“There’s something I need to tell you.” We’ve all heard those dreaded words from someone we’re in love with and it’s invariably nerve-wracking. Usually, we’re relieved to realize that their disclosure is far less awful than anything we’ve imagined. If they tell us that they’ve been diagnosed with schizophrenia, however, our reaction might be a little different.
Public perceptions of schizophrenia are terrifying but thankfully inaccurate1. You can have a healthy, happy relationship when you’re dating a schizophrenic. You will face challenges in your relationship, including ones that stem directly from his condition.
In this article, I’m going to prepare you for some of those challenges and show you how you can build a relationship with a schizophrenic man that fulfills both of your needs and becomes a happy, healthy partnership.
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When you imagine dating someone with schizophrenia, you’ll probably have a lot of different ideas about the problems you’ll face. Unless you have a background in medicine or psychology, many (or even most) of these will be inaccurate.
Here are the real facts about dating someone with schizophrenia.
Until relatively recently, films and TV shows with a character described as schizophrenic typically didn’t actually show many of the main symptoms of schizophrenia. They often showed people who had dissociative identity disorder2. This used to be called “split personalities” or “multiple personality disorder”.
The confusion came because the word “schizophrenia” means “split mind.” Writers simply didn’t understand the disease. The “split” in schizophrenia isn’t between different personalities. It’s between what they perceive, how they feel, and their thought processes.
Someone with schizophrenia might see or hear things that don’t exist and they might have thoughts that feel like they’ve come from outside of themselves. They won’t have different personalities.
Another stereotype of someone with schizophrenia is that they are inherently more violent than other people, and that they will harm even people they love during a period of relapse.
Obviously, there have been some cases of people with schizophrenia being violent. There have also been cases of people with bad backs or ingrown toenails being violent. That doesn’t mean that their medical disorder caused their violence, or even made it more likely.
In general, someone with schizophrenia (and anyone else with a form of mental illness) is much more likely to be the victim of violence than they are the perpetrator3.
These stereotypes of schizophrenia can give you a clue as to why people with schizophrenia often won’t bring it up during the first few dates. They don’t particularly want to spend all of their dates giving a first year psych lecture explaining schizophrenia, or having the other person run away in terror.
The chances are that they just want some normal dates. They also want to size you up and decide whether they’re safe to trust you with their diagnosis. That doesn’t make them deceitful or secretive. It’s actually pretty sensible.
Schizophrenia is generally a well-managed disease. Most people will be able to find a combination of drugs and therapy that helps them to manage their symptoms. That’s not the same as being cured, however. The vast majority of people with schizophrenia will experience relapse, often many times4.
Again, this isn’t a reason for panic. Once you (and they) can identify the early signs of a relapse, you can usually make some changes that will help to get them back onto an even keel.
One strong trigger for a relapse in schizophrenia is stress5. This means that people who suffer from this condition need to do everything they can to manage their stress levels and to ensure that they don’t go through long periods of high stress.
This has knock-on impacts for you as their partner. They’re unlikely to thrive in a high-pressure job. This might place limits on their career development, or even their ability to hold down a job at all. This has long-term effects on their financial stability.
You might also need to take responsibility for more than half of the stressful tasks within the relationship.
We have a variety of effective medications to help manage and treat schizophrenia, but this doesn’t mean that taking them is a barrel of laughs. They come with a range of side effects which can be inconvenient or unpleasant.
One of the most important for your relationship is that most (though not all) of these medications can have an effect on your sex life6. They can reduce sex drive or make it difficult for him to sustain an erection, or both. He might also need to have detailed discussions with his doctor before taking any other medication, such as viagra, that could help offset those problems.
People with schizophrenia can have disordered thoughts and they might struggle to communicate in ways that are easy for you to understand7. This is frustrating for both of you. You can’t work out what he’s trying to explain and he feels misunderstood and unheard.
As I mentioned above when talking about stress, someone with schizophrenia might struggle to hold down a job. They might also find it difficult to sort out their finances or manage practical household tasks8. They will often struggle most during relapse, but they can face long-term difficulties as well.
This isn’t universal. Everyone’s experiences of schizophrenia are different. It is important that you are prepared for this and ready to step in to help if it becomes necessary.
Looking after his mental health and managing his condition has to be his top priority. He needs to deal with that before anything else that might come up, including if you really need him.
For example, he might know from experience and work with his medical practitioners that it’s really important for him to have a routine, especially when it comes to sleeping. This means that he won’t be able to come out in the middle of the night to pick you up if you find yourself stranded.
It’s easy to feel as though you’re the one making all the compromises and that you're missing out on the kind of relationship you would like because of his illness. That’s an understandable feeling, but try to remind yourself that his mental health places far more burdens on him than it will ever place on you.
It can help to remember that he’s doing this for both of you. It’s not good for either of you if he stops taking his medication or if his condition flares up again.
If you struggle with your own self-esteem or sense of self-worth, it’s going to be important to work on that independently of your relationship. This will help you to still feel important and valued, even when your partner has to put himself first.
If you’re going to have a successful relationship with someone with schizophrenia, it’s worth spending some time researching the truth about the disease. There are loads of misconceptions and misrepresentations of schizophrenia in the media so it’s important to be able to tell the difference between reality and the hype.
Most of the time, dating a guy with schizophrenia will be exactly the same as dating any other guy. You’ll have great times together and you’ll get annoyed about minor irritating habits. You’ll support each other and you’ll grow together.
Sometimes, however, his schizophrenia will become the most important thing in your relationship. During a relapse, you’ll probably feel like all of your energy is devoted to managing his condition, rather than having a normal relationship.
During those times, you’ll be glad that you’ve done as much research as possible.
Learning as much as you can about what’s going on doesn’t just mean learning about schizophrenia in general. It’s also important that you learn as much as you can about his personal experiences of the condition and what makes things harder or easier for him.
When you’re involved in a serious relationship with someone who has schizophrenia, it often means becoming an advocate for your partner when he has to deal with the medical profession.
Medical professionals are (hopefully) experts in the disease, but you’re an expert in your partner. This lets you provide context and identify what is (and isn’t) associated with their illness.
For example, some of the things we say don’t make a lot of sense without context. IT guys will talk about Python and they mean the programming language, rather than large snakes. A medical practitioner might hear your partner talking about a “Python conference” and assume that he’s delusional. You can explain that he’s actually discussing a work meeting.
This is especially important because people with schizophrenia are often ignored or overlooked by medical practitioners. People experiencing a schizophrenic episode often aren’t aware that there’s anything wrong with them, so their doctors don’t treat what they say as reliable.
This is especially true if they have other health issues as well. Being able to speak up for him when he might not be able to (or might not be listened to) helps build trust between you. It also lets you fend off some of the potential problems you might face before they happen.
Mental illness in general is subject to a lot of stigma, and schizophrenia is probably the most stigmatized of them all. Lots of people still believe that someone with schizophrenia is violent and dangerous. When you start dating a guy with schizophrenia, you’re probably going to have to deal with some of this stigma, even from people you care about.
Your friends and family might be worried about you being in a relationship with someone who has a condition that they don’t understand. If they have inaccurate assumptions about schizophrenia, such as thinking that it’s always associated with violence, they’re likely to be even more concerned for you.
Unfortunately, this can lead them to assume that all of the problems in your relationship are because of your partner’s condition. It can make it difficult for you to vent about him forgetting to pick up milk from the store if your loved ones will always turn that conversation into a discussion of his schizophrenia.
You will need to learn to draw firm boundaries around this kind of behavior, making it clear that you’re not going to engage in conversations about your partner’s health.
We’ve already mentioned that guys with schizophrenia might struggle to communicate well. This isn’t just confined to times when they’re experiencing relapse or “having an episode”. It seems to be a part of how their brains process information.
Even when you understand that he can’t help his poor communication skills, you still need good communication to make a relationship work. This means that a lot of the burden of guiding and managing your communication is going to fall to you.
The best way to deal with this burden is to really work on your communication skills. The better you get at communicating, the more of his deficits you are able to overcome. You’re probably going to have to be the one to bring up uncomfortable topics, ask important questions, and dig down to find out what’s really going on.
Try to devote some time and energy to improving your communication skills. This might include working on active listening, practicing using I statements, and making sure that your body language is welcoming, rather than intimidating.
It’s ok to be annoyed at this sometimes. Doing a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to communication in your relationship is hard work. Try to remember that this is one of the ways that you are helping to share your partner’s burden and have a good friend you can vent to from time to time.
One of the biggest dangers for people with schizophrenia comes when they start to withdraw from treatment. Stopping his medication (without the agreement of his doctor or specialist) and avoiding therapy are clear signs that a relapse might be imminent.
As we’ve already discussed, if you’re going to have a relationship with someone who has schizophrenia, you’ll be taking on a lot of burdens. One way that they are able to balance the scale is to commit to engaging with their treatment.
One of your boundaries for your relationship can (and probably should) be that they have to continue treatment. If they want to stop or change their treatment, that’s something that you need to discuss between you and with their medical practitioner.
Schizophrenia isn’t like a broken leg. Without some astonishing scientific breakthrough, your partner isn’t ever going to be “cured”. His schizophrenia is a part of who he is. Implying, or even saying outright, that you love him despite his schizophrenia is like telling him that you love him despite his left arm. It’s hurtful.
Loving someone with schizophrenia means loving and accepting them for who they are, with their illness. Obviously, we would never wish the challenges of schizophrenia on someone we love, but we still need to love them for who they are… and he is someone with schizophrenia.
Even seemingly innocuous comments, such as “your schizophrenia doesn’t make me love you any less” carry stigma and imply that you can somehow separate their “true self” from their condition.
Instead, focus on showing them that you love them for who they are right now.
I’ve already mentioned that it’s important that you understand schizophrenia if you’re dating a schizophrenic man. The most important thing you need to understand, and be alert for, are the early signs of relapse.
When you’re in the early stages of a relationship with a wonderful man who isn’t showing any symptoms from his schizophrenia, it can be hard to focus on just how difficult things can become when he relapses. We’d rather believe that things are going to stay exactly as they are now.
Unfortunately, relapse is completely normal and expected in people with schizophrenia, even if they are fully engaging with treatment. The overwhelming majority of people with schizophrenia will relapse. That’s just part of how the disease works. Spotting oncoming relapse early lets your partner get the help he needs straight away, making the relapse shorter and less severe.
So what are the signs of a relapse9?
There will probably be other signs that are specific to your partner. Building up a strong, trusting relationship can make it easier for him to open up to you about a possible relapse.
If there are signs of relapse, it’s important to talk to his doctor for advice about the next steps.
Dating someone with schizophrenia doesn’t have to be hard, but it’s not always easy. You will need a strong network of people around you who you can turn to for emotional support and practical help.
This network needs to be made up of people who are willing to actually understand schizophrenia and who support you in your decisions. The last thing you need when you’re feeling stressed and vulnerable because your partner is having a relapse is to have a loved one try to convince you to leave your relationship.
It can be helpful to work with a therapist if you have your own issues to work around or you struggle with boundaries. A great relationship coach might be able to offer a supportive, non-judgemental ear and help you with improving your communication skills.
There are also plenty of support groups for people with schizophrenia and their loved ones. Finding a local group can feel like a lifeline if things get difficult.
Someone with schizophrenia is just as capable of love as anyone else. If their condition is managed well, they shouldn’t experience any major differences in their relationship compared with others. Knowing about their condition can help you to be alert to any changes that might signal a relapse.
You can absolutely have a healthy and happy relationship with someone who has schizophrenia, especially if they are managing their condition well. It can be helpful to understand how schizophrenia works and some of the warning signs to look out for to avoid a relapse.
Loving someone with schizophrenia is just like loving anyone else. You know you love them when you can’t stop thinking about them and want to understand them better and build a life together. It’s ok to be wary about their disorder and want to understand before starting a relationship.
Does this help you to feel more confident about dating a schizophrenic? Knowing that someone you love has schizophrenia can be scary, but a little understanding can help you to build a great relationship between you.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments section and don’t forget to share this article with someone who will enjoy it too.