How Mental Health Affects Relationships

Mental health is an important aspect of all relationships, yet it is often overlooked or not given the attention it deserves. People in relationships may not be aware of how mental health can affect their dynamic. Mental health can shape the dynamics of a relationship, from the way a couple communicates, to the way they manage conflict, and even how connected they feel to each other. It can also influence how a couple deals with stress, and how they support each other when facing difficult life events. By understanding the impact of mental health on relationships, couples can develop healthier and more meaningful connections.

What is mental health?

Mental health is the ability to feel healthy and achieve well-being. It is more than the absence of mental illness. It encompasses feelings of happiness and optimism, a sense of connection and purpose, and the ability to cope with life’s challenges. It can be greatly impacted by life events and relationships. Mental health is an intricate part of overall health, and connects to physical, emotional, and social well-being. It is also an important factor in how we relate to other people. Being connected to others can help us manage stress, solve problems, and enhance our sense of identity. 

Role of mental health in relationships

As a couple shares time together, they are likely to discuss their aspirations and goals, share their deepest fears or concerns, and even cry together. These experiences can help strengthen the connection between partners. Yet, it can be difficult to pay attention to one’s own mental health while also actively supporting a partner. Partners are likely to have a mix of mental health needs and challenges, depending on their life stage and experiences. Understanding how your mental health may affect your relationship and vice versa can help you be more mindful of your needs and those of your partner. Over time, when mental health issues are not addressed, they can play a significant role in the quality of a relationship. Partners who are experiencing mental health challenges may feel disconnected from their partner, find it difficult to communicate effectively, or lack the energy to be supportive of their partner during difficult times. In some cases, unaddressed mental health challenges can lead to substance use or impulsive behaviors, which may negatively impact a relationship.

Types of mental health disorders

Mental health disorders are common, and most people will experience a mental health challenge in their life. When this occurs, it is important to seek support to maintain healthy relationships. Some types of mental health issues that may impact relationships include: 

  • Depression: People who experience depression may lose interest in the people and activities they used to enjoy. They may also have difficulty concentrating and feeling motivated. 
  • Anxiety Disorders: Anxiety disorders can cause people to feel stressed and anxious about everyday situations, such as public speaking or being around unfamiliar people. They may also worry excessively and have difficulty controlling negative thoughts.
  • Bipolar Disorder: People who experience bipolar disorder typically have extreme mood shifts, cycling between a depressed state and a manic state. During a manic or hypomanic state, people may feel energized and excited about new projects, but they may also become irritable and impatient. During a depressive state, people may feel sad and lose interest in activities they once enjoyed. 
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): People who have experienced a traumatic event and have difficulty coping with the memories, emotions, and thoughts related to the event may experience PTSD.

Signs of mental health problems in relationships

When mental health challenges negatively impact a relationship, partners may notice a decrease in connection, an increase in conflict, and a reduction in shared activities. Some signs that a mental health challenge may be impacting a relationship include: 

  • Withdrawal: When facing a mental health challenge, it can be difficult to initiate or sustain connection with others. Partners may feel ignored or unimportant, which can have a negative impact on the relationship. 
  • Isolation: People dealing with a mental health challenge may find it difficult to feel comfortable spending time with others. They may experience shame, which can lead them to avoid social situations. Isolation can decrease social connections and limit opportunities to receive support.
  • Irritability: When struggling with mental health, partners may have a shorter fuse and be prone to outbursts or intense emotions like anger and frustration over seemingly trivial issues. 

Strategies for maintaining mental health in relationships

Although mental health challenges are common, they don’t have to negatively impact a relationship. There are many things couples can do to mitigate the effects of mental health on their connection. These include: 

  • Communicate: Being honest about your mental health can be challenging, especially if you feel ashamed about your experiences. However, talking with your partner about your challenges can help them understand your needs and support you.
  • Find support: Connecting with others who are going through similar experiences can help reduce feelings of isolation. It can also provide insight into how to manage mental health challenges. Partners can help each other find support through social media groups, therapy, or other resources. 
  • Set boundaries: While it is important to be open and share your experiences with your partner, you may need to set some boundaries around what you are comfortable discussing. It is important to respect each other’s needs for privacy and autonomy.

How to support a partner with mental health issues

If your partner is dealing with mental health challenges, you can help by being open, patient, and supportive. You might not be able to fully understand what your partner is experiencing, but you can offer a safe environment for them to discuss their challenges and receive the support they need. Here are some ways you can be a supportive partner: 

  • Stay informed: You don’t have to become an expert on mental health, but you can learn more about your partner’s experiences. Understanding your partner’s challenges can help you better support them. 
  • Avoid assumptions: You may want to help your partner, but it may be best to let them determine how they want to move forward. Avoid assuming you know the best way for your partner to cope with their challenges. 
  • Be patient: Your partner may need more time than usual to complete tasks, or they may have difficulty communicating their feelings. Let them know you are there for them, but allow them space to determine how they want to move forward.

The importance of self-care in relationships

Relationships are meant to be mutually beneficial, but when someone is facing mental health challenges, it can be difficult for them to support their partner. In this case, it is important for each partner to take responsibility for their part of the relationship, including taking care of their own mental health needs. This can help couples avoid becoming imbalanced or codependent and enable each person to receive the support they need.