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  • Brooke Aymes

How Mental Illness can impact our Relationships

Nearly half of adults experience mental illness at least once in their lifetime. Some of the most common mental health disorders that are frequently diagnosed are post traumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and/or addiction and alcoholism. These disorders do not discriminate, can sometimes appear to pop up at any time and can have a significant impact on our relationships and on the people closest to us.

How PTSD Impacts our Relationships

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can affect how we interact with others whether we are aware of it or not. We might be more likely to become defensive in our interactions with others, more likely to overanalyze social interactions and/or more likely to isolate and avoid social settings all together.

Couple working through PTSD in their relationship

We might fear vulnerability in relationships as a result of our trauma and have difficulty communicating. Fear of vulnerability can impact our intimacy with our partner, both sexually and verbally. If our trauma was sexual in nature we might struggle with sexual interest and sexual intimacy with our partner as a result of being triggered and/or struggling to feel safe.

How Depression Impacts our Relationships

Depression can cause us to have symptoms of isolation, disinterest in things that were once interesting to us and can cause us to feel more irritable. We might prefer to lay in bed all day rather than to go out and participate in the world. We might struggle with not wanting to be in the company of our partner and just wanting to be left alone. We might struggle with feelings and thoughts of not being good enough and not feeling worthy of our partner’s company.

We most likely will lack a sex drive and will be a different version of ourselves. Our sense of humor might not be as bright as it normally is or maybe we might not want to share as much communication with our partner as we normally would.

This can definitely be confusing and challenging for our partner, especially if they lack their

A girl laying in her bed suffering from depression and isolating from friends

own knowledge and/or experience with depression. Many times people that have difficulty understanding depression have difficulty understanding the lack of motivation which can be frustrating for both people involved in the relationship. It can be challenging for our partner not to take our symptoms personally. For example, our partner might question, “What’s wrong with me that you do not want to spend time with me?” It can be difficult to be struggling with depressive symptoms and attempt to muster up the energy to encourage and validate our partner and this can be exhausting for both partners and straining on the relationship at times.

How Anxiety Impacts our Relationships

Generalized Anxiety Disorder is characterized by excessive worry. In our relationships this might look like having anxious and/or obsessive thoughts about the relationships. For example, maybe we suffer from friendship anxiety and worry that our friends will hang out without us and not invite us to things. Or maybe we suffer from anxiety within our romantic relationship and worry that our partner might leave us or find someone better.

If anxiety is coming up in our relationships, we may appear to be insecure or clingy/needy in our relationship as a result of the fear of our partner leaving us or possibly not loving us anymore. We may struggle with low self esteem and not feeling worthy of being in a healthy relationship. This could cause us to become codependent in our relationship which is illustrated by always wanting to be with our partner and not wanting to do things without our partner or could cause us to sabotage relationships before they have an opportunity to flourish.

Many times by saying our anxious and insecure thoughts out-loud we might actually bring our fears to light and can push our friends and/or significant other away as a result of our own insecurities.

How Addiction and/or Alcoholism Impact our Relationships

Substance Use Disorder and Alcohol Use Disorder are classified in the Diagnostics and Statistical Manual as mental health disorders and they can definitely have an impact on our relationships.

Usually some of the behaviors associated with a person in addiction can be self centered, engaging in manipulation tactics, behaving in an unreliable way and when they are present they are not themselves. They can be quiet or distant or appear to have unexplainable mood swings.

The behaviors associated with addiction and alcoholism can quickly cause our partner to

Substances spilled out on to a table after a partner found another partner abusing their medication

begin to not trust us in the same way. No one prepares themselves to be in a relationship with someone in active addiction and/or alcoholism so typically the first response to the bizarre behavior ends up being codependency.

Codependency is an excessive emotional and/or psychological dependence on another person. So as the person struggling with addiction and/or alcoholism becomes dependent on the substance, their partner can often times ends up becoming dependent on them.

Partners struggling with codependency might have difficulty with boundaries, with unintentionally enabling the unwanted behaviors and with wanting to fix their significant other. These partners will typically put their partner before themselves. For example, a Father with a son in active addiction might use his connections in the community to get his son out of trouble with the police or a wife might lie to her husband’s employer about why he has not been showing up for work. We often think that we are protecting or helping our loved one, when unfortunately we are enabling them to continue with the substance use and all of the unhealthy behaviors that come along with that.

In a relationship if a partner begins to struggle with substance use or alcohol abuse, usually both partners end up struggling at the end of the day and usually both need to do their own healing afterwards as this form of mental illness can leave behind trust issues, resentments and its own set of fears and anxiety.


Brooke Aymes sitting and smiling on Mt. Minsi at the Delaware Water Gap

Hey, I'm Brooke! I'm a licensed anxiety and addiction therapist serving individuals,

adolescents and couples in the state of New Jersey. My experience brings both a personal and professional perspective to the work that I do with my clients. If you are struggling with relationships and would like to schedule a free consultation, I would love to chat with you!

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