Relationship Trouble: Is it Your Partner or Your Mental Health Condition? Here’s How to Know The Difference
Written by Writer’s Corps member Amanda Phillips
When toxic behaviors began to appear in my relationship, I thought they were symptoms of my own struggles with my mental health conditions. Was I being too sensitive because I was having an anxious day? While in the throes of depression, I really should have been able to get out of bed and put on a smile, right?
Wrong. But, my partner made me feel all of those things.
It wasn’t until the end of my unhealthy relationship that I realized my Bipolar Type II diagnosis wasn’t the problem in my relationship – my toxic partner, who actively prevented me from doing what I needed to keep myself balanced, was.
At the time, I had written off many unhealthy behaviors as just being “in my head” because of my mental health condition and because, like most people, I had no idea what the signs of an unhealthy and increasingly dangerous relationship were. I later learned that if something feels off in a relationship, it is likely because something may be off.
And the truth is if the idea of advocating for your needs in your relationship makes you squirm as I did back then, then the unhealthy treatment you believe you’re experiencing is probably not your depression or anxiety–and it certainly is not “just in your head.”
It’s likely because you have a toxic partner–but how can you know for sure?
Knowing the difference between perceived mistreatment and it actually being so can prove difficult for those of us with mental health conditions but it’s not impossible. Check out these signs of an unhealthy relationship to help you learn the difference:
Unhealthy Relationships May Be Unusually Intense
Being in a relationship that isn’t healthy may start very innocently. It’s like a sweater with a pull. You notice one little spot in the fabric, and before you know it, the whole thing can unravel. When I was in an unhealthy relationship, my then partner and I were practically living together within a week of knowing each other.
I had no idea that this kind of intense behavior was one of the earliest signs of an unhealthy relationship. And because I was struggling with my mental health, I thought keeping my partner happy would solve all of the things I thought were wrong with me, but I was wrong about that.
When our mental health is out of balance, we crave stability, and though rushing into things with your partner may feel like a quick fix, it’s not. Child Mind Institute psychologist Dr. Alexandra Hamlet says, “It’s important to set ground rules in the beginning [of your relationship] to set a tone,” or boundaries that ensure the relationship moves at a pace you’re both comfortable with.
“Describing what you need, especially when it comes to mental health, helps you get on the same page [with your partner].” Dr. Hamlet says.
Unhealthy Relationships May Feel Isolating
I’m an extremely social person. There’s a joke among my friends that I can make five new friends every time I step into a coffee shop. And they’re not wrong. What can I say? I thrive when I’m connected to people.
My ex knew this about me, so their first order of business? Get me to cut myself off from my social circles and depend on them completely. Though I had become noticeably less social, whenever my friends would ask, I would make up excuses for why I needed to cancel a night out and hang out with my S.O. instead.
Isolation is how unhealthy relationships are able to stay unhealthy and the first step to ending it is recognizing it. “If you’re starting to see yourself censor things with certain people who you know are usually helpful and compassionate, then you really know you’re in an unhealthy situation. Try to notice those changes in your own behavior,” Dr. Hamlet advises.
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