Why Are Romantic Relationships with Mental Illness Hard?

February 28, 2013 Natalie Jeanne Champagne

I thought of three reasons why it's hard to have a romantic relationship when you have a mental illness. Three? Perhaps 100 reasons is more realistic. 100 reasons sound about right, but then this post would feel like reading a bad romance novel. That said, I want to focus on the biggest reasons why romantic relationships with mental illness are so difficult and how they connect to the smaller reasons--like a web of very bad dates.

Challenges of Romantic Relationships with Mental Illness

Oh, dear! I must stop myself before I launch into a horrid story of my less than stellar choices in partners. I think they would say the same about me. When I am depressed I am not fun. I do not laugh. Everyone, including the pets and dust on the table, pisses me off (Coping with Extreme Anger as a Symptom of Depression). It takes a, well, very unique person to hang on for the ride.

Enough about me, let's focus on three reasons why it's hard to be in a romantic relationship.

1. Confidence. Lack of confidence (unless you are in a manic state in which you are probably certain everyone loves you.) For those of us who are not in a meaningful relationship, we may feel like we don't deserve love. We might feel certain that once a person really gets to know us they will leave. As a result, we fear abandonment and this may lead to isolation. The entire thing becomes messy and, quite frankly, terribly sad.

2. Fear of Disclosing Our Illness. Sometimes, we feel having a mental illness is something we should hide (What is Stigma?). Of course we do not tell everyone. You don't shake a person's hand and state, for example: "Hi! I'm Natalie and I have Bipolar Disorder, ADHD, a history of substance abuse problems, disordered eating and some other things, want to go to the movies?" You get the ridiculous drift.

When we first meet someone special, as time progresses, we begin to feel the need to tell them. Because we really do. But this isn't easy; it's like putting our heart on the line, hoping it won't get smashed. The fear connected to sharing that part of us and the impact it has on our lives is hard (What to Tell a Date About Your Mental Illness). We might rather watch reality TV alone to avoid it (AKA me).

3. Fear of the Future. Everyone grapples with the future: we wonder what it will look like, if we'll be happy, have 2.5 kids, a dog and a white picket fence. Maybe a mortgage paid off. It's different when you live with a mental illness. The future can be scary. We often cannot predict how we will be feeling--our level of stability and functioning. Adding in another person, someone we can see a future with, can be scary! It brings us back to fear of disclosing our illness.

Relationships with a Mental Illness Are Possible

We all have skeletons in the closet. Or, you know, five bottles of pills under the sink. Everyone goes through pain in their lives, all of our experiences are unique, but pain and struggle is a shared experience. Call me altruistic (unfortunately, I'm not) but I really believe this.

If we can step outside of our lives, our illness, we begin to see that the world isn't cruel just to us. We all fall from time to time and so when we fear romantic relationships try to remember that you are not damaged, you are just human and deserving of love.

APA Reference
Jeanne, N. (2013, February 28). Why Are Romantic Relationships with Mental Illness Hard?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 24 from

Author: Natalie Jeanne Champagne

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Jim Clayton
April, 6 2016 at 6:10 am

See "Love and Limerace" by Dorothy Tennov. Also see "The Psychology of Romantic Love' by Dr. Nathanial Brandon. Two fasinating books that are diametrically opposites. In Love and Limerace, the author's basic proposition is that "Love" and "Romantic Love" are not two sides of the same coin but two different and unique states of being. The author then invents a new word "limerace" to describe romantic love.
Dr. Brandon, on the other hand, analyzes the nature of love and argues that romantic love and love in general are two sides of the same coin. He appears to believe in the state of romantic love and welcomes it into his life and argues for the Love (or limerace if you choose).
He makes several profound statesments that I have never forgotten.
"Love implies that the love object is a source of pleasure or a potential source of pleasure."
"Love implies that there is a disire for contact witht the love object."

March, 31 2016 at 9:08 am

If you are introvert and insecure as a person, especially as a guy it´s very difficult. Ladies can usually be quiet picky, and without sounding sexistic, it´s a fact imho that it´s easier for a girl with mental illness finding a guy than it is the other way around. It´s in our nature and society norms that the guy is the brave and the conquer, not always, there´re sweet Guys that has quiet some succes, but then they have something else. Anxiety and introvert thinking is not attractive in a guy for most ladies. So that´s my picks why it´s difficult, especially for us Guys. It may sound controversal, and not something many talks about, but believe me, most people knows this. It´s very difficult to be a not emotional, but sensitive guy that thinks Deep and isolates himself, which can be a great value in itself, and then expect of himself to go out and get the ladies, that´s not how it Works always, if you really want to get something going, you need to dig Deep and find yourself as a man, or accepting you´re gay if that´s the case, i have had fears i was gay, but im pretty sure im not, the thought still to this day discusses me somewhat, and i know it´s the anxiety and delusional thinking that tricks it. So find out what you want, and what you´re willing to sacrifise, or find a way to relax by taking Things like expectations out of your life that stresses you.

Jenn Sallinury
March, 20 2016 at 10:53 am

Try being in a relationship where both of you have a mental illness, different types as well. That’s a ride for sure.

December, 2 2015 at 7:25 pm

I am a 70 year old widow, married for 50 years. Measles at 3 mos left me with a 30% hearing loss. Hearing aides were not available then. School was a struggle after elementary school. There was definitely a stigma with hearing loss at such a young age. I married young, had three kids, suffered from low self-esteem all my life. This caused unhappiness & problems in my marriage. Although I knew I had problems with respect to my hearing loss, (which was never discussed or rarely even mentioned growing up) I knew there was something else wrong with me which I could not address. I was in therapy for 37 years and was diagnosed with depression, and treated with anti-depressants. About a year before my husband died of cancer, he watched an interview on television with an author, a medical doctor, who wrote a book, "Scattered" relating to his illness of ADHD or Attention Deficit Disorder. My husband noted the similarities between the author and myself. After educating myself about this unheard of (by me & my husband) disease, I could definitely relate to the familiar symptoms and stories told about the unfortunate victims of this disease. They were labeled "lazy and stupid". They didn't try hard enough.
Finally, at the age of 68, a friend referred me to her psychiatrist. I was tested and diagnosed with ADHD, LD (Learning Disability) & Dyslexia. I could finally put a name to and a cause of my sometimes hellish life. I asked why I wasn't tested sooner and was told that the testing was "expensive."

Mrs. W
September, 25 2015 at 6:00 am

I am the wife of someone with DID/PTS, chronic depression, anxiety and I created a blog thought the journey of our relationship. It is definitely difficult from the partner of someone with mental health, but if someone truly loves you I believe it can happen and I am proof of that. It is not easy and takes a lot of work on both parts, but I hope my experiences can others,

September, 12 2015 at 9:36 pm

I am a 20 year old female. For the past year i have been dealing with.. i don't even know! i havent built up the confidence to ask my dr to a referral to a pysch dr or even a counsellor! In my mind (sometimes) I'm convinced i have mood swings pretty bad but everyone that i tell assures me that its just life throwing those curve balls. So then i thought its just pms and every time I'd feel like worthless shit I'd blame my period until the days didnt match up. But then i noticed i only get real depressed like this when something isn't going right in my life well that's normal of course but why is it so intense why do blame myself why do i feel the need to fix everything and WHY do i dwell on it. I can think if numerous times where i thought ending it i even remember the situations i came up with to do it. In my past years puberty was bad i was a trouble child and did cut my wrist and did many drugs.. not having to deal with these thoughts seem easier. I am blessed though i have a good life. But i just don't know why i get so unhappy and then not its like i want help but i don't need help. I should also mention i smokemarijuana daily and my eating habits are terrible without it. My father was diagnosedwith bipolar year back and suffered addiction his whole life. Iice with him up until age 18 and still hold a lot of hurtful and charishable memories. My father mother also shows signs of bipolar but was never diagnosed. I have three seroquel tablets my friend gave me and im just going to take them for relief because mymind won't stop racing. goodnight.

July, 20 2015 at 4:35 am

Everyone is deserving of love, with my mental illness, I accepted what I call scrapped love. If he gave enough just to satisfy what is needed at that time, alright with me. I've been married twice/divorced each one took full advantage of using my condition against me. A song 'titled 'Only the Strong Survive'! Surviving if love comes/Surviving without it!

June, 11 2014 at 1:04 pm

Try being in a relationship where both of you have a mental illness, different types as well. That's a ride for sure.

January, 15 2014 at 2:42 pm

I told my gentleman friend that I was bipolar after a few months and he just said that is all part of the kit. What an uplifting and optimistic viewpoint. We are still friends after six months.

January, 4 2014 at 4:01 am

I am in a relationship we both have a mental illness I suffer from bipolar and he has depression.
We are 1 year together we have good and bad times its important to have good communication, honesty, compromise and patience. We are working together to make our relationship work.

January, 3 2014 at 3:43 pm

I was romantically involved with someone. I told him today of my condition, he responded "i hope you work through your problems". He no longer wants anything to do with me. Not sure how to handle being rejected

April, 30 2013 at 4:38 am

So question... Do you think it is even something to contemplate when you have DID and so does the person you possible would want to be in a relationship with you think this would work or SO NOT WORK AND WHY?

March, 31 2013 at 8:04 pm

this is empowering.
my take on the 'love life mental illness' department is a bit different!
I feel completely deserving of being loved.
However my episodes of depression tear me to the ground and i lack complete confidence in meeting anyone.. it's painful, it's my challenge to overcome. It's a bizare reality, some days i can talk to even the most attractive of women because i have that "she's cute, and i deserve a girl like her, i'm gonna go say hi'!!" feeling ... and then i do and it usually turns out well ( we exchange numbers, hang out) but it usually falls apart because i have a mood episode and i'm no longer that cool, confident man that introduced himself to her at the grocery store or whatever. they lose interest quick! what i'm trying to communicate is that from time to time i feel utterly lacking in confidence! my looks, my personality, who i am as a person; i just lack that comfort with being myself and it affects my dating life dramatically.
it's really hard to articulate but i'm sure some of you who read Natalie's article either understand where i'm coming from or have a different, but similar experience with their dating life being affected by mental illness.
Anyways! I love this article, thanks, Natalie!
unrelated: lately when i'm feeling down about life i talk outloud to myself and say with a smile and laugh "dude! it's ok to feel down everyonce in a while! you're not the only one and you certainly wont be the last! we all have bad days! it's ok, man".. just some self talk, ya know?
god bless!

March, 4 2013 at 4:04 pm

I LOVE this blog! I am still suffering from having a mixed state episode in front of a great guy (who has a friend that is bipolar) and it scared him off with all that he was going through himself...can't blame him as it frightened me too! Right into the crisis stabilization unit...
I have loved and lost and loved again. Some have been great;some have been questionable and some...well, they ended badly but I knew that they would going in. I've never married and at my age (I'm 47) I don't think I will ever have the family I always thought I would at this age but I do have something freedom. I cannot help but think of how I would be able to handle children when I can barely handle bathing and brushing my own teeth. I have 2 cats, who seem to know when they need to snuggle up next to me and when they need to go off and do their own kitty thing. And they don't seem to mind my skankiness or bad breath.
At some point, though, I know that I will find (to quote Sheryl Crow) someone "strong enough to be my man". Never lose hope...

March, 2 2013 at 8:37 am

I love your posts. I read them and its like ya that's me. I still have problems seeing others are struggling and when I find out some are its like they hide it so much better. What is wrong with me that I cannot hide it like they can. So it just puts them back up there because well now they are stronger then me. The worst is when I break down at work and its like I have to go back in there and I can't hide that I've been crying. They will know and they will know I'm just so weak. I look in the mirror now I see a little boy with no strength. And when I start to see a man and start to see strength something happens and poof I'm a scared little boy with no strength again.
So thank you, your posts remind me to try and to try to look at things different.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Natalie Jeanne Champagne
March, 4 2013 at 7:59 am

Hi, JC!
Thank you for the positive feedback!

Paul Shtogryn
February, 28 2013 at 9:06 am

Natalie as I wrote in another reply there was always a mild alienation & discrimination I faced & certain phobias which complicated things for awhile.Being disabled back in the 70's & 80's was wmaybe far different then it is today!I know in my day very few bipolar & schizophrenics were ever married in fact especially since they didn't have the medications they have today!I dont know if this helps you at all but just saying.

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