Mental Illness Doesn’t Have to Equal an Unhealthy Relationship

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Living in the Northeast, nearly everyone I know agrees on one thing: Despite being the shortest, February is also the worst month of the year. This year has been especially grueling, with several storms in a row and record-setting snowfall. And to top things off, Valentine’s Day looms large, right in the middle of the month.

Valentine’s Day is dreaded and loathed by singles and couples alike. Single people may feel sad, lonely, or left out (or even just annoyed by all the hype!). Within couples, differing expectations of how to celebrate can lead to disappointment, resentment and fighting.

These fights that inevitably ensue perfectly, exemplify the importance of communication in relationships. Without effective communication, intentions and feelings are misread, and over time, unhealthy dynamics are created. This is especially true when one or both partners in a relationship has a mental illness.

Communication is Key

The importance of communication cannot be stressed enough. Mental illness will be much less of an obstacle in your relationship if you and your partner feel free to communicate your needs and express your feelings.

  • Discuss your triggers. One of the most essential steps you can take is to discuss your triggers, whether one or both of you struggle with mental illness. Everybody has their own unique triggers, and talking about them with your partner is the first step to avoiding conflict and being able to support one another.
  • Know what to do when hard times hit. If your partner suffers from panic attacks, you should know the best ways to calm her down. If you’re bipolar, your partner should know what to expect of your manic and depressive episodes. This kind of knowledge is key to helping one another through difficult periods.
  • Share your efforts at recovery. For a healthy relationship, the partner(s) with mental illness should be committed to working toward recovery. Unchecked mental illness and close romantic relationships are a volatile combination. Knowing that your partner is making an effort, however, goes a long way toward building empathy and patience.

When Only One of You ‘Gets It’

When only one party in the relationship has a mental illness, it brings its own set of problems. Unless you’ve dealt with it firsthand, it is difficult to grasp just how much of an impact mental illness has on a person’s life. The partner without the mental illness should refrain from judgement and learn all he or she can about the other’s condition. In this type of relationship, patience, empathy and knowledge are just as important as communication. Without these elements, the relationship cannot be healthy.

Working Together

When it comes to mental illness within your relationship, you and your partner should be committed to working together toward becoming healthier.

One way to do that is to participate in therapeutic activities together, such as couple’s massage, yoga, or spending time outdoors. These activities are not only stress-reducing, but they can also be great for strengthening your romantic bond.

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