How To Break Up With Someone With A Mental Illness

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Breaking up never feels good. It’s a dramatic change in life that sometimes needs to happen.

Maybe you’ve fallen out of love with the other person. It could be that you’ve realized that you just want different things out of life. Or maybe you’ve finally realized that you’re not in the right place to be in a healthy relationship.

As bad as breakups can be, breaking up with a person with mental health issues or mental illness adds an additional layer of complexity.

But, at its core, the principle is pretty much the same. You’re ending a relationship for whatever reason. And while one would hope that the other party would be able to take a breakup in stride, grieve the loss of the relationship, and move on, well, life doesn’t always work that way.

People can be unpredictable, mental health issues or not. Sometimes, the most put-together people appear that way because they take extra care to ensure that’s how other people perceive them. An emotional imbalance or the potential for an impulsive response may not be readily apparent.

And that is why it is so strange to see so much advice about breaking up come without important caveats. That is, if you feel unsafe or that the other person might not be safe, it is best to seek out the assistance of a therapist to navigate the situation and develop a safety plan before taking any action.

You can gain plenty of information on the internet about what you should do and how you should proceed. Still, it’s never going to be as good as having a knowledgeable, live person help you examine the situation before you take your action. Breakups can initiate domestic violence even in people without a mental illness.

In fact, mentally ill people are no more violent than people without a mental illness (source). But they are more likely to hurt themselves than anyone else. Still, that’s not going to be a great comfort if something terrible does happen.

So, how can you maximize the safety of everyone involved when you want to break up with your partner?

5 Important Steps To Take

1. Talk to a therapist about the situation first.

Do talk to a therapist first. Discuss why you want to end the relationship, any fears you might have, and what you are experiencing in the relationship. This will allow the trained professional to spot red flags for self-harm or the potential for violence.

Therapy will also allow you to air out things you may not be able to talk about with your partner. For example, a person who feels guilty about their partner’s mental health issues may need additional support to sort through their feelings. You may feel guilty that you’re abandoning someone you care about when they aren’t in a good mental space, and that’s really not fair to either of you.

The truth of the matter is that sometimes you just have to do what’s best for you, particularly if it’s negatively impacting your own ability to live your life.

Click here to connect with an experienced therapist via

2. Enlist outside help from support circles.

Does your partner have any support network in place? Reaching out to their friends and family ahead of the breakup to let them know your partner will need some extra support can be a good idea.

The person may express that they feel betrayed or like you went behind their back, but again, sometimes these kinds of things are necessary. They may not be the type to reach out on their own, even if they have a support network around them.

A good answer to that is something along the lines of, “I understand you feel that way, but I think it was the best idea for ensuring that you’d have adequate support.”

3. Be honest about why you want to break up.

People are often tempted to lie to try to protect the feelings of the person they are breaking up with. They think that it is the compassionate thing to do, particularly if the other person’s mental health is causing so many problems in the relationship.

The reality is that it is not compassionate to lie to someone about that. It deprives them of the ability to learn and grow from their life experiences. Of course, there may be other considerations. If the person is unstable, self-harms, or is violent, it would be good to completely hammer out your approach with a certified professional.

But if you feel you can safely talk to the person, then it can be worthwhile to be honest about what you feel and why you feel that way. It may be the kick in the pants the person needs to finally address their problems or take them seriously. But, on the other hand, they may have chronic mental health issues that they do take seriously and work to recover from. Not everyone succeeds, unfortunately.

In that case, it can be better to just focus on why you don’t want to be in the relationship anymore.

The “right” way to go about it is really going to depend on your personal situation and isn’t really something that we can give you through an article.

4. Set clear boundaries and expectations.

You will want to set clear boundaries and expectations on what to expect after the breakup regarding communication and contact.

Create some space to give both of you some time to accept the breakup and look toward some recovery from the hurt. It might be better to entirely limit communication or stop talking altogether. Delete each other on social media, block phone numbers, that sort of thing.

Children, of course, make that a lot more complicated. It may be a matter of only communicating about and for the kids. You may need to coordinate visitation or other responsibilities for the children.

Whatever they are, be clear about your boundaries and stick to them.

5. Try to make a clean break when appropriate.

The cleaner the breakup, the better off you will both be. Try to have your own living situation ready to go if you are moving out. If you need to move out hastily, figure out the most important things you need to take with you immediately. That would include credit cards, personal paperwork, and anything else you consider “essential” for your life.

Separate yourself from bills and other financial responsibilities, like a lease, when appropriate. For example, if you share a phone bill, get on your own plan.

Don’t drag it out if you can avoid it. Don’t let yourself be guilt-tripped into staying in a relationship you don’t want to be in anymore. If it needs to end, then make it end as safely as you can.

Red Flags And Other Considerations

The following information is not exhaustive by any means. These are just some common red flags that might point to the potential for self-harm, suicide, or domestic violence. If you see any of these red flags, talk to a professional before you do anything.

1. “You’re my reason for living.” “You’re the only reason I’m still here.”

This red flag is potentially pointing to a suicidal mindset. The person saying it may have the perspective that this is a sweet or loving sentiment, but it’s not. Instead, it teeters into the gray area of manipulation and emotional abuse. The person is saying that they aren’t just hinging their happiness on the relationship and their partner, but their entire life.

Many people use relationships like a drug. They get that high from the burst of endorphins and dopamine that comes with lust, infatuation, and love to self-medicate what’s going on in their head.

A relationship ending is that person losing that unhealthy coping mechanism. It’s not fair, reasonable, or healthy for a person to put the responsibility of their happiness and life on another. That’s not something you should do to someone you love. It’s hard enough to be responsible for your own happiness yourself at times.

2. Threats of self-harm if you leave.

This is a major red flag, obviously. It’s a manipulation technique to try to control your behavior and choices. This one bears special mention because if you spend any amount of time in support groups or diving into discussions about this particular threat, you’ll see some rather naive, inexperienced people making absolute statements that they should not be. Some examples include but are not limited to:

“They threaten, but they’ll never do it.”

“They’re a narcissist. And a narcissist would never kill themselves.”

“Just ignore it. They don’t mean it.”

The people that so confidently make these claims are fools who are potentially endangering the lives of you and your loved one. People absolutely do follow through on these kinds of threats.

They must always be taken seriously.

3. Speaking as though there’s nothing left.

The context that you’re listening for is that of hopelessness for the future. So the person may express things like:

“There’s nothing else for me to look forward to.”

“What difference does any of this make?”

“I’ll never find love again.”

That finality may point to hopelessness and possible suicidal thinking.

4. Abuse.

Abuse may seem like an obvious one to point out. Still, many people don’t realize that a breakup can fuel an escalation of abuse. If your partner is abusive to begin with, a breakup may actually put you in greater harm’s way. Domestic violence is incredibly common after a breakup (source).

A Final Word

A breakup is always painful and difficult. Few people start up a relationship planning for it to end. And no one’s hoping for it to end terribly, with violence, self-harm, or suicide. However, taking measures to ensure that everyone can exit the relationship in a safe and healthy way is well worth the time and effort.

Talk to a certified mental health professional before you do anything. They will be able to help you see through your own emotions and develop a plan that will help you and your partner come out of the breakup safe and healthy.

Click here to speak to an expert therapist online via the website.

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