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How Mental Health Can Affect Relationships?

Vicky Davis, FNP

Medically reviewed by Vicky Davis

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 1/30/2023

The connection between relationships and mental health is undeniable. When your mental health is in good shape, you can devote time and energy to ensuring you have healthy relationships. You can focus on spending time with loved ones, nourish your partnership and avoid toxic relationships — all of which result in a better quality of life. 

But poor mental health can take a toll on a number of things, from your physical health and work performance to romantic relationships and other bonds.

Whether you’ve been diagnosed with a mental health condition or have just noticed that your emotional health isn’t what it should be, understanding how mental illnesses can impact your relationships may inspire you to stay healthy in all ways.

How Does Mental Health Affect Relationships?

If you have a mental health condition, it can impact all areas of your life — including your relationships. From isolating yourself from your social networks to making once-positive relationships feel more challenging, mental illnesses have a way of harming the good things in your life.

Different types of relationships may be impacted by your poor mental health.

Romantic Relationships

Whether you’re in a long-term relationship or are officially married, mental illnesses can make these types of bonds feel more challenging.

A study published in 2017 found that individuals with common mental illnesses (think depression and anxiety) were more likely to get a divorce. 

Want to know specifics on how mental health may impact romantic relationships? Let’s say you feel shame about your mental illness, so you try to hide it. Your partner may feel frustrated that you don’t seek help. This can cause resentment to build on both sides.

Poor mental health can also decrease libido. This will impact your sexual life and can make a partner feel ignored or unwanted.

Dealing with mental health problems can also make it hard to get into a relationship. For example, if you’re depressed, symptoms may include sadness, low energy, pessimism and worthlessness. These depressive symptoms may make it difficult to want to go out on dates.

Another example: If you have social anxiety disorder, it may make you want to avoid being in a social setting. This condition makes people feel anxious in social situations, like one-on-one interactions, large crowds or public speaking.

Social anxiety disorder could make you have extreme fear over going out on a date with someone new. Because of this fear, you may start to think the impact of loneliness is better than forcing yourself to date.

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Familial Bonds

Parents, siblings, children, cousins — all of these relationships may be affected if you’re navigating mental health difficulties.

For example, research shows that children of parents with poor mental health may be more likely to have poor overall health or deal with mental or emotional disorders themselves. As a parent, affecting the health of your children could make you feel guilty.

Many mental health symptoms can also make it hard to nurture familial relationships — or may exacerbate dysfunction that already exists. For instance, irritability and fatigue are things people with anxiety sometimes suffer from.

If you already have a tendency to get irritated with your mom or another family member, the feeling may increase due to your anxiety. As for fatigue, you may find that you’re so tired you don’t have the energy to put in the time to keep your familial bonds strong.

Friendships

When it comes to relationships and mental health, having close friendships is always a good thing. That’s because friends can provide a much-needed support system and give you a place to talk about your feelings. That said, navigating mental health symptoms can be a doozy on your social relationships.

To keep a friendship strong and healthy, you need to spend time together. But if you have major depression and start isolating, you may spend less and less time with friends. This can make you lose touch with friends or cause bonds to break. As a result, your levels of loneliness may increase, which can amplify your depression. 

To learn more, you can read our article on how anxiety affects friendships next.

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3 Ways Mental Health Affects Relationships

Now that you know which relationships may be impacted by poor mental health, it may help to know the nitty-gritty of how mental health can hurt your bonds. 

You May Spend Less Time Together

Major depression can make you want to spend lots of time alone. Certain anxiety disorders (like social anxiety disorder) may cause you to avoid social relationships or settings. 

The result? You may avoid hanging out with loved ones. But here’s the problem: to have a healthy bond with someone, you have to spend time together.

Pessimistic Feelings May Develop 

As mentioned above, certain mental health difficulties can make you feel down or pessimistic. You may have a hard time looking on the bright side or may think the worst of other people.

These mental health symptoms can play out in a negative way when it comes to your relationships. If your mom does something you don’t love, you may be tempted to think the worst of her rather than giving her a pass. Then, because you’re mad, you may avoid spending time with family.

Or maybe you’re dating and meet someone you think you may like. Your brain may start to spiral with the worst-case scenarios, making you want to cut things off before they even get started.

Your Loved Ones May Walk on Eggshells Around You

Your behavior isn’t the only thing that may change if you are exhibiting mental health symptoms. Remember, your friends and family aren’t mental health professionals, and they may not know how to react to your mental health symptoms. 

A partner may feel confused about your symptoms. They may also be hurt or sad by your mental health difficulties. The same could apply to family members or friends. 

The result of all this is that they may avoid you or stop sharing what they really think out of fear of upsetting or hurting you. The problem is, if people aren’t truthful or fully themselves in relationships, it can hurt that bond.

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Ways to Strengthen Your Relationships

The connection between your mental health and relationships has been well-established. When your mental health is in good shape, it’s easier to nurture the bonds you care about and steer clear of toxic relationships.

But if you’re dealing with mental health difficulties, you may find yourself struggling in the relationship department. There are a number of things that can help strengthen your relationships — and by proxy, your mental health. Here are some things that may help. 

Interpersonal Therapy

Interpersonal therapy (IPT) was developed in 1969 and was first used as a treatment for major depression. The idea is that our interpersonal relationships can help with mood issues.

IPT is thought to lower depressive symptoms and help you function in social situations. It’s a shorter-term form of therapy, lasting for about 12 to 16 weeks.

So, what do you do during IPT? You’ll partner with a mental health professional to look at your relationships and how you approach intimate connections. Then you’ll focus on improving your relationships.

Family Therapy

IPT is done solo. If you think it could help to engage in therapy with someone you have a relationship with, you may want to consider some form of family therapy. 

This type of therapy includes marriage therapy. The goal is to help people address psychological issues that affect relationships, marriage problems or even child-parent relationships.

For family therapy to work, both parties need to be willing to go. But you should know it’s not about a therapist weighing in on who’s wrong or right. Instead, a mental health professional will assist you in learning to navigate issues together and communicate better.

Quality Time

Mental health difficulties can be isolating and spark loneliness. In turn, you may sequester yourself from loved ones. The impact of loneliness can make you feel even worse and have negative effects on your health.

Make an effort to tap into your social networks and connect with the people you care for most. Sometimes, strengthening your connections is as simple as spending time together.

It can also help to be upfront about what you’re going through. Letting your friend and family know you’re struggling allows them to step up and be a support system for you.

If your emotional health is affecting your relationships, it’s a good idea to speak to a healthcare provider. They’ll help you navigate how you’re feeling and may be able to give tips on getting your relationships back on track.

Hers offers online therapy that can be done from your own home. Get started today.

11 Sources

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references.

  1. Mojtabai, R. (2017, April 4). Long-Term Effects of Mental disorders on Marital Outcomes In the National Comorbidity Survey Ten-Year Follow-up. NCBI. Retrieved January 7, 2023, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5846331/
  2. Eldemire, A. (2019, September 24). How Mental Illness Affects Romantic Relationships. Psychology Today. Retrieved January 7, 2023, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/couples-thrive/201909/how-mental-illness-affects-romantic-relationships
  3. NIMH » Depression. (n.d.). National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved January 7, 2023, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression
  4. Social Anxiety Disorder: More Than Just Shyness. (n.d.). National Institute of Mental Health.Retrieved January 7, 2023, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/social-anxiety-disorder-more-than-just-shyness
  5. Mental health of children and parents —a strong connection. (n.d.). CDC. Retrieved January 7, 2023, from https://www.cdc.gov/childrensmentalhealth/features/mental-health-children-and-parents.html
  6. NIMH » Anxiety Disorders. (n.d.). National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved January 7, 2023, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders#part_2223
  7. Relationships. (n.d.). Mental Health America. Retrieved January 7, 2023, from https://www.mhanational.org/relationships
  8. Markowitz, J. C., & Weissman, M. M. (2012, February 14). Interpersonal Psychotherapy: Past, Present and Future - PMC. NCBI. Retrieved January 7, 2023, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3427027/
  9. Law, R., (2018). Interpersonal Psychotherapy for Depression. Advances in Psychiatric Therapy. Retrieved from https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/advances-in-psychiatric-treatment/article/interpersonal-psychotherapy-for-depression/79EF19F3C1FE96E4069C67F63FA1BBE2
  10. Overview of IPT. (n.d.). International Society of Interpersonal Psychotherapy. Retrieved January 7, 2023, from https://interpersonalpsychotherapy.org/ipt-basics/overview-of-ipt/
  11. About Marriage and Family Therapists. (n.d.). American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. Retrieved January 7, 2023, from https://www.aamft.org/About_AAMFT/About_Marriage_and_Family_Therapists.aspx

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.

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