Supporting a partner with mental illness

An unhappy couple
An unhappy couple

You’re in a relationship and everything is going well. Suddenly, you feel nothing. Then the arguments begin. She thinks you’ve checked out. You, on the other hand, struggle to explain that your sudden emotional collapse has nothing to do with her. The more you argue, the harder it becomes to find words. Instead, you turn inwardly, and go through silent battles with anxious, depressed thoughts about what is wrong.

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You don’t want your girlfriend to think that you’ve plunged into “depression” because of minor relationship problems. You don’t want her to think of you as weak in the face of your storms. After all, you are her man. This is seven months into the relationship. You’re madly in love, but suddenly have no clue how to connect meaningfully with her.

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Is it possible to maintain a healthy long- term relationship with someone who is suffering from a mental illness? From the first instance, my instinct was a reluctant “no”.

However, clinical psychologist Anele Siswana, also an author and lecturer at the University of Johannesburg, offers a more optimistic, balanced outlook.

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“Mental illness will certainly disrupt the nature and quality of a relationship. It comes with a lot of shame, guilt and resentment, but it can be successfully navigated. That sense of shame because of the stereotypes that come with mental illness can contribute negatively if your partner doesn’t have full comprehension of what a mental illness means or looks like. This is why psycho-education is a crucial first step in navigating a relationship with a partner with a mental illness.”

Read the rest of this article in the July issue of TRUELOVE. Buy your digital copy on Zinio and Magzter