What to do if you are in an intimate relationship with someone who has a psychological disorder?

Published on June 17, 2014

Online help resources in Singapore if you are in an intimate relationship with someone who has a psychological disorder

I quite frequently receive heartbreaking requests from individuals who are in a painful relationship or marriage in which their mate is suffering from some kind of serious psychological problem such as alcoholism, gambling addiction etc.  Often these  individuals are isolated and confused about what to do.  The purpose of this post is to provide some general information to help them get better informed and started on the path to a better relationship.

Let me describe briefly an example which although hypothetical is based on cases I see very frequently.  A 35 year old married woman with three children (a boy aged 13, and a girl aged 11, and a younger son aged 8 with ADHD) bitterly complains at the first consultation with me of the many problems she has experienced due to her husband drinking excessively for the past ten years.  She also states that the older son is doing poorly in school and has been associating with a "bad crowd".

The girl is doing OK except that she has become the caretaker of her younger brother because the mother has frequent periods of debilitating depression.  The mother has recently tried to cope with her husband’s drinking by drinking with him but that has made their arguments become more intense to the point where the husband has began to slap her.  Despite the husband's well paying job there never seems to be enough money to cover the family expenses and debts are accumulating. On top of this the husband's drinking is affecting his job and he has been warned about this.

How to approach these issues

I believe that a multifaceted "systems" approach is required in helping a couple where one (or both) of the partners is suffering from a psychological difficulty. Examples of the latter include but are not limited to depression, an addiction of any kind, adult Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).  The problems that can arise in such couples or families relationships or families are generally complex and interact with each other.  This is why I recommend a multidisciplinary approach. 

I became convinced of the effectiveness of the multidisciplinary approach back in Canada when I worked at an agency for helping families with a child having a developmental handicap and which were experiencing some kind of problem.  

A team of specialized professionals was used including social workers, psychiatrists, psychologists, audiologists, etc.  This team approach worked well and was necessary because of the complexity of problems which can sometimes, but certainly not always, arise when a child has a developmental handicap.

In the example described above, although it is the wife that sought assistance for her husband's drinking problem, it is obvious that psychotherapy with her alone is unlikely to be enough.  The functioning of the entire family has to change and this will involve a number of other types of interventions.  In addition to doing psychotherapy with the mother for her depression, I would recommend she attend Al-Anon which is a self help group for the family members of the alcoholic. For the alcoholic there is of course the highly effective self-help group of Alcoholics Anonymous. To help the parents cope with the son with ADHD I would suggest another self-help group called SPARK.  For the financial problems I suggest another resource and so forth.  This is what I mean by a multifaceted approach.

What I recommend to the partner seeking help:

Seek professional help from as many sources as you think you need. You may want to obtain assistance from a trained and registered professional such as a psychiatrist, social worker, or psychologist. This professional can help you decide what specific resources you need.   If your finances is a limiting factor, you can seek out relatively low cost counselling services available at Family Service Centres or various other community based non-profit organizations that helps individuals and family members in your local area.

I have listed below some of the resources available for a variety of problems.  But please note that this list is preliminary and incomplete.  I appeal to anyone, professional or non-professional, who knows of additional resources to share their information by including it in the comment section below.  Your information will be incorporated into the list below for readers of this blog.

Get actively involved in the recovery process.  Get actively involved in obtaining the appropriate resources for your relationship/family and in the treatment process itself.  It is usually extremely difficult to do all the work required alone. Find out what resources are available to help you.  I have included below a list of resources to get you started. I urge you to educate yourself about whatever problem your mate has.  I have included, at the end of this post, a list of some possible relevant books but it might be more helpful for you to Google the specific psychological condition of your mate and find a book or two that appeals specifically to you.

Check your attitude to seeking help.  Your attitude in seeking help is of extreme importance.  The reason I mention this is that when we are under extreme distress for a long period of time, such as can occur in relationships with someone with a mental disorder, we may become worn out, passive, and perhaps fantasizing that someone will come to help us.   I urge you not to assume the attitude that someone else, be it family, friend or professional, is going to rescue you from your painful relationship.  From my own personal experience, people generally don't want to get personally entangled in the  troubled intimate relationship of someone else.  Nathaniel Brandon, in writing about "self-responsibility" puts it in brutally honest terms when he states "...no one is coming to make our life right for us, or make us happy, ..." (http://www.nathanielbranden.com/ess/ess12.html).  Hence it is essential that we assume an attitude of personal responsibility and empower ourselves to actively seek out services for ourselves, our troubled intimate other, and any children that are involved. 

Discriminate between what can be changes and what cannot.  It is up to you to take responsibility for what you CAN do (and stop trying to do what you CANNOT do e.g. change the other person by scolding etc).

I advocate strongly you use the wonderfully helpful "Serenity Prayer" to bring you back to the reflective mood in which you can discriminate between the possible and the impossible.

"Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change

Courage to change the things I can

And wisdom to know the difference"


Concluding remarks

To readers in general, not just distressed spouses, I would like to once again plea that if you have any information about resources not mentioned in the list below that you use the comment section to provide the relevant information e.g. name of the resource or agency and telephone number.  Your cooperation will lead to the creation of a convenient online resource to help couples or families in distress due to one partner having a psychological disorder.

To the partner in the difficult relationship I would like to say that I hope this post helps get you started on a pathway to a happier and healthier relationship.  To maintain your recovery work, I suggest you reward yourself periodically and also that you occasionally take time to reflect on the good qualities of your mate and the good things that have happened in the relationship.  There is lots of hope for you and your relationship and family if you actively and persistently pursue recovery.


For the Organization Telephone number Website/ email
Alcoholic Alcoholics Anonymous 64750890 Website
Family members and friends of the alcoholic Al-anon 98941201 Website
Addict and family and friends of addict: (Gambling, Alcoholism, Drug Addiction,  Eating Disorders, Internet & Gaming, Sex and Love.) We Care 64715346 Website
Spouse of someone with adult ADHD SPARK   Website
Family of the person with the disorder (as well as the person with the disorder) Shan You Counselling Centre 67419293 Website
Family of the person with the disorder (as well as the person with the disorder). Family Service Centres 1800-222 0000 Website
Persons and families with a variety of problems Care Corner Counselling Centre 1800-353 5800  
Families facing violence in need of counselling and support services Centre for Promoting Alternatives to Violence (PAVe) 65550390  
Psychiatric emergencies  eg family crisis due to a mentally ill family member IMH Helpline 24 hours 63892222  
Low-income persons requiring legal assistance Legal Aid 1800-325 1424  


Category(s):Addictions, Family Problems, Mental Health in Asia, Relationships & Marriage

Written by:

Brian Scott

Dr. Scott is a clinical psychologist based in Singapore with three decades of counseling and psychotherapy experience in helping adults with many kinds of psychological difficulties. These include anxiety, depression, addictions (cybersex, love), and Adult Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (Adult ADHD).

Brian Scott belongs to Scott Psychological Centre in Singapore