Can a Relationship Survive When Both Partners Struggle with Mental Health?

Studies have shown that being socially connected to our community can have positive impacts on our mental health. Same goes for the other way around. Our mental health states can impact the relationship dynamics we have with other people.

Like other aspects of our lives, romantic relationships play a huge role in our emotional wellbeing. Whilst oftentimes it’s a source of strength and support, navigating the ups and downs in a relationship can be very challenging at times, especially when both partners struggle with their own challenges like mental health issues.

If you relate to this, don’t worry. We have Clinical Psychologist Rachel Samson here to guide you through how to manage your mental health challenges while leading a healthy romantic life.

Challenges as a Couple & Tips for Overcoming them

#1 Challenging to support each other

In healthy relationships, your partner is a source of emotional support that you can turn to when you experience difficult emotions or hardships. But, in cases where both partners struggle with mental health, it can be more challenging to lift up one another emotionally.

“If both partners are experiencing poor mental health and require substantial support, it can be harder to provide quality support to one another,” Rachel said. “As the saying goes, you can’t pour from an empty cup – or two.”

Advice from Rachel:

“It’s really important to reach out to people outside of the relationships for support,” she said. Seek for professional help (e.g. psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers), if it’s available and accessible to you.

If you don’t have access to such services, Rachel recommended you explore any community support that are available, and always reach out to loved ones or even neighbors and co-workers who can be there for you in difficult times.

“Consider ways that you can each ‘fill your cup’ individually and as a couple.”

#2 Difficult to complete daily tasks

For couples who both experience mental health issues, Rachel noted that it can be challenging to complete some of the daily tasks. For example:

  • Shopping for food and essential items
  • Planning and preparing meals
  • Cleaning and organizing your home
  • Paying your bills
  • Maintaining personal hygiene
  • Going to work

Advice from Rachel:

To help you better manage these tasks, Rachel gave the following tips:

  • Try to establish a routine and stick to it
  • Make use of electronic reminders or pen-and-paper lists so that you don’t have to carry your to-do-lists in your mind
  • Break larger tasks into smaller, more manageable tasks (e.g. “cleaning one room” instead of “cleaning the house”)
  • Share the responsibility and divide daily tasks between you in a way that feels manageable and utilizes each of your strengths and preferences
  • If you or your partner have a tendency towards perfectionism or high standards, practice reducing your expectations of yourself and each other; it’s more important to get the tasks done than to get them done perfectly

#3 Work performance affected

Serious mental health issues can cause debilitating symptoms that negatively impact a person’s ability and performance at work, which, in some cases, can potentially lead to unemployment.

For partners who both struggle with these conditions, Rachel said that “the couple may subsequently find themselves experiencing financial stress and insecurity, which can further exacerbate mental health issues and reduce the couple’s overall quality of life.”

Advice from Rachel:

In terms of managing your finances, Rachel recommended embracing a realistic mindset. “Be realistic about how much you can work and consider whether you can make adjustments to your lifestyle or reduce spending in order to ease financial stress.”

As for your work life, if you have a supportive work relationship with your employer, she noted that it can be helpful to openly communicate with them about your mental health needs.

“Discuss whether accommodations and flexible working arrangements can be implemented that would make it easier for you to continue to perform your work role.” These could be more frequent breaks, reduced hours, regular days off, working from home, and/or employee counselling programs.

4 Healthy Relationship Practices

Just like all kinds of relationships, it’s important that you take care of your own needs and balance them with those of your partner, regardless if both of you struggle with mental health. And that means to be aware of your limits and boundaries as well.

“There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to figuring out this balance,” Rachel said. “It takes time to work out what and where our limits are, and they may be different in each of our relationships.”

That said, there are techniques that you can learn to build a healthy relationship despite the challenges you both have to face. Here’re 4 helpful practices from Rachel:

#1 Check in regularly with one another

Find a way to check in with each other that works for both you and your partner. For example:

  • Using a rating scale e.g. where are you at today on a scale of 1 (very low) to 5 (feeling good)?
  • Making a time for check-in where you sit down together and discuss how you are feeling and what you need
  • Having a code word or phrase you can use when you are really struggling and want to signal to your partner that you need their support
  • Communicating daily what your capacity is for providing support; some couples will refer to this capacity as “battery charge” or “spoons”. It’s okay to let your partner know when your battery is flat or you have run out of spoons and you need some alone time or simply don’t have the capacity to provide specific supports that day.

#2 Immerse yourself in your community

“Whilst the desire to withdraw from loved ones is understandable when your energy or mood is low and anxiety is high, pulling away from your wider social group and community for extended periods of time can exacerbate mental health issues in the long term,” she said.

And so, it’s important that you stay connected within your social group and community. Try to talk to someone besides your partner each day, whether it be video calling a friend or relative or having a brief chat with a neighbor.

#3 Have open communication

“Don’t keep your mental health struggles to yourself, people can’t offer support if they don’t know you are having a hard time.”

Have open dialogues with your partner as well as your friends and family. You can even consider asking one of them to be your mental health buddy who can check in with you on a regular basis.

#4 Don’t forget self-care

She recommended incorporating self-care activities into quality time you spend with your partner. These can be walking, sex and physical intimacy, preparing nutritious meals, listening to uplifting podcasts, journaling, resting and relaxing.

Feel free to reach out Rachel via Instagram @australianpsychologist.

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