How to Make a Relationship Work if You Have a Mental Illness

by Sarah Casimong

    Having a mental illness does not have to be a reason to avoid being in a relationship. Approximately 26 percent of adult Americans have a mental disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. About 40 million are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and about 21 million with a mood disorder. Despite popular belief, the majority of people with mental illness are non-violent. Although having a mental illness may cause more stress and require more work, having a successful relationship is not impossible.

    Take Care of Yourself

    Before you can be in a relationship and worry about another person, you have to prioritize your health. If you aren’t already, see your family doctor for referral to a psychiatrist, therapist or counselor, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. Stay on top of any medication you’ve been prescribed and take care of your physical health -- exercising, eating well and avoiding alcohol or drugs, which may interfere with your medication. If you are seeing a therapist, talk to her about relationship-related issues for an outside perspective.

    Educate Your Partner

    It is not enough for your partner to simply be aware that you have a mental illness. It is important for him to be educated about it, according to psychologist Elvira G. Aletta. If your partner is familiar with your condition and how it affects you, he will be able to understand you better. Aletta suggests directing him to a medical website that details important information about your illness, such as symptoms, causes and treatments. This can help him make better decisions about how to react and deal with mental illness-related issues in your relationship. If you’re still contemplating whether to tell your partner about your mental illness, therapist Rachel A. Sussman suggests opening up about it by the fourth date. If he reacts badly, he may not be worth being in a relationship with, and you’ll have saved time in the end.

    Recognize Your Partner's Limitations

    While you may depend on your partner for emotional support, don’t forget that she may not be able to shoulder the weight of your issues. Your partner cannot meet all of your needs, says psychotherapist Jeffrey Sumber in “When Mental Illness Strikes: Tips for Couples,” on PsychCentral.com. Remember not to expect too much from her. It can be easy to resent her if she isn’t able to solve all of your problems. That is why it is important to take care of yourself and continue to see the medical professionals that can help you in the ways your partner can’t.

    Attend Therapy Together

    Having a third party mediate a conversation can help your relationship when communication isn’t going smoothly. YourTango.com conducted a survey of mental health experts and found that about half of the respondents believed the biggest mistake a couple could make would be to refuse professional help. If the counselor specializes in mental illness issues, he or she may be able to help you explain health-related issues that your partner may not understand.

    About the Author

    Sarah Casimong is a Vancouver-based writer with a Bachelor's degree in journalism from Kwantlen Polytechnic University. She writes articles on relationships, entertainment and health. Her work can be found in the "Vancouver Observer", "Her Campus" and "Cave Magazine".

    Photo Credits

    • Medioimages/Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images