3 Major Ways Mental Illness Affects Relationships

Mental illness effect on relationships

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Mental illness in relationships is often a dynamic that gets marginalized and considered peripherally, at best. Every individual, and hence, every relationship is unique, so how mental illness affects relationships depends on many singular factors.

For the affected partner (or both partners), many questions loom: “What kinds of issues will arise because of my mental illness?” “When and how should I talk about it with my significant other?”  “Should I even be in a relationship?”  “Will she/he get tired and give up on me?”

As far as healthy relationship tips go, you should ever keep in mind that everyone deserves to be in a supportive, committed relationship. For the long haul.

A healthy relationship can provide much-needed emotional and social support, while an unhealthy relationship can only contribute to exacerbate the already daunting symptoms of a mental illness. But it’s important for both partners to develop reasonable expectations as well as an awareness of appropriate ways to manage issues that arise due to mental illness.

Following are three common ways that mental illness affects relationships.


One common dynamic seen in couple relationships where at least one partner has a mental illness is that the “healthier” partner will spend a lot of time taking care of the ill partner, especially early in the relationship, and sometimes for several years. Problems arise when the caregiving partner neglects his or her own needs and begins to feel the effects of burnout (not unlike those that affect nursing staff in psychiatric hospitals). Burnout can result in resentment, irritability, angry outbursts, and infidelity.

Another problem occurs when the affected partner develops a perceived sense of helplessness without the caregiver partner. A counterproductive codependency can fester and undermine the relationship.

It’s important for you and your partner to develop some reasonable, healthy boundaries in order to avoid someone getting resentful and burnt out.

Disrupted communication

Someone with a mental illness not only has the illness to cope with, but also overwhelming waves of emotions to address. Often, it is difficult for the affected partner to articulate how he or she is feeling, or may downplay what is really going on out of fear of being abandoned and feelings of guilt.

For the partner of an individual affected by mental illness, communication can become strained and superficial, and as he or she realizes that the effects of the mental illness are not the affected significant other’s fault, feelings of guilt can develop and fester.

It’s important for you and your significant other to communicate openly and to keep everything as transparent as possible. There’s nothing worse for a relationship than one or both partners not having a sense of “what is really going on.”  

Disrupted Intimacy

There are several ways in which mental illness can negatively impact a couple’s sex life.

Side effects from medication can inhibit libido, disrupt arousal, and prevent orgasm.

Such symptoms should be discussed with your partner, as well as with your physician. Discussing the issue openly and working on an optimal medication and dosage can help mitigate adverse side effects.

Remember that it is critical you do not stop taking your medication. A psychotic or manic episode can do far more extensive, lasting damage to your relationship than side effects that hamper things in the bedroom.

Approaching a solution

Individual counseling for one or both partners may be what your relationship needs to stay healthy. Medication can be a huge help. Couples therapy is an option for many relationships.

As you and your partner work on the best approach to managing issues caused by a mental illness, you both should be sure to show support, appreciation, and affection for one another. The effects of a mental illness on a relationship don’t have to be permanent.

Having trouble starting a hard conversation about a mental illness condition? If you or someone you love need to talk to someone about mental illness or feelings of being overwhelmed, we’d like to help. Consider reaching out to our expert team at Solara Mental Health at 844-600-9747.