When Your Partner Doesn't Understand Your Mental Illness

February 1, 2021 Juliana Sabatello

When your partner doesn't understand your mental illness, it adds an extra level of difficulty to a relationship. I am highly sensitive and feel my emotions deeply and extremely. When depression or anxiety strike, I lose my ability to think rationally. My partner of eight years is a laid-back math teacher who approaches each challenge in life like an equation he can solve. I am an unsolvable equation to him. We enrich each other's lives with our differences, but sometimes it feels like we don't live in the same world. Part of our relationship journey has been accepting that we may always live in different worlds, but with intentional effort, we can build a beautiful bridge between them. 

My Husband Doesn't Understand My Mental Illness

Emotional dysregulation impedes my ability to communicate. John has told me that he feels frustrated when I lose my ability to think rationally. It is difficult for me to separate the negative, irrational thoughts from reality when I am in a major depressive episode. Anxiety often leaves me overwhelmed to the point of cognitive shutdown. At this point, I am incapable of making decisions or processing information. I lose my ability to communicate. I stutter, and I can't will the words in my mind to come out of my mouth.

Trying to reason with someone whose nervous system is overwhelmed is not only ineffective but makes the situation worse. When I am anxious, attempts at discussion feel like a barrage of empty words I can't process that further add to the sensory overwhelm. When I am in a depressive episode, rationalizing feels meaningless and frustrating because my brain has me convinced that my negative thoughts are the true reflection of reality.

In both cases, I have to regulate my emotions first before I can think clearly again. A hug or even empathetic silence helps more than words, but providing this type of support does not come naturally to John, who wants to jump into problem-solving immediately. He has a hard time understanding how I think because he can't relate to or understand my mental illness symptoms. This difference has been an obstacle we have had to overcome.

Working Together to Help Him Understand My Mental Illness

When I am in an emotionally stable place, we talk about it. We problem-solve together as allies against the problem. We both do our best to understand each other's point of view. We talk about our relationship, how our differences affect our ability to relate to each other, and what we need from the other to feel secure and happy in our relationship. I know he will never fully understand me, but he accepts and loves me for the person I am, and that's exactly what I need. Unconditional love is powerful. 

Healthy relationships are not out of reach for those of us with mental illness. Your partner does not have to understand your mental illness for your relationship to be full of unconditional love and respect. Building the bridge between your worlds takes work, and it is important to self-reflect and improve our awareness of the way our actions affect our partners. We might not maintain healthy boundaries, speak kindly, or hold space for our partners when we aren't feeling well.

We need to leave space for them to share their feelings with us and work through challenges together. If you have access, couples counseling or bringing your partner to individual therapy sessions can help. Talk about your mental health so your partner can come to better understand your mental illness symptoms. Communicate. It often feels like John and I live in different worlds, but I want you to know how much it is worth the effort to build a bridge between them. 

APA Reference
Sabatello, J. (2021, February 1). When Your Partner Doesn't Understand Your Mental Illness, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, April 23 from

Author: Juliana Sabatello

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May, 3 2022 at 9:47 pm

I am the husband. I have the mental illness. I have checked off the boxes, but when I have. bad day it's. Like sliding down a long steep mud hill. She does not deserve it. She is tired and I am as well.... I am done

name too
June, 7 2022 at 12:08 pm

Wherever you are, I hope you feel better now than a month ago, when you wrote this.
Because you are not alone. And I think it is beautiful that your love for your wife makes you consider her even in your darkest times. That will always be worth preserving.

name three
August, 22 2022 at 9:28 pm

This is powerful. Thank you. I am the husband in this story and I struggle to understand mental illness. It helps seeing it from another perspective.

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