Ask Dr. Annie K: How Mental Health Can Affect Relationships

 

I’ve (34M) been with my girlfriend (40F) for 3.5 years and very much do still love her. I suffer from severe anxiety and PTSD but have been active in therapy for well over 15 years. My girlfriend suffers from BPD or bipolar (hasn’t been fully diagnosed yet) and unlike myself, is just starting to go through therapy and seeing a psychiatrist as well. I love her to absolute death but she’s become a very difficult person to be in a relationship with and have it not be a miserable ride.

She’ll pin me down for 2+ hours trying to explain and get me to side with some of her destructive relationship behavior. It’s very exhausting and it’s hurting our relationship. I try to give advice, but it usually doesn’t get absorbed or even listened to at all. I don’t look forward to seeing her anymore and I hate that feeling but I’m not sure how or if I can get back to the excitement of being around her again.

What do I do? Establish that we need to take a break? Break up completely? Toughen the heck up and quit being a wuss? I’m at a complete loss because even though we love each other, being her boyfriend while she’s in this state is bringing the most unhappiness I’ve ever felt in my life…

Sincerely,
A guy stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Love+Medicine

Dear Guy,

Thank you for consulting me. It is always difficult to assess the entire picture when having only one side of the story but I will offer my observations.

I am sincerely happy to hear about your own personal progress with your anxiety. You are clearly invested in treating your illness and realize how valuable it is to stay in therapy. You do not want your illness to prevent you from having a healthy, loving relationship.

If you read your letter to yourself again, you will see that the answers are there. You are clearly in love with this woman. Yet you describe yourself as experiencing “the most unhappiness I’ve ever felt in my life.”

This is understandable. Anyone who has a relationship with someone suffering from bipolar disorder knows the challenges. Your girlfriend is just now starting the healing process. It can take time to reach stability.

In the meantime, you are unhappy and this can impact your own mental stability. Giving the relationship a break may be the way to go for both sides. Your partner needs time to get healthy.

You would not be splitting because she has mental health issues. You would do it because you are miserable right now and appropriately concerned about the future.

After a period apart, you can both reassess how you are feeling. A couples counselor can be helpful particularly when confronting painful emotions – especially when facing the possibility of an end of your relationship.