Helping Your Spouse Deal with Mental Illness

Learn how to properly help your spouse who’s dealing with a mental illness.


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When Your Spouse Is Mentally Ill?

Mental illness, also known as a mental disorder, refers to various conditions that have some measure of effect on a person’s mood, thinking, and behavior.1 These issues, in turn, have a significant impact on productivity, adaptability, and effective communication.2 So, of course, the effects of mental illness on the relationship you have with your spouse can be considerable; however, you should know something.

When dealing with a spouse with mental illness (especially with a spouse who is depressed), you must understand that suffering from mental illness isn’t a badge of shame.2 Rather, it is a medical condition, and like most medical conditions, it can be treated or effectively managed. However, you’ll need to understand what mental health issues are, the types, signs, and possible solutions if you’re going to properly deal with and experience happiness with a spouse living with mental illness.

Read to learn more about the signs of mental illness and the various treatment options.

What is a Mental Illness?

Signs Of Mental Health Issues

Dealing with a spouse with mental illness requires you to detect the signs of mental illness properly. This is because a quick and correct identification of the symptoms of mental illness will enable you to get effective help for your spouse. The signs of mental health issues can be divided into four categories. They include:

  • Cognitive signs
  • Physical signs
  • Behavioral signs
Infographic - patients with Mental Health Issues

Behavioral Signs

People with mental illness also exhibit several detectable behavioral signs such as anxiety (mild and severe anxiety), depression, spontaneous or exaggerated emotional outbursts, suicidal tendencies, and apparent discomfort towards proper hygiene. People with mental illness also tend to withdraw from family and loved ones.

This includes the obvious signs of mental illness such as recurrent mood swings (persistently switching between anger and sadness) and high anxiety levels.3 Emotional signs of people who have a mental illness also include nervousness, fear, and in some cases, denial.4

Cognitive Signs

For the most part, most people are aware of the emotional problems that result from mental health issues. Few people, however, are aware that these mental issues also result in corresponding cognitive impairment issues5. Cognitive signs of people suffering from mental illness can include:5

  • Loss/impairment of focus
  • Problems with retaining and remembering information
  • Problems with understanding information
  • Poor decision-making

Physical Signs

Some of the most obvious signs of mental illness are the physical signs. These signs can include pain and aches in several different body parts. Examples include headaches, stomachaches, sore muscles, and so on. Other physical symptoms could include drowsiness, indigestion, diarrhea, appetite changes, drug and alcohol abuse, visual and auditory hallucinations, insomnia, and weight gain or loss.6

Types Of Mental Illness

Based on the different signs of mental illness mentioned above, several types of mental illness range from anxiety to bipolar disorder.

Infographic - Mental Health Condition Statistics


People with anxiety disorders experience fear and dread in response to certain things or circumstances.7 Anxiety usually involves the expression of physical indications such as worry or panic, rapid heartbeats, and excessive sweating.8

Generally, people diagnosed with anxiety disorders (such as generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and so on) usually exhibit exaggerated or inappropriate responses when faced with certain anxiety “triggers.” 8 If your spouse is showing anxiety such that it affects their ability to carry out regular, routine functions, you should consider getting a diagnosis so you can quickly get them to start treatment.

Mood-Affecting Disorders

This type of mental illness includes several different disorders that significantly impact mood. It includes disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder. People with this mental illness usually exhibit mild to severe mood fluctuations. Mood swings from excited states to depressed states (as in bipolar disorder) and chronic feelings of despair/sadness (as in depression) usually without any apparent triggers are common.8

Dealing with a spouse who’s depressed or dealing with bipolar disorder can be tricky. It may be challenging to motivate them to get the appropriate, needed treatment.


Schizophrenia is the most persistent and devastating of the major mental diseases, despite its rarity. It’s a mental health issue that usually affects a person’s capacity/ability to think and express themselves. It also affects the ability of the individual’s perception functions.9

This is because schizophrenia, like most other psychotic disorders, is characterized and accompanied by visual and auditory hallucinations (having/experiencing sounds, scents, or seeing things that appear to be real but aren’t.)10 Another thing that makes schizophrenia a very severe mental illness is that delusions also accompany it.

As you might imagine, people with schizophrenia will struggle in several areas of life because they’re quite simply out of touch with reality. This may also make effective communication somewhat challenging.

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are also types of mental health illnesses. They are usually characterized by severe weight gain or loss due to significant appetite and food intake changes. Common eating disorders include anorexia, bulimia, and even binge eating disorder.

It should be noted that types of mental illness could also include other mood and impulse-affected disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), schizoid personality disorder, and so on.

Ways To Deal with Mental Illness in A Spouse

It’s crucial you know that a mentally disturbed person needs all the help they can get. No matter how “normal-looking” they seem, you should be aware that they’re anything but that. There is also the fact that mental illnesses usually become more severe over an extended period, so you shouldn’t underplay the importance of early mental health intervention.

Mental health relationships can be tricky to navigate because of the complexities present. You’re trying to get help and appear supportive the best you know how, but it just doesn’t seem to work out as you’d hoped. While it’s great that you’re looking to get help and mental health intervention for your spouse with mental illness, you should be aware that there is a proper and safe way of going about it.

Infographic - Circumstances that Impact Mental Health

Understand Your Spouse’s Mental Illness

Before you can offer an effective solution to an issue, you must understand what the issue is. The situation is no different here. Understand that a person who has a mental illness (no matter whether there are apparent signs or not) isn’t 100% okay. You also need to understand that no two mental illness types are the same, so different, unique approaches are required to manage mental illness relationships properly.

For example, you’ll need to employ a method in dealing with a spouse who’s depressed unique from the method used by someone living with a mental illness spouse who has an anxiety disorder. So, understanding is vital. For example, you could read journals and articles, consult with a doctor, and ensure you have accurate information to understand what your spouse is going through.

Communicate With Your Spouse

Another thing you need to understand is that while you may have been able to get some accurate, relatable information from several different sources, the best way to understand what’s wrong with your spouse is to communicate with them. One of the significant problems people living with spouses who have a mental illness encounter is the communication barrier.

Communication with a spouse who has a mental illness could be challenging, mainly if dealing with a spouse who’s depressed. However, the only way you will provide the solutions they need is to find some way through that communication barrier. Effective communication is essential for mental illness relationships. Be careful not to force the issue; gently talk to them and coax out the information you need.

Find Support

Once you have established communication channels and you have some measure of understanding about what your spouse with mental illness is experiencing, the next thing to do is find support. People who have a partner with mental illness need to understand and acknowledge that they cannot provide all the necessary help themselves. Unfortunately, people dealing with a spouse with mental illness have often ended up doing more harm than good. Good intentions aside, they don’t have the required knowledge to produce beneficial changes.

Focus On Your Marriage Outside of Mental Illness

It can be tempting to focus on getting appropriate treatment and support for your spouse. However, this is exactly what you don’t want to do. You also need to have normal conversations with your spouse and involve them in any issue that comes up. This will ensure you keep your marriage alive and make your spouse with mental illness confident you don’t just see them as a liability.

Take Care of Yourself

This is one significant factor usually ignored or deemed of little significance. However, the truth is people dealing with a spouse who’s depressed or living with mental illness also need to take care of themselves.

The impact of mental health on relationships cannot be ignored at all, and they shouldn’t be. However, in dealing with people with emotional issues, you also must take great care of yourself to avoid developing problems out of frustration.

A Discussion on Mental Illness in Marriage

How To Love Someone with A Mental Illness

Dealing with a spouse with mental illness and managing mental illness relationships requires patience and knowledge. A mentally disturbed person might make living with them quite challenging (consciously or unconsciously); however, it doesn’t change that they need all the love and support they can get.

If you have been wondering and asking questions about the best approach to loving and living with a spouse who has a mental illness, here are a couple of tips for you.

Embrace Empathy and Validation

Embracing empathy and validation quite simply means you consciously and attentively listen to your spouse with a mental illness when they’re talking to you or trying to explain something to you. A little attention can go a long way; plus, it helps them understand that you care enough about them to hear whatever they’re saying. It doesn’t mean you have to accept or agree with whatever they say.

Empathy and validation require that you listen to whatever you’re being told without judging, blaming, or pulling conclusions. All you need to do is listen. You could also try putting yourself in your spouse’s shoes to understand better how difficult or how bad they currently feel. Then you let this knowledge guide and shape further interactions with them. Note that embracing empathy and validation doesn’t mean condescending or feeling pity for a spouse struggling with a mental illness, as this may only serve to drive them further away.11

Resist The Urge to Say “Try Harder”

It can be pretty difficult watching someone you love struggle with some challenges repeatedly. However, the one thing you don’t want to say to them is “try harder.” Understand that someone who has already accepted and is already undergoing treatment is most likely trying as hard as possible to get better.

Your encouragement to try harder might send the wrong message that they’re probably not trying hard enough. This can result in frustration, and then you end up with worse problems than you started with. This may even lead to a situation where your spouse with mental illness gives up after being diagnosed.11

Just the same way your response to an injury or seizure would be to get help for the person, your response to a partner with mental illness should be just that, support. But, again, you’ll need to be patient and let them make the recovery journey at their pace.11

Learn The Symptoms and Then Stop Taking Them Personally

For successful mental illness relationships, understanding is fundamental. Know that the signs of mental illness vary depending on the illness. Taking the time to research the illnesses, triggers, and signs of mental illness will save you and your relationship a lot of trouble.

When you know what to expect, you don’t get angry or frustrated when you see it. For example, in dealing with a spouse who’s depressed, you’ll have learned from research that someone who’s depressed often exhibits some typical depression symptoms such as anxiety, hopelessness, apathy, and even suicidal thoughts.12 And these will, of course, affect proper communication with them. So, once you notice these symptoms, you can get appropriate help for them instead of taking them personally or viewing them as a personal attack on your feelings.

Research Treatment Options

After establishing a communication channel of empathy and validation and making a conscious effort to learn the signs of mental illness, the next step to take is to research the treatment options available for your loved one’s condition. This is especially important because, for the most part, they may be unable or unwilling to explore treatment options and get help themselves.

So, you can take this responsibility upon yourself and research treatment options to ensure your spouse suffering from mental illness has access to the best possible help they can get. Once you have the needed information, you can then talk to them and convince them it’s in their best interest and you’re only looking out for and loving them.

Let Go of Your Timetable

Finally, let go of your timetable. This is a stretch that many people often fail to navigate correctly, resulting in elevated tension, anger, and resentment levels. Understand that the recovery of individuals after mental health intervention is usually not straightforward. For the most part, it isn’t easy to ascertain when exactly the condition being treated will be completely dealt with.

This is because when you make assumptions and estimations as to when, and it extends far beyond that time, it becomes easy for frustration to set in, and this won’t do your relationship and your spouse any good. So, you should try as much as possible to keep your calendar open and be ready to offer and provide support for as long as it takes.

Treatment For a Mentally Ill Spouse

Several treatment options are available to properly deal with mentally ill spouses. These therapy options include individual therapy, inpatient treatment, outpatient treatment, group therapy, and even yoga.

Infographic - Mental Illness Statistics America

Inpatient Mental Health Treatment

Inpatient therapy is often suggested for people who don’t have adequate social support, a stable living environment, or mental illness that may pose a risk to themselves and others because of their condition. For example, people with schizophrenia often pose a danger to themselves because of the accompanying visual and auditory hallucinations.

Inpatient treatment is also preferred in managing other mental health conditions (e.g., inpatient treatment for depression.)13 These residential programs are usually run by licensed drug counselors and mental health specialists and provide highly regimented 24-hour care.13

Outpatient Mental Health Treatment

On the other hand, outpatient therapy is only an option for those individuals with milder mental health conditions who have a solid, supportive social structure and can (for the most part) adequately take care of themselves.13 In addition to treatment, outpatient therapy could also involve counseling and therapy (individual and group therapy).

In these therapy and counseling sessions, individuals who have mental illness are assisted in identifying possible root causes of their mental health challenges. They are also taught skills for coping with the effects of mental illness.

How Mental Illness May Affect Relationships

When not properly managed, mental illness may have devastating effects on relationships. The partner with a mental health condition usually feels constantly overwhelmed by several emotions and feelings. However, they’re often unable to communicate exactly how they’re feeling to their partners. And this lack of communication can be fatal for any relationship since it affects core values such as trust.

It’s also easy to forget that providing support for the spouse of mentally ill individuals is as important as supporting the individuals themselves. When one partner begins to feel as if they’re the only ones trying, they might eventually burn out, and tension may start to seep in.

Will My Mental Illness Affect Intimacy with My Partner?

The truth is that your mental illness may affect intimacy with your partner. One of the classical signs of mental illness is withdrawal and closing off communication. However, it doesn’t have to be like this. Communication is essential for every relationship to remain strong, healthy, and grow.

For you to reduce whatever impact your mental health condition has on your relationship with your partner, you should make an effort to talk to them regularly and consistently. Opening up about how and what you’re feeling might boost intimacy since they’ll understand you better.

Do’s and Don’ts of Helping Those with Mental Illness

Things To Do If a Spouse Is Refusing Mental Health Treatment

If your spouse is refusing mental health treatment despite of all your efforts to help them, here are a couple of things you can do:

  • Mental health intervention
  • Approach them gently
  • Get a professional appointment
  • Seek help from others
  • Be ready for small changes
  • Check all the underlying conditions
  • Don’t avoid your spouse’s condition

Practice Self-Care

Support for your spouse and getting mental health intervention is excellent. However, remember that it takes two people to have a relationship. They’ll need to draw strength from you every step of the way, so it’s vital that you also take good care of yourself. Here are a couple of ways you can do that:

  • Maintaining a good sleep cycle
  • Ensuring regular exercise
  • Nourishing your body
  • Spending time with trusted friends and loved ones
  • Engaging in activities or hobbies that you enjoy


We also accept many others insurance plans. verify your benefits with no obligation required.


OR CALL US 24/7: (844) 926-0729


We also accept many others insurance plans. verify your benefits with no obligation required.


OR CALL US 24/7: (844) 926-0729