Schizophrenia may add complexity to an already complex relationship, but you can still have a strong and satisfying partnership.
When it comes to love, not everything comes easily. But adding in a mental health condition like schizophrenia to the equation can add challenges you may not have anticipated.
Researchers estimate about 1% of Americans live with schizophrenia. Although environmental and genetic factors play a large role in the development and diagnosis of schizophrenia, anyone can develop this chronic condition.
Yes, it likely requires lifelong treatment, but it is treatable.
It’s essential to understand the misconceptions and stigma surrounding this condition so you can support both your partner and yourself through treatment and keep your loving relationship strong.
Remember: It’s nothing like we’ve seen in the movies.
Spending time with someone in a relationship (and especially living with them) can reveal all kinds of behaviors and traits previously unseen.
If you think your partner is exhibiting symptoms of a mental health condition, it’s important to know the signs.
Schizophrenia tends to develop in the late teens and into the 30s. Men are believed to develop symptoms earlier in life.
Some possible symptoms of schizophrenia include:
- delusions (believing things that aren’t true)
- hallucinations (seeing, hearing, or feeling things that aren’t real)
- disorganized speech or behavior (difficulty organizing thoughts or appearing illogical to others)
- abnormal movement of the body (e.g., repetitive movements or appearing catatonic, or “frozen”)
- lack of emotion or expression
- withdrawing from social situations
- difficulty processing information, making decisions, or paying attention
You may notice changes in:
- eating or sleeping habits
- interactions with friends and family
These changes don’t mean they necessarily have schizophrenia, or even a mental health condition at all. But it could mean that they need evaluation by a professional to make sure.
Early intervention can be key to getting effective help. Broaching a topic like this needs understanding and care.
Understanding their point of view will be critical in maintaining a loving relationship.
If your partner has received a diagnosis of schizophrenia, more factors come into play, including:
- building a support network
Schizophrenia treatment often has multiple facets including antipsychotic drugs, which can treat and prevent symptoms like delusions and hallucinations.
Psychotherapy can also help with anxiety, social and work issues, and learning how to cope while living with symptoms.
You’ll want to be prepared to help them determine the best treatment plan for their needs. Learning about side effects and effectiveness can help ready you for life after diagnosis.
Being an effective ally and advocate
Be ready to advocate for your partner’s care and potential treatment setbacks. Finding the right treatment plan can take time. Being ready to pivot in care or advocate for different care may be necessary.
Part of this may entail educating yourself about treatment options, potential medications, and their interactions or side effects.
If needed, help your partner keep records and log schizophrenia symptoms and potential medication side effects. It can help their healthcare team be fully informed of any changing behavior and needs.
Don’t forget to care for yourself, too. It’s easy to prioritize someone else’s well-being over your own. Eating well, staying active, supporting your own mental health, and having your own support network will allow you to be at your best.
How to get support
Your partner will benefit from a network of people who can support them in various ways. This could include:
- friends and family who understand the condition, treatment plan, and stigma
- case managers and vocational rehabilitation professionals
- support groups like those offered by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Students with Psychosis (SWP), Schizophrenia Spectrum Support, and Schizophrenia Alliance
- specialty care support, like coordinated specialty care (CSC) or assertive community treatment (ACT)
- in emergency situations, you may need to call their care team, a crisis hotline, or local hospital or psychiatric care center
A mental health diagnosis adds a layer of complexity to an already complex relationship.
What already needs consistent work and communication now may need even more. But with the right treatment and support, your relationship can be fulfilling for both of you.
Relationship challenges with mental health conditions
- Setting expectations for household duties and other chores may become more challenging.
- Finances can become more complicated if one partner isn’t able to work due to symptoms or treatment.
- Communication about emotional and physical needs may become different or strained.
- Medication side effects can cause unexpected behaviors, changes in mood, or changes in libido.
- Treatment plans and setbacks can cause stress for both partners. Guilt, shame, and resentment may become issues.
Tips for managing these challenges
- Maintain honest communication. Be an active listener by asking clarifying questions, communicating your own needs honestly, and approaching disagreements with patience.
- Manage treatment expectations. Anticipate roadblocks and missteps in treatment. Don’t expect immediate results. Rather, be aware that treatment will likely be lifelong and change.
- Be patient with intimacy. Medications and stress can have side effects that disrupt sex. Be patient and free of judgment. Consider talking with your partner’s healthcare team to address these side effects.
- Don’t stop treatment to repair other relationship issues. Your partner may be tempted to stop a medication or therapy if it seems to be affecting your relationship or intimacy. This will be counterproductive to the overall treatment plan.
- Consider relationship therapy. Couples therapy and individual therapy can help both you and your partner as you encounter challenges.
Maintaining a loving and supportive relationship after a diagnosis of schizophrenia will not be without challenges. But with the right support, education, and a solid partnership, it can absolutely work.
A treatment plan that includes effective medication and therapy is the first step. Alongside that, you’ll need to find good support for you both so you can effectively communicate your needs and deal with stigma (both external and internal), feelings of guilt or shame, and roadblocks in treatment.
For some unique perspectives on living with schizophrenia, consider listening to our “Inside Schizophrenia” podcast.