Loving Someone with Schizoaffective Disorder: Connecting on the Path of Recovery
You may not know what symptoms and challenges to expect when loving someone with schizoaffective disorder, but the more you know, the more you can have compassion and patience for their experience. Especially when you can keep a balanced perspective, you can support them as they navigate their recovery journey.
As unpredictable as their moods and behaviors may be, your partner is still the person you know and love. As confused as you may feel along the relationship path, there is always hope and generous resources for recovery are available if you know where to look. The more you know about schizoaffective disorder, the better you’ll be able to maintain perspective and a positive mindset when your partner goes through challenging waves of psychosis or depression or mania.
Whether you’ve just found out about your partner’s diagnosis or you’ve been navigating it with them for a long time already, it can be helpful to keep an open mind about their disorder and everything that comes with it. With expert clinical and psychological treatment and with your loving support, they can build the life they want moving forward. When loving someone with schizoaffective disorder, you can benefit—and help your partner at the same time—by keeping one hand on the things you can know and feel empowered by, and keeping the other hand open to the uncertainties that do not need to cancel out all that is positive and productive.
What to Expect When Loving Someone with Schizoaffective Disorder
Schizoaffective disorder is a complex diagnosis because of the combination of schizophrenia symptoms and disordered mood symptoms. Consider, for instance, how these symptoms occur independently—and also how they can overlap.
When someone’s thoughts and perceptions are affected by hallucinations and delusions of schizophrenia, they may seem very out of touch with reality and the moment. That disconnection can be very scary—perhaps in different ways for you and for them. Someone experiencing psychosis may be able to identify their false perceptions as unusual and disordered or they may be immersed in these perceptions enough that they become the distorted reality for the time being. It’s difficult to imagine what they are going through under the influence of any auditory or visual hallucinations or any delusional beliefs they may be operating under. It’s always important to remember that treatment can help—usually in the form of combined medication and psychotherapy for long-term solutions in recovery.
Mood Disorder Symptoms
Depression and/or mania are difficult enough to manage, but in conjunction with psychosis, the insecurity can be powerfully overwhelming. Even though a person’s mood will shift, and they will not be perpetually stuck in a depressive or hyper or anxious state, it may feel as if they are completely overcome and there is no light at the end of the tunnel. They may feel out of control—at the whim of their disorder and unable to relate to their experiences in ways that are authentic and reflective of balanced emotional connection. This can make relationships and every other area of life feel elusive. They may feel as if they rarely belong.
When a person presents both psychotic features and a mood disorder—with psychotic symptoms occurring sometimes independently and sometimes overlapping a mood disorder—they have schizoaffective disorder. A proper diagnosis is so important so they can get the treatment they need. On the horizon is a more balanced and grounded experience for your partner. Finding the right medications and working with a knowledgeable, compassionate therapist can help them to feel more in touch with the reality you experience and the emotional journey that can bring you closer together in the context of a nurturing and mutually supportive relationship.
Having Compassion for Your Partner's Subjective Experience
Schizoaffective disorder must be understood for its multidimensionality. For someone with schizoaffective disorder, you might consider that the fabric of their reality is composed of different colors, textures, and unsettling stains, compared to the fabric that most of us see. It is true that this “fabric” is a distortion—not a reflection of material truths—but it is real for them when they are perceiving through the lens of their active disorder. While you may not know quite what they are going through or exactly what they may need, you can interpret and respect the signs within their behaviors. By working together, you’ll come to recognize when they need you to just give them space versus when they need you to be near and perhaps offer them reassurance or perspective. They may have certain boundaries they need you to respect—such as if they have a delusional fear of being poisoned and feel an urgency to prepare their own food. But this is also an example of something you can work together to challenge their mistaken beliefs, especially with the guidance of a therapist.
Schizoaffective disorder can often inspire social anxiety and insecurities around the individual’s self-worth in relationships or even just when heading out of the house and interacting with people in social contexts. Again, it’s important to find a balance of relaxing into the need to stay home where it’s comfortable sometimes and compassionately challenging that anxiety at other times to go out—again, under the recommendations and advice of a knowledgeable therapist. You can reassure them that they are worthy of your unconditional love, but it will take time for new and challenging beliefs like this one to really settle in for them. As they gradually reacclimate and feel grounded in the experiences that are not dominated by psychotic influences or mood disorder, have patience with them. And seek the help that you need to feel supported and fulfilled through the recovery challenges. Individual therapy may help you to maintain a healthy perspective and develop critical boundaries and coping strategies. Couples therapy may also be a very important piece of the puzzle as you learn how to work together from sometimes divergent thoughts and experiences of life.
Supporting Your Partner's Recovery with Awareness of the Objective Truths
Even as you keep an open mind and an open heart to your partner’s experiences that you can’t fully comprehend, you can keep a grip on the helpful and even reassuring truths about these challenges:
- You can differentiate between who the person really is and the symptoms of their disorder. They are not their disorder, but they do need your patience and compassion for these challenges that they did not ask for.
- There is always hope for treatment and recovery. No matter how frightened or overwhelmed you or your partner becomes, there are options standing by to help you both along a path of healing.
The symptoms of schizoaffective disorder typically flow in waves, and you may feel more in touch with your strength and hopeful perspective at some times and less so at other times. With your resources and support systems in place, you can weather these waves, knowing that there are light and growth on the other side.
Just as your partner with schizoaffective disorder may be more prone to insecurities, you too may question your personal value in the relationship. This doubt may spring from feeling unequipped to handle your partner’s disorder and support them confidently through the waves. It may also spring from your partner’s delusional beliefs and direct criticisms about you. Even as you feel the pain of these pressures, remember that it is the weight of your partner’s disorder. Everyone in a relationship encounters struggles of different kinds, and we have to accept the challenges and the solutions together. In the case of your partner’s schizoaffective disorder, the challenges don’t ever have to prevail without supportive solutions.
BrightQuest is a long-term residential treatment program for people struggling with mental health disorders as well as co-occurring substance use disorders. Contact us to learn more about our renowned program and how we can help you or your loved one begin the journey toward recovery.