November 20, 2018

By Colleen O’Day


Being in a relationship with someone you love can be beautiful. It can also be difficult, as you face the hurdles of everyday life. But if your partner struggles with mental illness, those issues can become much more intense for both of you. Understanding the needs of someone with mental illness is challenging. And you may not know how to support your partner living with mental illness while caring for your own needs, too. Here are a few ways you can achieve that balance.

Understand the Diagnosis

Because of the nature of mental illness, many people can’t recognize how much someone may be suffering because their symptoms aren’t outwardly apparent. This is why living with mental illness can present unique challenges to daily life, including physical health and relationships. Since symptoms of mental illnesses can range from difficulty concentrating to more serious conditions such as crippling depression, severe anxiety and hallucinations, it’s important to understand your partner’s diagnosis and their personal experiences.

Research Support Tactics

Understanding your partner’s diagnosis can make it easier to identify how to be there for them when things get tough. For example, if your partner lives with generalized anxiety disorder, experts recommend not glossing over their worries by blindly reassuring them things will turn out okay. Instead, support their development of problem-solving and resilience skills. If your partner expresses anxiety, ask about their specific concerns and listen as they create a plan that addresses them.

Be a Good Listener

One of the best things partners can do is listen to loved ones in an effort to understand their experiences. It can be easy to assume you know what someone else is going through; however, this is usually not the case. Mental illness affects individuals differently, and it’s essential to listen to those experiencing it to better understand their perspectives and provide effective support.

Honor Your Relationship Outside of Mental Illness

Mental illness and the symptoms that go along with it can be all-consuming. However, it’s important to work on your relationship the way you would if mental illness were not an issue. Continue to spend quality time together, and express your love and admiration for one another. Open, loving communication can deter couples from blaming all problems in a relationship on mental illness and help them address other potential concerns. Many couples benefit from seeing a family therapist, so they can discuss matters with the guidance of a trusted professional.

Practice Self-Care

As the partner of someone with mental illness, your own self-care routines can slip as you potentially take on greater responsibility with household management or child-rearing. But to effectively support your partner, you must take care of yourself. It’s important to eat well, exercise and maintain your own interests and passions. Self-care may include seeing a mental health professional or joining a support group for those who also have loved ones diagnosed with mental illness.

As a partner of someone with mental illness, you can be a great source of support. By staying on top of your own health, you can remain engaged, provide empathetic support and guide your loved one toward appropriate professional care. Though you may experience some challenges, remember you’re not alone.


Colleen O’Day is a digital PR manager and supports community outreach for 2U Inc.’s social work, mental health and speech pathology programs. Find her on Twitter @ColleenMODay.


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We’re always accepting submissions to the NAMI Blog! We feature the latest research, stories of recovery, ways to end stigma and strategies for living well with mental illness. Most importantly: We feature your voices.


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