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When You and Your Partner Both Have Mental Illnesses


I’ve read articles about relationships where one partner has a mental illness and the other doesn’t. This is not what my situation is like with my partner; we both have our own challenges. His anxiety and depression are accompanied by my anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). We are a match made with awkwardness and overthinking. I am sure there are other couples who face similar daily challenges that we do. We need to talk about how to help each other, what to do and what not to do.

It can be difficult for both of you, but keep trying. I hope these bits of advice based on my own experience help.

1. Even if you both have the same mental illness, don’t assume that yours is the same as your partner’s.

My partner and I both have anxiety. It takes me a long time to see that he is anxious because his anxiety manifests itself very differently than mine. I often cry, my hands get shaky, I find it hard to breathe and my heart races. My anxiety is very obvious to anyone close to me, so my partner can spot it a mile away. He, however, bites the inside of his mouth. That’s all. OK, he also gets grumpy, but that’s hardly easy to spot.

Don’t feel bad if you can’t spot their anxiety in its early stages. They may eventually tell you. Or if they are anything like my partner, they will keep it to themselves until they can’t any longer and will simply explode with emotion. The important thing is to be there to help pick up the pieces.

2. Don’t assume you have the same process to feeling better, but do try to find what will help both of you work through it together.

My partner often has no idea what his anxiety stems from and I know that if it gets too much for him, he will start to slip into depression. To help him, we will sit together, make a list and talk about all of the things on his plate. If work is a problem, we will discuss his work and I’ll try to reassure him as much as I can. With my anxiety, however, I find something to doubt about myself and because of my OCD, I feel an urge to “fix it.” Together, my partner and I have found that the best thing I can do is to explain the problem to him, and he will comfort me and try his best to take my mind off the worries. It will take time to find what works best; just be persistent.

3. Remember their mental illness is not who they are.

If my partner is really grumpy and snappy with me for no reason or if I spend an abnormal amount of time crying over things that I can’t name, we need to remember this is not who we are. We are not acting this way on purpose. No matter how annoying it can be, he needs to remember that the crying will stop and I will become my “normal” self again. I, in turn, need to remember that he is not really grumpy because he is unhappy with me, but because he is feeling anxious. He is just frustrated with the mental illness, not me.

4. Remember that your partner is the only one who can really deal with their mental illness.

You love your partner, but you are only able to help so much. I know I will do everything I can to help my partner and he can take my mind off my worries temporarily, but only he knows what will make him feel better and only I can overcome my mental illness. If you give advice that they don’t take, don’t take it personally; sometimes, just talking or listening helps. Also, it is important to note that you should not neglect your own mental health needs because of your partner; find a balance. As with everything else in a relationship, you need to communicate and make sure that both parties are there to help each other. Balance it out and work together.

5. Don’t stop living your normal, day-to-day life.

If some days feel harder than others, it doesn’t mean my partner needs to coddle me. I don’t always need to be wrapped in bubble wrap or tiptoe around him as if he is a sleeping lion. Fights will still happen. It’s not the end of the world as long as you can communicate well and move on. I still moan at my partner when he leaves his wet towel on the bed after he’s had a shower. He still complains when he finds me drinking milk out of the carton. You are still in a relationship and relationships are hard work, whether you have a mental illness or not.

I hope this helps or at least gives you something to think about. Mental illness may put pressure on your relationship and make it harder than it would normally be. Just make sure you are both happy and willing to work everything through together. Don’t be too hard on yourself and don’t let your relationship become something that adds to your anxiety.

Unsplash via John Schnobrich