Living with a partner who has a mental illness can come with challenges. They may experience difficult symptoms, such as mood swings, irritability, or loss of interest in usual activities.
While different mental health conditions can interfere with your relationship, knowing how to deal with a schizophrenic partner can be incredibly challenging, given the severity of this mental health condition.
Here, learn some strategies for managing schizophrenia in relationships.
Before diving into how to be in a relationship with a schizophrenic, it is helpful to understand the definition of schizophrenia.
What is schizophrenia?
It involves symptoms including hallucinations, in which a person hears or sees things that aren’t there, and delusions, which are strong beliefs that are not supported by any evidence.
Some other symptoms of schizophrenia are as follows:
Reduced feelings of pleasure
Lack of emotional expression
Loss of motivation
Difficulty with attention and memory
Because schizophrenia can cause a person to lose touch with reality, it is labeled as a psychotic disorder.
Someone with schizophrenia may hold irrational beliefs, such as being convinced that they have superhuman powers and can communicate directly with God.
Given the symptoms of schizophrenia, it is pretty clear that schizophrenia and relationships can be challenging.
What causes schizophrenia?
Understanding the underlying causes of schizophrenia can also be helpful when learning how to deal with someone with schizophrenia.
There is quite a bit of evidence that genetics can increase the risk of schizophrenia, but there is not one single gene that causes it. What is known is that some genes are associated with the condition, and it can run in families.
Genes are not the only factor that contributes to schizophrenia. Genetic risk factors can interact with environmental problems, like poverty, significant stress, and nutritional problems.
When genes interact with a poor environment, it can lead to the development of schizophrenia.
Finally, differences in brain structure and function can contribute to schizophrenia. People who have other risk factors, such as family history or environmental stressors, may experience brain changes that lead to the development of schizophrenia.
While the causes of schizophrenia may not tell you how to be in a relationship with a schizophrenic, they give you a greater understanding of the disorder, so you know what your partner is going through.
8 Signs your partner has schizophrenia
If you think you have a spouse with schizophrenia, you are probably looking for some information that confirms your suspicions. Consider the signs below, which may point to a potential schizophrenia diagnosis:
Your partner talks about hearing voices that are not present.
Sometimes when your partner is speaking, you have difficulty understanding because they jump from one topic to the next.
Your partner’s thinking seems illogical or bizarre.
You notice that your partner makes strange movements.
At times, your partner appears very emotionally flat. For instance, they may not react to a seemingly exciting event, such as you getting a promotion at work.
It seems your partner cannot make plans or have no motivation to accomplish anything.
Your partner may seem to experience little to no pleasure.
Your partner has extremely bizarre beliefs, such as a strong belief that the government tracks their behavior.
Of course, you should not attempt to diagnose your partner with a severe mental health condition, but the signs above suggest that your partner may be living with schizophrenia. In this case, professional intervention is likely warranted.
How schizophrenia affects marriages and partnerships
It’s not simple to learn how to deal with a schizophrenic partner because mental health can significantly impact relationships. After all, your partner with schizophrenia may appear to be out of touch with reality at times, which can make it challenging to communicate with them.
Given the symptoms associated with schizophrenia, the condition can affect relationships. For instance, the condition can sometimes be so severe that a person with schizophrenia cannot maintain a job or fulfill responsibilities like paying bills or caring for children.
Loving a schizophrenic may also mean dealing with behaviors that don’t always make sense. In addition, your partner may seem emotionally unavailable or as if they do not care about the relationship.
At times, your partner may also be uninterested in doing fun activities together or participating in family life, which can be pretty hurtful.
In some cases, a relationship with a schizophrenic can seem confusing or frightening because they may display bizarre behaviors, and their thought processes may be entirely irrational.
This can lead to conflict and even a divide between you and your partner or spouse with schizophrenia.
Finally, you may find that schizophrenia in relationships leads to a lack of intimacy. The lack of pleasure and emotional flatness that come with the disorder can make it challenging to connect intimately.
Some of the medications used to treat schizophrenia can reduce sex drive.
In addition, research related to schizophrenia and love relationships has shown that even unmedicated patients with mental health conditions experience reduced pleasure during sex and a reduction in sexual activity compared to those without schizophrenia.
The challenges above can make being in a relationship with a schizophrenic quite taxing at times but there is still hope if you wish to work towards it.
10 ways to deal with a schizophrenic partner in a relationship
Schizophrenia can be a severe and challenging mental health condition, but there are ways to cope. Consider the following ten strategies for how to deal with a schizophrenic partner in a relationship:
1. Don’t take things personally
It can be easy to blame yourself or feel that you are falling short when your partner doesn’t communicate well with you or struggles with intimacy. Remember, these are symptoms of the disorder and do not indicate anything you have done wrong.
When living with a schizophrenic partner becomes difficult, you need someone you can turn to for support. Develop a network of understanding friends and family members you can count on when you need to chat or have a listening ear.
3. Seek therapy
As noted above, communication can be challenging when you have a spouse with schizophrenia. Working with a couple’s counselor can help you learn to manage schizophrenia in relationships.
Regular counseling sessions provide you with a safe setting for processing relationship issues and learning to communicate more effectively with each other.
Sometimes, you can feel rather alone when living with a schizophrenic partner. In these instances, a support group provides an excellent method for how to deal with a schizophrenic partner.
Communicating with others in the group can provide valuable information about dealing with schizophrenia marriage problems, and participating in the group reminds you that you are not alone in your struggles.
5. Practice self-care
As the saying goes, you cannot care for others if you don’t first care for yourself. This means that it is essential that you take time for self-care.
This might mean developing a regular exercise routine, making time for one activity you enjoy each day or committing to a healthy nutrition plan. When you take care of yourself, you are likely to find that the task of loving a schizophrenic is less challenging.
Watch this video to develop your own self-care action plan easily:
6. Respond in a helpful way to their irrational (and psychotic) thoughts
It can be challenging when your partner with schizophrenia holds on to their psychotic beliefs, even with evidence that they are not valid. Do not argue or try to convince your partner that they are wrong; be prepared to be calm and respectful.
Instead of arguing when your partner is sharing irrational thoughts, you might respond with, “I see the situation differently than you do.”
You may know how to deal with a schizophrenic partner on your own in day-to-day life, but you may need to call for help in the case of a crisis.
For instance, if your partner expresses suicidal thoughts or begins acting out on hallucinations to the extent that they are in danger, you may need to call a local crisis hotline or 911. If you call 911, be prepared to tell the dispatcher that your spouse or significant other has schizophrenia.
They may need to be transported to the hospital for emergency psychiatric treatment.
8. Insist that your partner seek treatment
Untreated schizophrenia makes it very difficult for someone to have healthy relationships. Symptoms of the illness may lead to erratic behaviors, including abuse against a partner.
For this reason, your partner must accept and comply with treatment. Be as supportive as possible by accompanying them to appointments and praising them for accepting help.
9. Don’t expect treatment to help immediately
Treatment is important for someone who has schizophrenia, but that doesn’t mean it will be perfect or immediately cure your partner.
You will need to be patient to give medications time to work and recognize that treatment will be a life-long process for your partner.
There may be times when your partner does well, in addition to times when they regress and experience more severe symptoms.
10. Help your partner set small goals
When your partner is in the early stages of treatment or experiencing a relapse of schizophrenia symptoms, big goals can be overwhelming, such as returning to work full-time or finishing a degree program.
Help your partner set small, manageable goals to help them progress. For instance, you may create a goal to go for three walks per week together to encourage your partner to engage in more activity.
Or, you may give them a goal of helping with one chore per day, such as washing the dishes after dinner, to get them more involved in daily activities. Over time, as symptoms improve, you can add additional, and perhaps larger, goals.
It’s not the end of the road
Learning how to deal with a schizophrenic partner may seem challenging, but it is not impossible. Schizophrenia is a severe mental health condition that can cause problematic symptoms.
Still, individuals with schizophrenia can learn to cope with their symptoms and have happy relationships with treatment and support.
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.
Jenni Jacobsen is a licensed social worker with a master's degree in social work from The Ohio State University, and she is in the process of completing her dissertation for a Doctorate of Philosophy in Psychology. She has worked in the social work field for 8 years and is currently a professor at Mount Vernon Nazarene University. She writes website content about mental health, addiction, and fitness.
Licensed as both a social worker through Ohio Board of Counselors, Social Workers, and Marriage/Family Therapists and school social worker through Ohio Department of Education as well as a personal trainer through American Council on Exercise.