Mental Health issues do not discriminate against anyone. No matter who you are, it’s possible you can develop a mental health disorder. Whether you’re suffering from depression, bipolar, an eating disorder, or anxiety, it can be extremely tough at times. From my own experience with addiction, PTSD, and anorexia, and having a husband who is also an addict, I can say not addressing mental health in your relationship will only hurt you both.
Boundaries and Accountability
When it comes to mental health, it is the individual’s responsibility to take care of themselves. I have always told Jak that I am responsible for my own recoveries. It’s my responsibility if I choose (yes choose!) to let myself restrict or cave into self-harm urges. It also goes the other way, Jak is responsible for his own sobriety and recovery as well. I don’t mean to say that the choice isn’t hard, but there is a level of choice once someone has become aware of the symptoms/behaviors/negative coping skills.
I can tell you that I’ve been highly triggered. A painful anniversary is coming up and my PTSD hyper-vigilance is all over the place and I haven’t been eating well for about a week. It’s my responsibility though to communicate that to Jak so he is aware (which I have!), but it’s also my responsibility to get myself back on my feet (which I am doing!). That doesn’t mean Jak can’t support, be there, or encourage me. But it does mean that if I were to choose to full-on relapse that it’s not Jak’s responsibility to pick me up. That’s my responsibility and I should be accountable.
When you or your partner suffer from any mental health issues it is not only your responsibility as the individual suffering, but also your responsibility as the partner, to get educated. If the person who is suffering is unaware, then they are likely to be stuck and fall into negative patterns and stay there. If the partner is uneducated, they can unknowingly be fueling the very behavior they want to be addressed.
For instance, when Jak and I were first dating he was the food police. He would tell me I had to eat more. That approach didn’t work. In fact, I was very angry and rebelled and refused to eat more of my meal after that. Jak was not educated at that point in how to handle anorexia. He also couldn’t understand why I had such anxiety cooking. To this day I think I’ve cooked chicken three times in three and a half years because of the anxiety it gives me. Jak doesn’t make fun of me for it, instead, he is understanding and cooks the chicken while I prepare other less anxiety triggering foods.
With addiction, I have been over three years clean of self-harm. I stopped when I was with Jak. Jak was also struggling secretly with his own porn addiction. The sad part about how addictions affect relationships is that if someone is actively in their addiction, they can’t be fully present and committed to the relationship. Plus, when an individual is in their addiction, the thinking is clouded and the addict can be very hard to trust. When it comes to addiction, get educated. Especially for lesser known or accepted addictions. The process of addictions are similar, but depending on the addiction at hand -whether it’s alcohol, food, sex, porn, gambling- those addictions might stir up negative things for the partner. Maybe the partner’s parent was an alcoholic, or father was a gambler and this addiction, in particular, is a hard pill to swallow. With a sex addict, that encompasses the realm of cheating, which can tear a relationship apart very quickly if the addict does not get help.
I had no idea about Jak’s porn addiction and I was unknowingly fueling it at some points with the amount of sex I’d have with him or the provocative pictures I’d occasionally send. Little did I know I was hurting him with that behavior. I had no idea! Only once I researched, read, and learned about sex and porn addiction did I realize what behaviors could be damaging to his recovery and what behaviors would be more beneficial. It was still Jak’s responsibility in how he chose to handle it, but had I not been doing those things, Jak might have had an easier time trying to quit.
When it comes to mental health disorders like PTSD, bipolar, schizophrenia, or borderline personality disorder, education is essential! If you’re unaware of how those disorders work, what the potential triggers are, the behavioral ups and downs, as a partner you’re not only going to be lost but might actually do something that seems menial but actually is quite triggering to that individual.
For example, I have PTSD and Subaru WRX’s (in blue or silver) are a HUGE trigger for me. Just seeing the car ignites anger and incredible fear because of past sexual trauma. Jak, when we met, talked about Subaru’s and I had to let him know that talking about Subaru’s, being near WRX’s, brought back painful memories and I’d dissociate or start having low-level flashbacks. I still get a sense of fear and anger when seeing them, but it doesn’t interfere with my sense of reality anymore.
Had I not informed Jak of my sexual traumas and PTSD he would have been completely blind-sided if I had a flashback during sex, or freaked out because a WRX parked next to my car and I literally run in the opposite direction. Getting informed, on both sides, is essential.
Responsibility and Blame
When addressing mental health in relationships, sometimes partners who may or may not be educated on their partner’s disorder can blame relationship problems on the partner with the illness. To say that one person is responsible is unhealthy and damaging.
Each partner in a relationship carries responsibility. Each partner will have times when they are in the wrong or have done something that triggered the other and could have been avoided.
Some disorders can affect an individuals ability to think and act. For those who suffer from PTSD, they may be in a flashback and be completely unaware of their current surroundings and think they are in the past. They may act or say things that don’t make sense to you or are offensive. Being able to know how to handle that is important. Grounding techniques work well for those with PTSD. For other mental health disorders, taking space might help. You will only know what is helpful if you ask them.
Each of you affects each other in all your interactions. For example, let’s continue with a hypothetical on the WRX trigger.
Hypothetical situation: Jak, knowing about my trigger, has a friend who drives a WRX, parks in our parking lot, and when coming into the house, are constantly talking about the WRX. I leave the house to get away from the trigger, I did my part in handling that situation. Jak acted in a careless and insensitive way. I have left the house, trying to maintain control over my trigger, only to be triggered even further by the actual car in the driveway. Now I am in the driveway having a full-on flashback.
Jak and the friend come outside because they hear me screaming. Jak’s friend thinks I am crazy. Jak gets mad at me and starts yelling at me because he is embarrassed by my flashback. He yells at me to stop behaving crazy. I further spiral and feel even more unsafe as I hear a male voice screaming. Now my flashback is ten times worse and I am physically lashing out trying to keep the person away. Jak’s friend bails and leaves.
Once things calm down more, Jak says, “I don’t know what is wrong with you, but you really need to go get help. Have you been in therapy lately? Or did you even read a book on your illness? Why aren’t you taking care of yourself?”
I start crying, “What is wrong with you! How can you say that!? You’re the one who brought something so incredibly painful into our house! You know how WRX’s are a trigger! You didn’t care, you’re so selfish!”
Jak responds, “You need to just get over that. Like it’s a fucking car. Deal with it. I am not selfish, you’re a fucking psycho!”
“Screw you, you insensitive jerk!” I reply, leaving the room crying.
You see what I am talking about? Each of you are impacting each other. In that hypothetical you can see how hypothetical Jak and I were fueling each other in negative ways – Jak with the insensitivity, minimizing, dismissal, and criticism, and me with criticizing and contempt. If you keep having the same arguments over the same triggers it’s time to change your behavior to see how that affects the person who has a mental health disorder.
Jak and I affect each other all the time in every interaction. We might not always be aware of how we are affecting each other, but we are. Jak used to text me a lot during the day, and he doesn’t do that much anymore because of how busy work gets. I’ve discussed this with him. Before I had discussed this, he didn’t realize his not texting me was something I missed. When he’d get home and be all over me, I’d be confused because I wouldn’t hear from him all day. Apparently, he had the same problem. Once he stopped messaging me, I stopped messaging him. Little did I know he missed my messages too. Until we both figured out how we were impacting each other, we were at odds during the week.
If your partner blames you/your mental health diagnosis for most/all of the relationship problems, please know it’s not all on you. They have an equal responsibility in the relationship.
Ask Your Partner What Is and Is Not Helpful
When in doubt, always ask. If you are not aware of what can upset or trigger your partner ask them. Hopefully, they will be able to tell you what is beneficial to them, and what you might be doing unknowingly that could be hurting their ability to cope/heal. If you approach the topic with understanding, love, and care, you’re on the right track! If you approach the topic with anger, blame, and shame, then you’re going to be further alienating and hurting your partner. You want them to feel safe with you, not feel as though you’re the enemy and can’t be trusted.
For me, some of the biggest triggers that set me off: talking about food in “good or bad” terms, WRX’s, porn/sexual content, and safety pins. For Jak: certain relationships, certain emotions, and certain places can trigger him.
The thing is, we each know each other’s triggers. We know how to respond appropriately (which doesn’t mean we always respond perfectly, but we try), and we know how to de-escalate the triggering situation. Whether that’s changing the conversation, turning off a show, taking a walk, taking a shower, crying, finding Luvas (my emotional support animal), or leaving the event, we help each other out. Just because certain things trigger Jak doesn’t mean it’s stupid, and the same goes for me. We accept each other’s triggers and have learned how to best support each other during those rough times. It’s not helpful for me to raise my voice, it’s not helpful for Jak to be silent. We know these things because of experience and communication. Talking to your partner about this can really help you guys actually connect on a deeper level and have a better understanding of one another.
Getting treatment is part of staying healthy. Whether you have to go to a treatment center or find individual therapy, making sure you are getting help is important. I’ve been to eating disorder treatment centers four times and am still working on myself and being healthy. I have gone to therapy for my PTSD and self-harm. Jak’s been to therapy, and do couples therapy. Why? Because it not only benefits us as individuals but benefits our relationship.
Treatment doesn’t stop when you leave the therapists office. As Demi Lovato said in her documentary, “You don’t get a day off from recovery.” I’ve lived that motto ever since I heard it. You truly do not get a day off. Why? Because when you start to be lenient, you can start slacking, which can lead to slips and relapses depending on your disorder.
Every day you should be aware, mindful, and vigilant. That’s not to say to be obsessed, but to be aware of how things impact you, how you react to those things, and how to cope with tough times. Learning coping skills is a lifesaver! Learning the art of mindfulness can lessen relapses and slips. Learning how to communicate tough emotions can save endless nights of fighting and tears. Take care of yourself, and your relationship, because you deserve to be healthy.
What’s Your Experience?
I can’t possibly cover every single mental health disorder in this post, but I’d love to hear from you guys! What is your experience with mental health and relationships? What has been the most helpful for you, and what has been unhelpful? Is there anything you wish you could tell people so they can understand it more?