Although mental health struggles are common, it can feel hard to talk about the impacts it has on everyday life. One of the biggest things I feel not enough people are talking about, is how mental health affects relationships.
Instead of recognising and addressing these effects, it can feel easier to sweep it under the rug. If you’ve been guilty of ignoring your mental health and the effects it has, you’re not alone. I know I have!
My mental illnesses have created mental health battles in nearly every corner of my life, including relationships. I spent a lot of time pretending it didn’t, even though the signs were there.
That, of course, did not help. But even once I accepted how it was affecting me, I thought that meant I was crazy, or faulty. I started putting myself down for it, which reflected in my life even more. It took a long time to learn how to recognise and address that!
Here’s 5 points on how mental health affects relationships, and how you can address them:
Please note that I am not a professional, I share these points only from my own experience and research. If you have concerns about your mental health, please seek professional help, or check out some crisis resources here.
1. Struggling to trust
Trauma can cause a lack of trust in the people in your life. This can extend to relationships, especially new ones, and often appears as jealousy. While a small level of jealousy can be acceptable in relationships, if it consumes you, it becomes an issue.
Have any of you had an internal dialogue like ‘they must be looking for someone else because I’m not good enough? It’s not just you, this is a common cause for jealousy. It may not actually reflect on the behaviour of your partner, and is often just based on your own perception of self worth.
This distrust may cause you to second guess and be suspicious about everything they do. This is a problem because not only are you wrapped up in negative feelings, it can hurt your partner if they don’t feel trusted as well.
Recognising the difference between jealousy that comes from suspicious behaviour and jealousy that comes from your own internalised expectations is incredibly important to the health of your relationship.
The most common fear in a relationship is based around a fear of being hurt, or just fear of not feeling good enough. This is often fuelled by trauma around abandonment or feeling inadequate.
This fear can manifest in the form of self destructive behaviours which I’ve spoken about here, which can cause you to intentionally destroy the relationship.
This often comes from a place of ‘they’re going to hurt me, so I have to end it first.’ This again, usually has nothing to do with the behaviour of the partner, and doesn’t necessarily accurately reflect the state of the relationship.
Instead it can just be an internal belief of not being worthy, or a belief that everyone in your life will hurt you that may be based on past trauma.
It can also be go the opposite way, in that instead of pushing them away, you feel an almost constant need to pull them closer and seek validation. This is also something that is normal in moderation, but if it’s constant, it might indicate an issue with your own self worth.
Struggling with a mental illness can unfortunately cause feelings of shame, even though there is nothing to be ashamed of.
This can affect relationships in that you don’t want your partner to know, or don’t want them to see you struggling. It can cause you to push your partner away, or put up a wall between you.
It’s human nature to want to hide weaknesses, but a partner should be someone you can confide in. That shame that you internalise can shake your sense of self worth.
4. Blowing things out of proportion
A massive part of my anxiety is sometimes thinking everything is so much worse than it is.
A whisper of a disagreement may feel like impending doom, and any shift in behaviour or tone can send my thoughts packing on a runaway train.
If you’re constantly analysing and presuming things about your partner, you may end up driving a wedge between you which can then become a self fulfilling prophecy.
How to stop mental illness from affecting relationships
While not everything I’ve listed is unique to mental illness, I’ve found that it often at least exacerbates it.
Now that I’ve discussed how mental health affects relationships, here’s some ways you can address it:
Improve your self worth
You may also notice that every point I’ve made, at some junction, comes back to self worth. That wasn’t a mistake, low self worth is the root of a lot of issues. However that doesn’t mean it can’t be changed!
When you improve self worth, a lot of other things follow.
Communication really is the key to nearly everything! If you’re feeling insecure or unsure, talk to your partner about it! If you feel like you need something to feel more validated, ask for it! You’ll be surprised to find that a lot of the time, it’s not they don’t love and value you, it’s that you show it in different ways.
For example, I feel love through touch and words. I have struggled in relationships where I believed not receiving that, meant they didn’t really care. What I was missing, was that they show love through all the little things they do for me to make my life easier.
It was never an issue of not being loved or valued, it was that we were showing our love in different ways. All I did to fix it, was ask for more of what I needed. My partner was more than happy to give me that, they didn’t even realise it was something weighing on me!
If you want to learn more about different love languages, you can find a great article here.
A really important part of managing the effects of your mental health on relationships, is improving your emotional intelligence.
This means to identify and really understand your emotions at a base level, and how they interact. To understand where feelings are coming from, you must first understand what they are.
This sounds easy, but can be really difficult. Emotions aren’t an exact science and they can often blend into each other. For example fear may commonly feel like anger, causing you to lash out when what you really need is reassurance.
A journal can help with this, but the most effective way to improve this, is to see a professional who can help you make sense of it. Mental illness can scramble how emotions feel and it can be really hard to unscramble!
Self reflection is huge for limiting the impact of mental illness on relationships.
While it can feel much easier to fly off the handle, try and stop before you react to anything. If you’re feeling stressed about something your partner has done or said, ask yourself whether they actually did something, or whether you just perceived it.
This ties into communication with your partner. If you’re not sure, ask your partner! You may be picking up on an issue that your partner hasn’t even noticed. You may be interpreting something they have said in a completely different way to how they meant it.
In moments of stress, make sure that you’re grounding yourself enough to know what is a real issue, and what is a projection of more internal issues.
As much as I have spoken about how mental illness can cause you to find issues that aren’t there, please don’t confuse this with gaslighting, a common abuse tactic.
A final note
One of the hardest parts of learning how to manage mental illness or mental health struggles is learning how it interacts with every aspect of your life.
It took me a long time to learn how mental health affects relationships, and even longer to learn how I could change that. However learning to change that, changed my life.
If you enjoy this post or know someone who will, please consider sharing it!