Living With Someone With a Mental Illness

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Experiencing a mental illness, also known as a mental health disorder, may be very hard on a marriage or any relationship. The stress may reach a crisis level and you may fall into a pattern where managing the mental health disorder becomes a role around which the relationship is centered. Mental illness does not have to degrade a marriage or partnership, even with the stress it may bring.

In spite of the challenges, there are ways to maintain a healthy relationship when your partner has a mental health disorder. If you're in a relationship with someone who has been diagnosed with a mental health disorder, give these tips a try.

Learn About Living With Mental Illness

Some people may be uninformed about certain mental health disorders, or may rely on inaccurate information. There is a lot of misinformation about the causes and best treatment options for different mental health disorders. To understand your partner's condition:

Signs of Mental Illness

Depending on the individual's age, symptoms of a mental health disorder may present differently. Some signs and symptoms of a mental health disorder may include:

  • Changes in appetite and/or sleeping patterns
  • Experiencing extreme emotional shifts
  • Chronic low-grade depression and/or a major depressive episode
  • Increased irritability, sadness, anxiety, anger, and/or worries
  • Expressing thoughts related to self-harm or harming others
  • Experiencing hallucinations and/or delusions
  • Increased unhealthy coping habits (drug and alcohol use, or engaging in other risky or obsessive behaviors)
  • Having emotional outbursts that aren't typical for the specific individual
  • Withdrawing and not engaging in activities that once brought joy

Show Support

If your partner has been newly diagnosed, this news may be devastating, embarrassing, and maybe even frightening for them. However, for some, having a diagnosis may provide validation for the symptoms they have been experiencing. The uncertainty and stigma associated with mental health disorders may cause your partner to worry that you may not love them or may see them differently.

It’s important to let your partner know that you are there for them and love them. To show your partner support:

  • Listen to their experience and validate what they are feeling.
  • Acknowledge the positive shifts or changes they have made.
  • Support their therapeutic journey and respect their privacy when it comes to sharing session details.
  • Remove yourself from potentially emotionally and/or physically dangerous situations and contact emergency services if they are at risk for harming themselves or others.
  • Ask your partner how you can best support them, and listen to what they share with you.
  • Get your own support system—this can be trusted friends, family members, or maybe even a support group.
  • Do not pressure yourself to resolve everything.
  • Consider seeing your own individual counselor to help support you during this time, even if you are already in couples counseling.

Don't Become Their Therapist

Beyond educating yourself on how to support your partner, keep in mind that it is not your responsibility to be their therapist. This is inappropriate, even if you are a trained mental health professional, because it creates an unhealthy power dynamic between the two of you that will not work as a long-term solution.

Set Boundaries

Your role is to provide love, support, and empathy for your partner during their recovery efforts.

Your partner is responsible for managing the symptoms of their mental health disorder. This offers them the opportunity to feel empowered to care for themselves and prioritize their well-being as an individual and partner. You should avoid enabling unhealthy behaviors and allow them to take responsibility for their own treatment plan, while still offering appropriate support.

Practice Self-Care

Self-care is critical in maintaining a healthy relationship with your partner and can be especially beneficial if your partner has been diagnosed with a mental health disorder. Ideas for self-care include:

  • Practice good sleep hygiene.
  • Make sure you get some regular physical activity.
  • Nourish your body.
  • Spend time with trusted friends and loved ones.
  • Engage in activities or hobbies that you enjoy.
  • Journal about your thoughts and feelings.
  • Practice mindfulness meditation.
  • Stay connected to your body through progressive muscle relaxation, especially during times of stress.

Be mindful if you begin to notice signs of burnout or caregiver fatigue. This will not only impact your own well-being, but your relationship with your partner as well.


If you are experiencing signs of burnout, it is essential that you prioritize your well-being and take a necessary break. Signs of burnout include:

  • Feeling overwhelmed and/or exhausted
  • Experiencing an increase in stress, symptoms of anxiety, and symptoms of depression
  • Experiencing changes in appetite and sleep
  • Feeling more easily irritated
  • Feeling helpless

Getting Help

Therapy can help you can process your thoughts and feelings in a healthy way, which may improve your own coping skills as well as your communication skills with your partner. Counseling can be a beneficial resource that may offer you a fresh perspective and helpful guidance in a situation that may feel overwhelming and stressful.

As the partner of someone with a mental health disorder, it is not unusual to experience a range of emotions such as frustration, anger, and sadness. Seeking out individual and/or couples counseling that aims to strengthen your relationship can be immensely helpful during this time.

Emotions can be explored in a productive way with couples counseling. Couples can learn to establish appropriate expectations and set healthy boundaries. Couples counseling may also help prevent you from falling into unhealthy dynamics with your partner.

Even if your partner isn't ready or comfortable going to therapy, you may find it helpful to have a safe and nonjudgmental place for support for yourself.

A Word From Verywell

If your partner has been diagnosed with a mental health disorder, there are steps you both can take to maintain and even improve your relationship. Keep in mind that it's up to both of you to prioritize your well-being as individuals, as well as within your relationship.

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