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Connecting With Others When Your Partner is Ill

A few posts ago, I wrote about whether you should keep your partner’s illness a secret. Chances are that you have some pretty strong feelings one way or the other about how much disclosure is necessary, and who needs to know about your private life. But no matter what level of sharing about your partner’s illness you feel is appropriate, you still need support and other social outlets. Connecting with others is part of your self-care strategy to prevent relationship burnout.

Common excuses for why healthy partners avoid connecting with others when their partner is ill:

  • My friends/family/coworkers will judge me or my partner if they know what’s really going on.
  • My partner will get jealous or feel resentful if I go out and have fun without them.
  • I have too much to do since my partner isn’t taking care of their share of the responsibilities.
  • My partner wants me to keep their illness a secret.
  • I can handle what’s going on–I don’t need anyone else in our business, and we’re doing fine, thanks!

You absolutely have the right to privacy, to not be judged, and to make your own decisions about how to handle having a partner with mental illness. But in case you are feeling somewhat isolated and alone in this, and want to know more about how to handle the above situations, here are some points to consider.

  • Regarding whether other people will judge you and/or your partner if you disclose that your partner is experiencing a mental illness, the fact of the matter is that people will judge. You cannot control that. What you do have control over is whether you choose to continue a relationship with people who cannot accept you and/or your partner unconditionally. That is actually the real issue here: having to decide whether those relationships that come with judgment are worth more than your allegiance with your partner.
  • If your partner gets upset when you tell them that you are going to socialize (exercise, go shopping, see a movie, etc.) without them, stop for a minute to consider what your reaction to that resistance would be if a mental illness was not involved. Is the illness being used as an excuse to keep you at home? Would your partner have been upset by your independence before they were ill? Whether there is an ill partner in a relationship or not, one of the hallmarks of a strong relationship is that the people in it have their own interests, and everyone is okay with that.
  • Using the excuse that there’s too much to do is just that: an excuse. Sometimes, it will be the truth that there just are not enough hours in the day to get everything done. But most of the time, saying you have too much to do (and blaming your ill partner for it) is setting yourself up for burnout and resentment. You have some options: decide what can wait until later, consider dropping something altogether, and/or specifically ask your partner to take care of something that’s been neglected so you can have some free time.
  • If your partner wants you to keep their illness a secret, perhaps you can share with them the post about whether this is a do or a don’t. It should open up dialogue between you regarding who can know and who should not, and your reasons for the choices.
  • Independence is both a blessing and a curse at times, and when you have a partner with a mental illness, too much independence becomes a curse. Self-care is essential, and that means reaching out to others for support. Family, friends, and coworkers are all options, as are your own therapist, a support group, or an online forum. The cliché of “No man is an island” is extremely relevant to this situation.
Connecting With Others When Your Partner is Ill

Kate Thieda

Kate Thieda, MS, LPCA, NCC, is a patient advocate for Women's and Children's Services at Duke University Hospital in Durham, North Carolina. She is a licensed professional counselor associate and a National Certified Counselor who specializes in cognitive-behavioral and dialectical behavior therapies. Her book, Loving Someone With Anxiety, will be published by New Harbinger in the spring of 2013.

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APA Reference
Thieda, K. (2011). Connecting With Others When Your Partner is Ill. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 4, 2020, from


Last updated: 20 May 2011
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