Mental illness can affect every aspect of a person’s life. From work, self care, and social activities, no area is spared: intimate relationships included. 

So, how does a mental illness affect a relationship?

With the rates of those struggling with mental health on the rise, it’s important to understand how different types of mental illnesses can look like in a relationship, and what you can do to ease this strain.

The most common mental disorders that affect relationships are depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and narcissistic personality disorder. Read on to see just how each mental illness may be affecting your love life. 

Telling Your Partner:

When should you tell a partner of your mental illness? Is it really necessary to tell them at all?

A survey done by the American Addiction Centers Resource uncovered the unfortunate statistics when it comes to transparency on mental health in relationships. 

When asked if their partner knew about their mental illness, 73% of women said yes, while only 52% of men said yes. This disparity is startling. 

Most likely due to the stigma that still lingers around men and mental health, many men may feel reluctant to confide in even those closest to them about their emotional struggles. 

If you want a long term, healthy relationship, trust and communication are non-negotiable. It’s always best to tell your partner about any mental illnesses that may cause future problems in the relationship. 

When Should You Tell Your Partner?

So, you have a mental illness. When should you tell your partner? Do you wait until you know for sure where a relationship is headed? Or, do you lay it all out there on the table in order to weed out anyone unfit for your struggles?

Again, the American Addiction Centers Resource asked the 52% of men, and 73% of women when they chose to disclose their mental health disorders to their partner. 

  • 11% of men and 12% of women told their partner immediately 
  • 12% of men and 13% of women told their partner within 30 days 
  • 15% of men and 13% of women told their partner between 1-6 months 
  • 4.8% of men and 5% of women told their partner between 6-12 months 
  • 6% of men and 5% of women told their partner after a year

With this data we can see on average men waited longer to tell their partner, most likely due to stigma. However, the numbers of men and women who told their partner either immediately, or within a month were strikingly similar. Why is this?

Chances are, if a man is going to tell their partner at all, they probably don’t feel all too uncomfortable with the conversation. This openness to communicate their struggles can tell us why a higher percentage told their partner within 30 days. 

Different Mental Disorders and Their Relationship Strains:

Since each type of mental illness is unique and each diagnosis comes with its own symptoms, it’s no surprise that each type of mental disorder can affect a relationship in a different way. 

3 of the most common mental illnesses that can wreak havoc in a relationship are: depression, anxiety, and narcissistic personality disorder. 


Depression can manifest in a relationship in many ways. Despite depression being a biological imbalance in the brain, this mental illness can make you feel as though your partner is pulling away from you. 

Symptoms of depression in your relationship may include:

  • Lack of intimacy 
  • Detachment from a partner 
  • Isolation from a partner 
  • Low self-esteem 
  • Lower sexual libido 
  • Lack of trust 
  • Limiting social activities 
  • Anger or irritability by a partner 
  • Carelessness or lack of effort into the relationship 

Depression can cause a huge strain on a relationship if there is no healthy communication. Some partners may wind up feeling shunned, or rejected by the other, causing feelings of bitterness or resentment towards the other. This can in turn, make the depressed partner feel even worse, and thus, a vicious cycle begins. 


If you, or your partner suffer from anxiety or an anxious attachment style, then you’re fully aware of how this can play a huge role in your day to day life. 

Anxiety is a mental illness categorized by excessive worrying. Generalized anxiety disorder isn’t strictly confined to the boundaries of a relationship, however when a partner is involved they often become the target of excess fearful energy. 

Symptoms of anxiety in your relationship may include:

  • Lack of trust, even for no apparent reason 
  • Constant attention required 
  • Extreme fear of losing the other person 
  • Excessive reassurance of the relationship 
  • Sacrificing your own needs to please (and keep) your partner 
  • Constant worry that your partner is being unfaithful 

One of the biggest underlying root causes of relationship anxiety is the fear of being hurt by the other person. Often, partners that experience high levels of anxiety while in a relationship have a deep seated emotional wound of rejection. This can manifest in boundary crossing such as looking through the other partner’s phone, or obsessive behaviors such as needing to know the other partner’s location at all times. 

Consequently, this can cause a relationship to feel exhausting and confining. 

Narcissistic Personality Disorder:

Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental condition in which a partner has a set mindset that they are not only more important than the other partner but have a deep-rooted need for excessive attention and praise. One of the most concerning traits carried by a narcissist is their lack of empathy for others. 

Often, a narcissist will do whatever it takes, through whatever means necessary, to get what they want. 

Symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder in your relationship:

  • A partner always putting themself first 
  • Giving ridiculous ultimatums 
  • Giving another partner the silent treatment for days 
  • A partner truly believes they are ALWAYS right, and disregards anything else 
  • Inability to handle criticism 
  • Excessive love bombing at first, but over time allowing it to fade
  • The expectation for a partner to do whatever they ask without question 

As one can imagine, dealing with a narcissist in a relationship often leads to toxic, volatile environments. The effects a narcissist can have on the other person often ripple into other areas of their life and can cause the other partner to suffer greatly. 

How Do You Deal With Mental Illness In A Relationship?

A sure-fire way to deal with mental illness in a relationship is to face it head-on. Most mental health conditions don’t simply resolve themselves with time. If you’re in a long-term relationship, encouraging your partner to try couples therapy is an incredible resource. 

It’s always best to be transparent and honest with your partner in order to build a trustworthy foundation. 

Don’t forget about yourself, though. Relationships that have untreated mental illnesses can quickly become draining, and sometimes, dangerous. Ensure you have a support group, and you take time every day to love yourself.