Mental Illness and Coping in Relationships

By Gemma Tedrich

Often, when the topic of handing mental illness in regards to romantic relationships comes up, it comes with the assumption that only one person in the relationship is struggling with mental illness. These discussions seem to focus on how someone without mental illness can help their partner, but rarely do I see advice about relationships where both partners have mental illness. It is a topic that needs to be focused on more, especially in regards to understanding how to mutually support each other in a relationship. This is especially true when it comes to individual coping mechanisms and how they might overlap or conflict.

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Say you and your partner both have anxiety disorders. When your partner has a panic attack they often pace the room and verbally name things around them as a way to ground themselves. However, the way your brain processes anxiety means that the movement and noise of your partner doing this can become over stimulating, causing your anxiety to worsen.

I feel situations likes these are rarely talked about. There are points where two people can have conflicting needs for their mental health that happen at the same time or can feed into each other in ways that worsen the situation. But situations like the one mentioned above don’t mean that there is something wrong with the relationship, or that the coping mechanism someone is using is bad. It just means that those in the relationship need to sit down and have a discussion about their needs when it comes to mental health. Maybe coping mechanisms can be adapted or outside support systems can be brought in. In the above example, perhaps when your partner paces and uses verbal tools to cope you can go into a separate, quieter room as to not get overwhelmed. Or, if your partner needs to talk with someone, but you are too overwhelmed to give them verbal support back, they can call a friend or family member for support.

The important part is to understand how to communicate your needs in a romantic relationship and be willing to listen and adapt to the needs of your partner so that both of you can be happy and healthy together. This is true in every aspect of a relationship, but how mental illness can factor in is something more should be open about talking about.