Mental illness can affect many aspects of life, including intimate relationships. Some individuals may experience hesitancy or fear of disclosure to their partner due to the continued stigma surrounding mental illness. Communication is key to having a healthy, positive relationship despite mental health struggles. Our experts share some advice for navigating your relationships while managing your mental well-being.
I have a mental illness. Should I tell my partner?
Healthy relationships can be a great support system and positive resource, but your decision to disclose is up to you. “Sometimes we have our own stigma associated with disclosing our mental health struggles. We hesitate to share with our partner for fear of pushing them away,” says Tory Miller, Diversus Health Clinical Programs Manager. “However, a healthy relationship needs trust and communication. You may not disclose right away, but it is something to consider if you want to take the relationship with that person to the next level.”
For those who may not experience the same mental health struggles as you, education and understanding are critical. “For the partner, it can be helpful for them to understand the steps you’re taking to treat your mental health condition such as therapy and/or medication. This can help to normalize it and get insight and awareness of the mental health illness,” states Miller.
Miller says atypical behaviors may also cause confusion for your partner if not communicated. Having an open conversation about mental health can help alleviate this confusion and provide context of how it might affect certain behaviors.
Will my mental illness affect intimacy with my partner?
Having a mental illness can affect intimacy in a few ways. “For example, depression symptoms can leave you disinterested in relationships or sex in general,” Miller comments. “Intimacy might be triggering, or side effects of medication might decrease libido. If you notice your medication affects you in these ways, talk to your prescriber. Do not stop taking your medication.”
Explaining how these symptoms may impact you and defining boundaries can help to provide a safe space for intimacy for both you and your partner.
Besides intimacy, what other ways will mental illness affect a romantic relationship?
Your mental illness may affect other aspects of your relationship with your partner. Miller says, “Sometimes our mental health symptoms can make us feel lethargic, impact our ability to express empathy, or cause feelings of anxiety and isolation. Sometimes these symptoms can cause codependency or even resentment of your partner.”
As you start to develop a deeper relationship, continue conversations around your mental illness. Communication is vital for a better understanding of both parties’ needs during acute episodes and how to hold each other accountable, set healthy boundaries, and ask for help when needed.
How do I know when it is time for individual or couples therapy?
It is important to be reminded that all relationships have struggles. However, if your symptoms have elevated or you and your partner need extra help for growth in the relationship, it may be a good idea to reach out to our mental health experts.
“For many couples, they have tried to work things out on their own, but in difficult moments there might still be a strain in the relationship,” says Miller. A couple’s counselor can help to be a neutral third-party to assist in education and growth and to help iron out specific challenges.
“Independent therapy for both parties may also benefit to understand how individually we have something going on that we are bringing into the relationship. The better we can be individually, the better we can be in the relationship.”
For More Information on Mental Health in Relationships
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