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When Your Partner Has a Mental Illness
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Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD posted:
I don't particularly care for the term "mental illness" because of the stigma that's attached to it, but it's the term that's commonly used for people who have emotional and/or behavioral struggles that have been categorized and codified. It includes problems such as schizophrenia, posttraumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression. Although the term refers to many different kinds of problems, those problems can all be helped by the support of a loving partner. If your partner has a mental illness, you might consider doing the following:


Learn all about your partner's particular problem.


Be open to ongoing discussions about your partner's experiences related to their illness.


Remember that not all of your partner's experiences are due to their psychological illness.


Talk with your partner about how you can support him or her.


Share your own difficulties. Romantic relationships are best when they have two equal partners. So, by being vulnerable about your struggles with your partner, you can each be there for the other.


If you struggle with a mental illness, what have been your experiences with how your partner copes with it? Do you have other suggestions for how a partner might emotionally be there?


If you have a partner with mental illness, what have been your experiences been related to this? What particular difficulties have you faced? What's been helpful?


If you would like to read more in detail about this topic in my The Art of Relationships blog, click here .


Dr. Becker-Phelps's discussions and her responses in those discussions are for general educational purposes only. If you need help for an emotional or behavioral problem, please seek the assistance of a psychologist or other qualified mental health professional.


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An_253941 responded:
I have been seeing a therapist for almost a year now for depression and anger management. My wife and I have been together now for seven years and just married for one year. My symptoms appeared right after the wedding. The depression and anger issues stemmed from a job which I no longer have. The issues however have not gone away and I am still working on them. Unfortunately I do not get any support from my wife and cannot talk to her about how I feel. Before we met her last boyfriend was an alcoholic and suffered from anxiety attacks. Anytime I try to tell her how I feel she compares me to him and says how she cannot go through this again. I don't think she ever recovered from the trauma of that relationship and now that I am having these issues she distances herself from me. She did come to counseling with me a few times, but she stopped going because she says doesn't feel she needs to talk about her past because of my issues. I am upset because the person who I want to be so close to and share everything with, I cannot. I have to hide my feelings from her because I'm afraid it will push her further away. As it is now during our first year of marriage we have not been intimate in four months. I know it has a lot to do with my depression but that makes me feel even worse. I am trying to encourage her to come back to counseling with me but she keeps using work as an excuse. She is working more and more each month and I know it's a defense mechanism. A lot of our friends see us drifting apart and I feel helpless. How can I get her involved in our relationship again?
 
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Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD replied to An_253941's response:
Unfortunately, there is no way to "make" a partner work on your relationship. Many people find it helpful to emphasize that they love their partner and want to make things better. It can also be extremely helpful to take time to listen and empathize with what your partner is saying (this often means having to encourage your partner to share feelings about the relationship). Offering your partner to join your sessions to talk about current issues might help; or, if you and your therapist think it appropriate, offering to go into couple therapy together can help. In the end, though, it is up to your wife to choose to work on your marriage -- you cannot do this for her.

Keep in mind that she might need to see consistent effort on your part to try to improve things before she decides it is "safe" enough for her to invest herself -- so a key ingredient in getting her involved might be time.


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