26% of adults in the US cope with mental illness in any given year (Johns Hopkins, 2022). The most common diagnoses are anxiety and depression (Access, 2021); a staggering 18% of people ages 18-54 will experience an anxiety disorder every year, while 9.5% will cope with a depressive illness (Johns Hopkins, 2022). About 2.5% of Americans develop bipolar disorder during their lives, while 1% develop schizophrenia (Johns Hopkins, 2022). To add more complexity to the mix, oftentimes mental illnesses appear together, working in conjunction with one another.
There is a multitude of information available for sufferers of mental illness regarding ways to manage various ailments, but we don’t often talk about the intersection of mental illness and relationships. Mental illness absolutely has an effect on relationships, but it needn’t spell disaster. In this article, we’ll shed light on mental illness within the context of relationships by exploring how someone with a mental illness can successfully navigate the unique challenges it poses for their romantic partnership, plus how these topics are particularly relevant for couples crafting their prenuptial agreements. Stay tuned in the future for our exploration of how you can support your partner if they have a mental illness!
If you have a mental illness…
Reframe negative self-talk
You know that voice in your head that criticizes you and sometimes incessantly tells you that you’re not doing the thing right, that others don’t like you, or that you’re simply not good enough? When it comes to mental illness, this chatterbox of an internal critic can be even louder than normal. It may often chime in with refrains about the mental illness itself, which can make people feel and think as though having a mental illness makes them undateable, which in most cases is grade A baloney. To combat this self-limiting belief, try reframing the content of your self-talk about your mental illness to be less black and white. If you catch yourself thinking “no one wants to date someone with depression”, remember that the mental illness is only one part of you and that you are a much more complex and multifaceted individual than simply a label from the DSM-V. Reframe to “I have difficulty with my mental health, and I also deserve and can have a healthy and fulfilling partnered relationship.” Both are true. It doesn’t have to be but/and, despite what our internal critics would often like us to believe. Reframing those overly-reductionist critical thoughts is a great trick which, over time, will also improve your self-esteem and help you to gain perspective (Philips, 2022).
This starts with not comparing yourself to others. We are all different, on our own journeys with our own baggage which comes in varying amounts, sizes, and noticeability. Having a mental illness means that the way you care for yourself may be different from how others care for themselves; there is no one size fits all. Your mental illness presents the opportunity to lean in and get to know yourself and your needs on a deep level. Love is an action; it’s a verb. It’s something that you do. In this case, you can actively love yourself by listening to and meeting those needs for yourself. You may sometimes need to schedule extra therapy sessions, cancel plans in order to recharge, or something else. You deserve to be taken care of; take pride in taking care of yourself; thank yourself for doing so just as you would thank someone else. Being able to meet your own needs also primes you to be able to be in a healthy relationship, and it gives you the practice in sensitivity needed to also pick up on some of your partner’s needs (Philips, 2022).
Engage in healthy communication with your partner
Of course, this is an essential component of any relationship. It becomes that much more important when dealing with mental health difficulties because a built-in habit of clear, healthy, direct communication in the relationship translates to you creating safety in your relationship such that you can express when you need support, space, or the desire to talk out something that is on your mind. Sounds simple, no? However, can you recall a time when you wanted to express something, but couldn’t figure out how to bring it up or make space in the conversation? Working out those communication muscles regularly will equip you with the skills and confidence to bring up any topic with ease and know that it will probably be well-received.
Nevertheless, it is possible that if your partner is not very familiar with the mental issues in question, they may not understand easily at first; they may rush to offer solutions when what you really need is a listening ear, or they may not know quite how to support you. Don’t be afraid to voice your needs, and make sure you’re patient and compassionate with them as you learn to navigate this aspect of your relationship together (Philips, 2022).
Retain your individuality and independence
Codependence and mental health difficulties can often comingle, especially when a partner with mental illness might need some extra support. It is crucial for the health of the relationship to make sure that you maintain your own individual hobbies, interests, and friends, separate from your partner. This is true for all relationships, but particularly so when you have a mental illness and therefore might sometimes need a little extra support. It’s great if your partner occasionally joins you for a bouldering session or comes to hang with you and your book club buddies, but it’s not so great if you and your partner share your entire social circle + do all your hobbies together…particularly if one partner has given up their own hobbies and taken on those of their partner. It’s healthy to accept influence from your partner, but there’s a limit. Maintaining individuality also makes you infinitely more appealing as a partner. If you see someone all the time and do everything together, when will you have the space in which to miss them and cherish their arrival once again? What stories will you be able to tell each other, if you’ve been present for most of the stories? If this is an issue for you, fear not: there are many ways to heal codependency in a relationship.
One more related pitfall to avoid is treating your partner like your therapist. Venting to your partner sometimes during difficult periods? Healthy. Leaning on your partner as your prime source of mental health support, all the time? Not healthy. If you are concerned about the cost of therapy, check out the online therapy services on Better Help; if you don’t make a lot of money, they’ll subsidize most of the cost of therapy (Philips, 2022).
Your Mental Illness and Your Prenup
If you’re asking yourself right now “wow, can these guys tie prenups to literally every relationship-related topic I can think of?” the answer is a resounding “yes!” On a serious note, however, there really is so much more to consider when crafting your prenup than just the basics like what assets are shared and whether or not you need an infidelity clause in your prenup. Mental illness is one of those things. A mental illness can have a major impact on the course of a relationship, and your prenup is designed to help you make plans for possible future scenarios. It need not just serve as a contingency plan in case of divorce; it can include contingency plans for all manner of events. Here are some mental health-related questions to discuss in relation to your prenup. Most of these would likely belong in your lifestyle clause.
-If a mental illness causes a partner to become unable to make money for themselves, will the other partner support them financially? How so, and to what extent?
-Is there any point at which unaddressed mental issues are grounds for divorce? If yes, how do you define ‘unaddressed’?
-How much mental illness-related emotional and psychological support will partner(s) be expected to provide to one another, and how much is too much? What is the role of each partner in providing and accepting mental health support?
-What measures will the couple take to manage the mental illness and develop healthy coping mechanisms?
Access Community Health Network. 3 Most Common Mental Disorders in America. Retrieved from: https://www.achn.net/about-access/whats-new/health-resources/3-most-common-mental-health-disorders-in-america/
Johns Hopkins Medicine. 2022. Mental Health Disorder Statistics. Retrieved from: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/mental-health-disorder-statistics
Philips, A. 2022. You can Have a Mental Health Condition and a Healthy Relationship Too. Retrieved from: https://www.joinonelove.org/learn/you-can-have-a-mental-health-condition-and-a-healthy-relationship-too/