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Mental Illness doesn't define your relationship. Illness doesn't define your relationship. You define your relationship. What will you define it by?

Mental Illness doesn’t define your relationship

Are you in a lifelong relationship?

Do you, or your significant other, struggle with a mental illness?

Let me talk to you about what it is like to be in a strong relationship when one of you struggle with mental illness.

Relationships can be challenging.

When two people come together they bring many things to the relationship. Their hurts, their pains, and their insecurities.

All the baggage that we carry creates a high level of complexity in our relationships.

Think about it. You and I are already jacked up. We have lived a lifetime of challenges. Watching people die, facing abusive situations, and growing up in hostile environments. Parents telling you that you are not good enough. Children telling you that they hate you. People abandoning you.

This creates feelings of insecurity, inferiority, and insignificance. Feeling that we are less than others, not feeling good enough, or that we don’t matter all rage inside of us. As it rages in us so too does similar feelings rage in another person.

When you get together with someone it is like the perfect storm. Two major fronts, full of chaos, joining together creating one big storm. The destruction that happens in its wake can be massive.

When the internal storms of two people meet it can create many issues and challenges.

Right now, you may be experiencing that. Your relationship isn’t as good as it should be. You have failed to navigate through the emotional storms of your heart. Adding someone else’s storms has down complicated things. Now you are asking yourself if the relationship is even worth fighting for.

With that thought, I want to bring in a new dynamic.

Being in a relationship is challenging.

When one, or both of you, have a mental illness the relationship becomes even more complex.

My story isn’t a secret. My wife and I struggle through a relationship where mental illness is present.

For the first dozen years, it was very difficult. There was an issue present, but there wasn’t a diagnosis. We lived life thinking that our storms were overwhelming. We believed that we were going to implode from the pressure.

Then a diagnosis came. Life began to make sense. There was a perspective that developed. We went from trying to figure out the problem to understanding what the problem was.

I have to be honest, it wasn’t an easy transition. Years later we still struggle with so much. Sure, we are wiser and more mature in it, but that doesn’t mean it is any easier to manage. It means we have a better understanding of the why behind the what.

Perspective is more precious valuable than gold. Being able to see things from a different angle is an incredible asset.

The difference between a good relationship and a great one is the perspective you have.

Our perspective expended.

Here is what we finally saw:

1. We were in a state of competing and not completing.

Everything in our relationship was a competition. We competing for love, affection, status, and success. It was a daily battle. Always fighting and battling for position.

Instead of being husband and wife we were more akin to roommates. Roommates who didn’t get along that great.

We didn’t know we were dealing with something out of our control. I am from Philadelphia. The fighting and competing were normal for me. Where I grew up it was part of life.

At that time I was ignorant of the true challenges of mental illness and what it can do to a relationship.

In the end, instead of a vibrant relationship, we were in a dying one.

2. We realized that we had been fighting the wrong battle.

This was a wake-up call for us. We had been fighting each other. That is not the battle we should have been waging.

Our energy was being used in the wrong places.

We should have been fighting this mental illness.

What if instead of fighting we used all that energy to research the condition? How much further would we be along on our journey?

It feels like we wasted years fighting the wrong battle. My wife’s diagnoses came about 4 years ago. Yet I cannot help to ponder something.

Could we have seen the issue sooner if we asked more questions and argued less?

I realize that asking more questions may not have solved the issue. Regardless of how many questions we asked we were still broken. Our past still caused us to hurt each other.

A medical diagnosis did not solve the issues. It did not give us a magical pill that would solve the problems.

What it did for us was give us more clarity.

I want to pass some of that clarity onto you. Especially if you are struggling with your relationship and Mental Illness is a factor.

1. You will have to define what is normal to you.

The longer I am in this relationship the more I realize that we are not what the world sees as “normal.” We do not fit any mold. Our lives are more dependent on her mood than anything else.

I mean that in a very loving way. People with mental illnesses feel everything more intensely. The feeling is deeper, longer, and harder to move on from.

What we define as normal according to the relationship experts may not be normal for you.

It is not normal for my wife and me.

a. With Mental Illness, chaos is part of your new normal.

Mental Illness does follow a calendar. You cannot set your watch to it. There is no rhythm. A pattern isn’t always present to you.

Mental Illness is very chaotic in nature. First, you seem ok. Next, you hit an extreme high. Then, you hit an extreme low. It never gives you a warning. You are not aware of what is happening until you are in the middle of it.

That may be your new normal.

I am not saying it is great, but I am not saying it is a bad thing either. It is something you have to learn to work through and work around.

Living with this means you have to structure your relationship according. Sometimes it is ok and other times it isn’t. Learn to roll with the ebbs and flows.

b. Mental Illness doesn’t define your relationship.

You are NOT your mental illness. The mental illness doesn’t define you. It doesn’t define your relationship.

It may put limitations on your relationship, but it should never define it.

Think about this.

Why would I define my relationship with an illness?

Oh no! I am going to define my relationship by the love I have for my wife. All the good things in our lives define our relationship. Jesus defines our relationship. The illness doesn’t.

We manage illnesses, but we grow relationships.

I don’t plan on growing the illness and manage a relationship. Don’t let your illness define your relationship.

You are not your illness. You are so much more than that.

2. Don’t Compare yourself with anyone else.

Comparison happens when dissatisfaction defines our life. When we compare ourselves with others we lose every single time. We were never meant to compare ourselves with others.

Remember, your relationship has a mental illness component. So often we compare the idea of what we want to what we have. Our thoughts cause us to believe, “If I only had that then I would be ok.

That is a set up for failure. A false premise for an argument.

How can you compare an apple to an orange? Answer: You can’t. They are different. Both are good in their own ways.

The same goes for your relationship. You cannot compare yours with anyone else’s. They are not the same.

 Your normal isn’t going to be the same as anyone else’s.

As you define your new normal your relationship won’t be better or worse than anyone else’s. It’ll be different. Different isn’t bad. Yet, you have to come to terms with being different. You’ll have to be ok with different.

Different isn’t bad. It is different. Your relationship will be unlike anyone else’s. You cannot compare their relationship to yours.

The best statement that I have heard about comparison is this:

Don’t compare their public life to your private life.

Meaning that what people show you may not be the true story. Social Media has a way to distort the truth and show the best of us.

Don’t lessen your relationship by comparing it to others.

Above all things learn to be ok with who you have.

Enjoy your life together.


I would love for you to do a few things for me 🙂

#1. I love it when people share their thoughts. I am eager to hear how you have helped someone through this? Let me hear what your thoughts are if you struggled in this area. Please honor me by commenting below! I look forward to engaging you through them!

#2. Would you consider sharing these retweets as well as sharing the article?

[bctt tweet=”You are NOT your mental illness. The mental illness doesn’t define you. #bettertogether” username=”jim_burgoon”] [bctt tweet=”We manage illnesses, but we grow relationships. #defineyourself #notyourillness” username=”jim_burgoon”] [bctt tweet=”Your normal isn’t going to be the same as anyone else’s. That is ok. #loveyourself” username=”Jim_burgoon”]

#3 I would love it if you would consider subscribing to the blog.


About the Author Jim