Relationships can be great. You always have someone to binge your latest Netflix obsession with, to talk to about your day, and to play the role of dutiful Instagram boyfriend or girlfriend. But along with the enviable aspects of being loved-up, there can be challenges that come with being part of a couple. You have to take someone else’s feelings into account at all times; you have to factor your partner into your decision making; you have to let yourself be vulnerable.
Although the more trying aspects of a relationship are tricky for any of us to navigate, the problem is particularly pronounced when one half of a couple has experienced mental health issues. I personally spent years struggling to form romantic connections because my own anxiety disorder drove a wedge between me and anyone I was dating. I would consistently beat myself up about bad dates and relentlessly overanalyze my suitors’ every move. Although I’m now in a relationship and am better managing my mental health, anxiety still pervades my day-to-day mindset. However, we are all deserving of love, and mental health struggles shouldn’t come in between you and being in a happy and healthy relationship.
Mental health issues are always best addressed by a professional, but these are some additional factors that can help you and your partner navigate a relationship impacted by mental health.
Be Open About Your Mental Health
It can be scary to tell someone about your mental health problems, but being open from the outset saves you from the stressful situation of hiding a mental illness whilst also navigating a new relationship. Although you don’t have to reel off your medical history on the first date, you should aim to speak to a new partner as soon as you feel comfortable doing so, particularly if your mental health has a pronounced affect on your day-to-day life. In addition to giving your partner the opportunity to ask questions and figure out how to best support you, being honest about a deeply personal issue can also set a strong foundation of trust and honesty for your relationship moving forward.
Stigma surrounding mental health is sadly still pervasive, so it can be daunting to share your experience. However, it is better to know early on if a person would not be comfortable pursuing a relationship as a result of mental illness. There are plenty of other people who will be more understanding, and will truly appreciate you and your many facets, mental health included.
Communication is key in any relationship, but it is particularly important when mental health is involved. For the partners of those with mental health problems, certain actions or reactions might seem illogical and confusing. Resist the temptation to shut down or push your partner away, and try to tell them if your mental health is at a low point. Being able to communicate what your partner can do to help — whether that’s giving you some space, some reassurance, or picking up your favorite treats when you’ve had a bad day — is both the easiest way to get what you need, and the most straightforward way for them to support you through difficult periods.
Encourage Your Partner to Ask Questions
Your mental health might be an ever-present part of your life, but most people will be less knowledgeable about the implications, manifestations, and treatments for mental illness — and questions are a great way to address this. Encourage your partner to be curious so that you can cover any concerns that they may have and better explain your experience. There are still many misconceptions regarding mental health, and being able to have an open dialogue gives your partner an opportunity to know you better, and to dispel any mental health myths that they might have heard.
Mental health problems can sometimes mean that you have stricter boundaries when it comes to your emotional needs, privacy, and physical space. Setting boundaries is an important act of self-care, and you should aim to communicate these to your partner as early as possible. Perhaps you struggle in group situations and need them to understand why you might be anxious about attending a big family bash. Perhaps certain behaviors trigger anxieties or insecurities and there are things they that your partner needs to be wary of saying or doing. Perhaps your mental illness impacts your sex drive, and you need your partner to be aware of and sensitive to when you are not interested in being physical.
Explaining your boundaries to your partner is the best way of ensuring that your relationship meets your needs. It also gives your partner a great chance to set their own boundaries, and to build a relationship that is emotionally and physically fulfilling for you both without compromising your personal parameters.
Try to Separate Your Mental Health Problems From Your Relationship Problems
Relationships are hard regardless of whether mental health is a factor. People argue. People break up. Sometimes your partner will drive you to distraction, and sometimes you’ll do the same to them. Blaming your mental health for every problem in your relationship can invoke a harmful rhetoric of blame, whereby you feel that you are shouldering the burden of your relationship issues alone. This can be damaging for your own self-esteem, and prevents you from addressing the real problems that you are experiencing.
Instead of looking to your mental health as a default cause of an argument or problem, try to challenge your own negative perceptions. Is this a problem that a couple who weren’t experiencing mental health problems would experience? If the answer is yes, then your mental health almost certainly isn’t the cause.
If you feel that your mental health is preventing you from forming a healthy relationship, then you should always seek the advice of a mental health professional. Although relationships impacted by mental health can be particularly complicated, they can also be immensely fulfilling and rewarding. There’s no reason why you should miss out.