I’m In Love With A Criminal - What Do I Do?

Medically reviewed by Arianna Williams
Updated February 21, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Being romantically involved with a person prone to criminal activity may not always immediately create problems. But depending on the situation, it may present more serious struggles, risks, and negative repercussions than the average relationship. 

This isn’t always because of the individual involved in criminal activity; it may be a result of things like interaction with the people associated with your partner’s criminal activity, the criminal justice system, and other circumstances. 

But people who commit crimes, particularly serious crimes, may have underlying causes for their behaviors, such as personality disorders, substance use, or lack of self-control regarding impulse control and decision-making.

If you are in love with a criminal, it is essential to explore these issues, how they affect your relationship, and how they affect your mental health. By addressing these difficulties, you can make more informed choices about how to approach your relationship. 

Loving someone labeled as a criminal can be complicated

Mental health issues associated with criminal conduct

The mindset leading someone to commit criminal acts can be a complex combination of factors. Please note: this is not an all-encompassing list of mental health factors or mental illnesses that may relate to criminal conduct.

Personality disorders may play a significant part in the behaviors of those incarcerated and with criminal records, including antisocial personality disorder and borderline personality disorder, along with conditions that have psychopathic traits in their criteria.

Antisocial personality disorder

Antisocial Personality Disorder is a mental health condition that can vary in its severity. Those with this diagnosis often exhibit:

  • Charming and manipulative persona
  • Irresponsible behavior
  • Lack of concern for others
  • Disregard for laws and social norms
  • Lack of remorse
  • Risk-taking behaviors
  • Poor impulse control
  • Disregard for the safety of one’s self and others
  • Aggression or irritability

People with Antisocial Personality Disorder can be extremely charming and likable but highly manipulative as well. They may believe themselves to be better than others and therefore lack remorse or concern over their behaviors, even if that means engaging in criminal activity.

Borderline personality disorder

Borderline Personality Disorder is a mental disorder characterized by intense fluctuations in mood, behavior, and interaction with others. Symptoms that may indicate the presence of BPD include:

  • Unstable relationships
  • Unstable self-image
  • Poor impulse control
  • Self-destructive behaviors
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Explosive anger
  • Paranoia and dissociation

While antisocial personality disorder can be identified with a lack of emotions, an individual with a borderline personality disorder may experience intense emotions that are difficult to process in a safe and healthy way. 

Both disorders can contribute to someone’s thought processes and decision-making.  To be in love with someone who is living with either of these personality disorders can be difficult. It is possible to nurture a relationship with an individual with one of these personality disorders, but it will likely require significant effort on the part of both you and your partner. 

The link between addiction and criminal behavior

One of the most common accompanying factors in criminal behavior is addiction. Addiction can be tied to certain items or activities but primarily refers to substance abuse, whether prescription drugs, illicit drugs, or alcohol. When someone becomes addicted to a substance, it can consume their lives and negatively impact their activities, relationships, and more. In extreme cases, those with a substance use disorder may engage in criminal activity related to theft, sex work, or violence to fund the addiction. Substance abuse is also linked to increased violence (including gun violence) because of intoxication, especially in relationships

Those who receive proper addiction treatment often see a decrease in criminal behavior as they grow less reliant on both the activities to fund their addiction as well as the substance itself. 

Prison relationships

Incarceration can place considerable stress on a relationship for many reasons. For example, communication by phone and visitation restrictions around things like dress code, visitation times, contraband rules, etc., can be frustrating. 

Your partner’s safety in prison can be a serious source of stress, as well. The violence that prisoners are often exposed to while incarcerated can have a profoundly negative impact on the individual’s mental health. Many former prisoners report PTSD symptoms such as depression, anxiety, flashbacks, hypersensitivity, avoidance, and more. This can cause intense damage to your relationship, often requiring help from a psychologist to navigate those challenges together and individually. 

Loving someone labeled as a criminal can be complicated

Criminal associations

When becoming involved with a person accused or convicted of criminal actions, you must be willing to endure the social hardships that may accompany such an arrangement. 

Regardless of fairness, there is somewhat of a societal stigma involved with socializing with a criminal. This may lead to ostracization of the person convicted or accused, but also for those associated with them, including friends, family, and loved ones.

Some people may feel they’re in danger if they’re part of your loved one’s life and, by association, yours. They may worry about your loved one’s social connections and associations and how it may impact their safety. Or they may have circumstances in their own lives that could be negatively impacted by interacting with someone with a history or ongoing involvement with illicit activities. This is especially true for people who may be currently out on parole or working to overcome an addiction. 

Being known as an associate party of someone involved in criminal activities, especially as a significant other, can also put you at risk even if you haven’t participated in any of the events surrounding their charges. 

Whether you’re aware of what happened or not, police will often look at a criminal’s partner during an investigation, sometimes with the purpose of establishing a connection. Make sure you’re prepared to cooperate with police and law enforcement if they come to you for information. Depending on the level of discretion, this can lead to troubles in your social life and even employment if any interrogatory confrontations occur in your workplace. It can also significantly impact custody-related issues if you’re a parent or guardian.

Mental health implications for you

Involvement with someone who may have times of significant absence in your life due to being imprisoned, running from the law, or committing illegal acts can negatively impact your relationship and your mental health. While some feel that the love they have for their partner outweighs any of the downsides, the relationship can be hard because of distance, lack of communication, lack of physical touch and intimacy, and more. 

In addition to those pressures, you may face pressure from others around you. For instance, you may find that people question your judgment, intelligence, and even your ethics for being in love with someone involved in criminal activity. This kind of negativity can impact your mental health and self-esteem. 

Online therapy can help you navigate complicated relationships

And finally, you may choose to be with someone with a criminal background but eventually decide that you want to end the relationship. With potential issues surrounding substance abuse, violence, and relationships common among those with records, choosing to leave someone involved in criminal behavior may be dangerous to your physical, mental, and/or emotional well-being. 

Online therapy is a great medium for this. Additional research has shown that online therapy is just as effective as traditional therapy for common forms of talk therapy. It can produce similar long-term effects and benefits.

And online therapy is often more convenient than in-person therapy. Online platforms such as BetterHelp make it easy for patients to contact their counselor from anywhere, anytime that’s convenient for their schedule.

Here are some reviews by recent BetterHelp users about working with their counselors:

“Kristin Scott-Groves is helping me to reconnect with myself in a way I would have never felt possible after many years in a toxic relationship. Her thoughtful comments and questions have challenged me, and her suggestions for dealing with my anxiety have been simple and easy to incorporate into my daily life. I’m starting to feel more joyful and in charge of my feelings again!” Read more on Kristin Scott-Groves.

“Dr. Ash is wonderful! She is supportive, informative, and friendly. I feel comfortable opening up to her (which I’m not like with everyone), and I don’t feel judged. I feel like I have someone on my team! She’s helping me set healthy boundaries and address some childhood trauma and toxic relationships. I’d highly recommend her!” Read more on Bearlyn Ash.


Therapy is helpful for anyone who wants to improve their relationships, whether that means coping with the issues of a current relationship or healing from a past relationship. But with the significant stress that may accompany being in love with a criminal, it’s particularly important to take good care of your mental health and that of your partner, too. You may find you need support when things get difficult and/or complicated, and you may need help putting your own feelings into perspective.  

If things don’t work out, it’s important to be prepared for that, too. There’s a lot of science about what happens to the brain and body after a painful breakup, and one of the best things you can do, according to that research, is learning to express your emotions to move through them, gain clarity, and understand yourself better.

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