the struggles or circumstances may be a little different than for other couples, but the challenges can be overcome together as long as both people are supportive and care for one another.
Holding hands photo available from Shutterstock