Mental health and relationships can be challenging to navigate. Yet, understanding how they are intertwined is essential to building a lasting and secure bond and sharing a life. Healthy relationships thrive with good mental health and can quickly deteriorate if one or both partners has an untreated mental health issue.
If my partner’s mental health is affecting me, what should I do? Being in a relationship with someone who has a mental illness can be difficult if you don’t have any information about the specific disorder. Furthermore, coping with that person’s symptoms and unexpected, confusing, or unnerving behavior without help will only worsen the relationship.
Here are five ways untreated mental health can affect relationships.
Introduction to Untreated Mental Health: Recognizing the Impact of Mental Health on Relationships
About one in five adults in the United States have a mental illness. This may be diagnosed or undiagnosed and can include a range of mental illnesses with varying degrees of severity. How mental health and relationships are impacted can also vary, yet the effects always merit attention.
When one of two partners in the relationship has a mental health disorder, such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder, or anxiety, the other partner often spends much time caring for them. this can then lead to co-dependency and problems that include caregiver burnout.
Effects of burnout include:
- Outbursts of anger
In addition, the partner living with a mental health condition often feels helpless without their caregiver. They are not powerless, but perceive they can’t get along without the caregiver’s assistance. The more demands they make on the caregiver, the more the caregiver feels the effects of burnout.
To counteract co-dependency and burnout, both partners need to agree on healthy boundaries that work. By taking proactive steps, you and your partner can help mitigate many stressors impacting mental health and relationships.
Mental Health Disorders and Substance Use
Research shows that many individuals struggling with mental health disorders also have problems with substance use. They may use substances to numb the pain, ease anxiety, calm jittery nerves, attempt to block unpleasant memories or curb unwelcome outbursts and undesirable behavior. Meanwhile, this substance abuse can occur with a mental health condition or “dual diagnosis,” which is highly treatable.
Using substances in this way can affect treatment for mental disorders, from rendering medications less effective and worsening symptoms to interfering with the brain’s workings. Brain changes from continuing substance use make continuing use more likely.
On the other hand, those with substance abuse issues can develop mental disorders. These can result from the brain structure changes the substances trigger. Combining substance use with anxiety, depression, or other mental illnesses makes coping with mental health and relationships even more challenging.
Communication Challenges: Exploring How Mental Health Symptoms Can Hinder Effective Communication
“My partner’s mental health is affecting me, so how can I ensure better communication?” It’s a common question in chat rooms, but when one partner experiences mental health symptoms that can be frightening, disorienting, recurring, and increasing in intensity, both partners may shy away from talking about it. Neither one may know how to deal with these symptoms, much less the best way to discuss what’s happening and what to do next. In this way, mental health and relationships can suffer from a lack of communication, poor communication, or infrequent communication that doesn’t address needs:
- Thoughts and feelings may be increasingly difficult to discuss.
- General communication problems may become more prevalent.
- Avoidance of any mention of mental health symptoms can worsen communication.
- Communication may become more harsh, saying hurtful things that further damage the relationship.
Emotional Intimacy: Discussing How Untreated Mental Health Can Affect Emotional Bonds
One of the unfortunate aspects of untreated mental health and relationships is how it disrupts a couple’s emotional connection. This is a common concern for couples seeking professional help to deal with conflicts causing a rift in their partnership. Unsurprisingly, when my partner’s mental health is affecting me, there is likely a distinct and palpable feeling of distance, anger, disappointment, and loss.
Not only is everyday communication affected, but intimacy can be profoundly strained. The side effects of medication prescribed to treat a mental health disorder can cause problems with libido, arousal, and sexual satisfaction. Even over-the-counter medications taken to cope with symptoms can result in intimacy difficulties.
Therefore, it is essential to have an open discussion about intimacy symptoms with a doctor or treatment professional so that the issue can be appropriately addressed. Medication changes may be warranted to ease or eliminate side effects and potentially restore intimacy. However, your partner should never abruptly stop taking a medication prescribed to treat a mental health disorder. The result could be far more devastating to the individual and your relationship.
Behavioral Patterns: Examining How Unaddressed Mental Health Issues Can Influence Behavior
If the way my partner behaves has undergone dramatic change, my partner’s mental health is affecting me, likely for the worse. It is essential to understand that unaddressed mental health issues can seriously erode standard behavioral patterns, which may result in bizarre, unusual, unpredictable, and potentially harmful behaviors taking over.
For example, someone coping with PTSD will experience chronic, lifelong effects that are highly variable. They may:
- Begin to distrust others
- Experience confusion
- Have flashbacks, nightmares, and sleep disorders
- Become fearful of being alone
- Act emotionally unstable
- Engage in self-sabotage and self-destruction (putting themselves in harm’s way, driving recklessly, drinking to excess)
- Lash out in anger or rage
- Feel shame, guilt, and denial that makes them avoid others
- Experience dissociation
- Become sexually or emotionally manipulative in the partner or intimate relationship
- Entertain suicidal thoughts or ideation
Even though the effects of mental health disorders can be disruptive, intrusive, debilitating, and destructive to the relationship, individuals with mental illnesses can be successfully treated. You can help your partner by encouraging them to seek trauma treatment and learn to overcome the effects. This will help them to restore their self-esteem and self-confidence and benefit your partnership.
Similarly, individuals with untreated depression often go through profound behavioral changes that can lead to worsening symptoms. They can develop substance use disorders and destroy relationships with loved ones, family, friends, and co-workers.
Depressed individuals who have not received treatment may:
- Increasingly engage in self-destructive behavior
- Experience symptoms so debilitating that they cannot work, have performance problems or find it difficult to function
- Lose interest in activities once enjoyed
- Display great sadness
- Become isolated, acting hopeless and empty
- While such behavioral changes can be alarming, you can provide life-affirming support, affection, patience, and a reaffirming presence.
Do your best to encourage your partner to get treatment to overcome depression and return to feeling good about themselves.
Seeking Professional Help: Emphasizing the Importance of Treatment for Both Individual Well-Being and Relationship Health
Knowing that mental health and relationships are crucial to maintain and nourish properly, what can you do to take the next step? Consider the following:
- Professional counseling — One or both partners can benefit from counseling by a licensed professional. This can be a psychiatrist or psychologist licensed to treat a mental health disorder.
- Couples counseling — Often, couples experience challenges. Being in a relationship with someone with a mental illness can exacerbate those issues. Couples counseling can prove helpful.
- Adopt healthier behaviors — Eat healthier, exercise for at least 30 minutes daily, maintain a regular sleep schedule, engage in enjoyable activities together, and learn new things.
- Treat yourself — Get a couples massage, practice yoga or meditation together, or go on a mini-vacation or long weekend getaway.
- Join a support group — Interacting with other individuals and partners of those getting treatment for a mental health disorder can be therapeutic, reassuring, and calming. Knowing that you are not alone and getting suggestions on overcoming common challenges will help boost your well-being and benefit your relationship.
The best approach is to work together on an effective solution that addresses any mental health concerns and provides a path for healing. While treatment for your partner’s mental health is the primary goal, be sure you get the help you need to offer support, love, and appreciation while treatment progresses.