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Mental Health and Relationships: Balancing Love and Emotions

I was pretty terrified to enter relationships. For years, I avoided all things dating. I had low self esteem, and major anxiety at the idea of someone getting to see my various sides of mental health and physical health challenges.

It’s undeniable that mental health and relationships are interconnected. Mental health issues can impact your relationships, and your relationships can also affect your mental health. 

When you have a mental health condition, it can affect how you relate to others. 

I hate to admit that, but I’ve come to learn that facing that truth can actually be a benefit. I am understanding my landscape, and being honest with myself in the area of relating to others really took me a step forward.

Realizing this is not admitting you are a burden, or unworthy. As I’ll say over and over, everyone has a mental health landscape. Understanding how yours impacts your relationship experience (in any type of relationship) is a form of advocating for yourself.

Similarly, relationships can also affect your mental health. A supportive and healthy relationship can improve your mental health, while an unhealthy one can make it worse. They can arise due to various reasons, such as stress, trauma, or triggers.

As someone who has battled the subtype “relationship” in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), the first year of my serious relationship was a minefield of different triggers, intrusive thoughts and conversations.

However, this is also the man I married, so it’s possible to navigate successfully, and I wanted to share some tips I’ve learned with you today.

In short: mental health can have a significant impact on relationships, affecting both partners. This statement used to make me feel shameful, but now it makes me feel prepared. Everyone has a mental health journey. Both you and your partner. 

Accepting that how you process emotions and thoughts, and how you respond to them, has a role in the relationship is key to sustaining a healthy relationship. Here’s a few reasons why. Please note all of these are things I’ve experienced only.

Communication Breakdown

Mental health conditions can cause communication breakdowns in relationships. For instance, anxiety can make it difficult to express yourself effectively, while depression can make you feel withdrawn and unresponsive. This can lead to misunderstandings and conflicts, causing further strain on the relationship.

Lack of Understanding in Relationships

Mental health conditions can be challenging to understand for those who haven’t experienced them. This can lead to a lack of understanding from your partner, making it difficult for them to support you. Conversely, if your partner has a mental health condition, it can be challenging to understand what they’re going through, leading to a lack of support and empathy.

Strained Intimacy

Mental health conditions can also affect intimacy in relationships. For instance, anxiety can make it difficult to feel comfortable and relaxed during intimate moments, while depression can cause a loss of interest in sex. This can lead to a strain on the relationship, as intimacy is an essential aspect of a healthy relationship, especially if physical touch is your love language. Which, I recently learned is mine.

So before you freak out on me – you probably want to know – what do you do about it? I’ve had couples come to me in the past, even though I am not an expert and very fresh in this game, this is the first thing I say:

Prioritize Communication in Relationships

Communication is essential in any relationship, and it’s even more crucial when mental health is involved. Open and honest communication can help you understand each other’s needs and emotions, leading to a healthier relationship. Make sure to express yourself effectively and listen actively to your partner’s concerns.

What does it mean to do this?

Choose the Right Time and Place

Choose the right time and place to have a conversation about mental health. It’s crucial to have this conversation when you’re both calm and relaxed, and there are no distractions. This will ensure that you can communicate effectively and without interruptions.

It also means respecting your partner’s processing times. I am a quick processor and problem solver, so I want to break down everything in that moment. Whereas my husband prefers to take longer to think through everything. Both of us need to respect those needs,

I wrote an article about resolving conflict through communication that I totally reccomend you check out.

Use “I” Statements

Use “I” statements when discussing mental health in your relationship. This will help you express your feelings and needs without blaming or criticizing your partner. For instance, instead of saying, “You never understand me,” say, “I feel like you don’t understand me sometimes.”

Even better than that, I like to use the “I” statements to ask for help in problem solving, such as, “I have been feeling this way lately. I’ve been trying to figure out why. Do you have any thoughts on what’s contributing to this?”

This actually increases intimacy because it invites your partner into the conversation to work with you, and shows them that you trust them. It also demonstrates that you care about their opinion, intellect and that they are experts on you.

Listen Actively

Listening actively is crucial when discussing mental health in your relationship. Make sure to give your partner your undivided attention and listen to their concerns without interrupting or judging them. This will show that you value their feelings and are willing to support them.

If you have a lot of unfinished conversations; storming out of the room, walking away, staying silent, this can have bigger consequences than the initial conflict itself.

Be Empathetic and Supportive

Empathy and support are essential in any relationship, but they’re even more crucial when mental health is involved. Try to put yourself in your partner’s shoes and understand what they’re going through. Be supportive by offering help, listening actively, and providing reassurance. It’s also okay to come up with a plan and offer up ideas as a team.

Set Realistic Expectations for your Relationships

Setting realistic expectations is vital in any relationship, especially when dealing with mental health. Understand that mental health conditions can affect your partner’s mood, behavior, and ability to function. Be patient, and don’t expect them to be perfect. Instead, focus on progress and improvement.

For example, I struggle with social anxiety. We’ve had to set expectations for needs and conversation when we go to events together. We both have to make sacrifices. 

Connect with Supportive People

Connect with supportive people, such as friends or family members, who understand and support your mental health. Surrounding yourself with supportive people can improve your mental health and well-being. We personally like to connect with members in our church and have meetings with older, married couples to get extra thoughts and advice.

Written by Sarah Edwards, TPCT Project Coordinator – you can say hi @setapart_company!


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