Sep 27, 2019
Source: Everyday Health
Keeping Your Relationship Strong After a Schizophrenia Diagnosis
With the right help, it’s possible to maintain a healthy long-term relationship after your partner is diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Schizophrenia could put a strain on your relationship.
Every relationship has its ups and downs, but when one person is diagnosed with schizophrenia, it’s possible for even stable partnerships to become strained or for couples to break up altogether.
“Schizophrenia makes it hard for people to form close bonds,” says Dost Öngür, MD, clinical director of the Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder Research Program at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts. Often, people with schizophrenia who are married met their partner before being diagnosed with the condition. Single people who have schizophrenia, however, “tend to stay single,” he says.
For people whose partner was healthy when the relationship began, the onset of schizophrenia can come as a shock. The disease can change a person’s behavior and personality, and symptoms can make even the most caring and loving individuals appear distant and cold.
Caring for a Partner Who Has Schizophrenia
Frank Baron, who has schizoaffective disorder, a type of mental illness that triggers symptoms similar to schizophrenia, says that when someone is newly diagnosed with a disorder like schizophrenia, their loved ones should try to show compassion. “The best thing to say is, ‘I love you and I care about you. This doesn’t change how I feel about you,’” he says.
Caring for a loved one who has schizophrenia can be a huge job that’s both tiring and frustrating at times. The following advice can help keep the relationship going strong. To find more resources, you can also contact your local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) or ask your doctor or therapist for information about local support groups.
The caregiver should set up their own support system. If your partner has schizophrenia, they may not be able to meet your emotional needs as well as they once did. Plus, according to a study published in October 2017 in the journal Psychiatric Services, caregivers to people who have schizophrenia tend to experience relatively high levels of distress. That’s why it’s important to have access to mental health support, such as a counselor or therapist. Friends and family can also provide a listening ear or a much-needed distraction.The person who has schizophrenia must accept treatment.
Left untreated, the condition can cause people to behave erratically, leaving their partners to become subject to verbal abuse, emotional neglect, and delusional accusations. No healthy relationship can sustain these behaviors. Both partners must communicate. Open and clear communication can help people who have schizophrenia find the support they need as well as understand what’s expected of them in the relationship. In addition to individual therapy, couples therapy can help both partners cope with the effects of schizophrenia on the relationship.
Schizophrenia and Relationships: Challenges and Solutions
Every couple juggles everyday tasks like household chores and balancing finances, but people who have schizophrenia may need extra help managing their responsibilities. This may include:
Dr. Öngür explains that schizophrenia impacts the way people read social cues, meaning your partner may not be able to recognize what you want them to do around the house. Counseling can help caregivers learn how to set clear expectations in a supportive and positive way. Defining each partner’s responsibilities around the house is another strategy.
People who have schizophrenia are not always able to work, even after their symptoms are stabilized. If this is the case, applying for Social Security disability benefits can help. Medications for schizophrenia can be expensive, and frequent co-pays can add up. Let your doctors know about your financial situation as well, because some clinics charge on a sliding scale.
Schizophrenia may cause people to become less interested in sex, as can some antipsychotic medications. Try talking to a couples therapist, who can help you express your needs and wants. You can also ask your partner’s doctor about switching to medications that are less likely to affect libido or adding drugs that can boost sexual response.
People who have schizophrenia can behave irrationally, have trouble thinking clearly, and struggle with everyday emotions, which can be confusing, frightening, or hurtful to family members and lead to conflicts within the family. It’s important to clearly define acceptable and unacceptable behaviors at home and in other settings, especially if you have children.