Mental Illness in a Relationship: When Leaving May Be Necessary

Mental Illness in a Relationship: When Leaving May Be Necessary

Modern society romanticizes “everlasting love” and frowns upon divorce. Couples recite “till death do us part” in their wedding vows, thinking splitting up is a sign of failure. Even unmarried couples dream of staying together forever. Leaving someone with mental illness sounds unthinkable at the start, but after a few years together, some realize they need to move on.

When to Consider Leaving Someone With a Mental Illness

After you’ve dated for a few months, your partner discloses a mental health condition, such as depression, anxiety, PTSD or bipolar disorder. You think to yourself that you haven’t witnessed many signs. As time goes on, however, the symptoms gain prominence and gradually start to interfere with your relationship.

Sometimes, mental illness is just a challenge you work on together. However, any of the following issues might suggest that you should consider leaving a mentally ill spouse or partner.

You Become Their Therapist

While spouses rely on each other for support, one person can’t fix everything. For example, if you broke your leg, you wouldn’t ask your partner to repair the fracture. Instead, you’d visit your doctor for the skills, experience and knowledge your partner doesn’t have.

This also applies to mental illnesses. You can listen to your partner when they’re struggling, help them push their boundaries, relate to their issues and celebrate their accomplishments, such as attending in-person therapy for the first time.

However, you’re not a licensed therapist. Your spouse shouldn’t rely on you for psychoanalysis, emotional regulation, medication management or 24-hour care. You don’t have the skills or education to professionally treat mental disorders — and even if you do, you can’t objectively treat a loved one.

Behavioral red flags include:

  • They expect 24-hour availability, demanding you drop everything to help them when they message you.
  • They want you to make virtually every decision for them.
  • They get mad at you if your advice doesn’t help.
  • They expect you to have an answer for every problem.
  • They try to get you to psychoanalyze them and perform other techniques you’re not qualified for.

Worse still, they could throw their problems at you while claiming they’re too “stressed” to listen to yours. This guarantees that they see you as a therapist, not an equal partner.

You Compromise Your Own Mental Health

Every relationship involves sacrifices. You might have to take days off work, spend money on your partner, cancel plans, discuss their problems or provide extra care at times. However, you shouldn’t lose your footing as a healthy individual with your own needs. These signs suggest that your partner expects too much from you:

  • You dread coming home or seeing their name on a notification.
  • Their symptoms, such as depression and anxiety, start to rub off on you.
  • You lose sleep while thinking about their problems.
  • You feel lighter and happier when you’re around anyone but them.
  • You turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as smoking cigarettes.
  • Your physical health deteriorates.
  • Others remark that you’ve seemed stressed and irritable lately.
  • You criticize your partner to other people.

If you’re taking on too much, tell your partner that you want to help but you need to step back. Ideally, they’ll agree and realize they’re responsible for themselves. Otherwise, it might be time to start thinking about leaving someone with a mental illness.

They Take Their Anger Out on You

Despite media stereotypes, only a small percentage of mentally ill people commit violence. In fact, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services reports that mentally ill people are 10 times more likely to experience violence than the general public. Still, every group has people prone to aggression.

Instead of seeking help, toxic people project their issues onto whoever’s closest and most vulnerable, which is often their partner. They start by snapping when they’re in a bad mood. After apologizing, they go off again later when they’re frustrated. They repeat this behavior until taking their anger out on you becomes second nature.

Some toxic people are less direct. Instead of yelling, they roll their eyes, give you the silent treatment, make passive-aggressive remarks, complain about you behind your back or engage in other manipulative behaviors. In any case, they blame you for their problems. When you confront them, they say “I’m just stressed!” or “You know that I’m depressed!” as if it were an excuse.

They Refuse Treatment

After everything, you decide to ask them to start treatment. Your partner may have genuine concerns about the cost or time commitment. However, if they yell at you, insult you or threaten to end your relationship, they might not want to change.

What Are Some Possible Solutions?

Consider seeing a counselor on your own. They can’t diagnose or treat your partner from a distance, but their objective third-party insights can help you move forward. A counselor might suggest one of these options or come up with a customized plan.

Attend Couples Therapy

Telling a partner with mental illness “You need therapy” can make them defensive. They might respond, “Why is it just me? Why do you think you’re so perfect?” Instead, suggesting that you visit a marriage counselor or separate therapists shows your partner that you want to work together, not find someone to blame.

Set Boundaries

Politely but firmly tell your partner when they make you uncomfortable. They could have genuinely overlooked an issue that looks obvious to you, leaving them confused when you react negatively. A reasonable partner will understand and work to respect your boundaries in the future.

When Should You Leave?

A manipulative partner may convince you that you “owe” it to them to stay. They might say, “How could you leave a mentally ill person? Why are you so selfish? You signed up for this when you married me!” Guilt trips can make people stay in toxic relationships for decades.

Therapists would remind you that every relationship has faults, but your partner is responsible for their behavior. You didn’t sign up to be a psychologist who manages their symptoms. Overall, you decide when you’re ready to leave — and once you do, you embrace the healthy boundaries you set for yourself.

Learn About Your Options

Restore Mental Health’s counselors treat various conditions, including depression, PTSD, anxiety, schizophrenia, personality disorders, ADHD and substance abuse disorders. Contact us if you’re seeking help for yourself or a loved one. We’ll discuss the advantages of inpatient, outpatient and neuro rehab programs, plus our specialized treatment for first responders. Our operators can also verify your insurance coverage.