Dating Someone Who Has Mental Illness
How many times have you had a friend say something like this about an ex:
“Oh, they were so crazy!”
“My ex was so obsessive.”
People often utter those phrases without true regard for what they are really saying, which is reflective of mental illness, instead of speaking to what could better be described as a personality conflict.
While mental illness is prevalent in society, there is still a taboo surrounding it. The odds are that you’ve likely encountered many people — and probably dated some — with a mental health disorder. With the stigma of self-disclosure, it’s no surprise that discussions about being in a relationship with someone with a mental illness are brought up so rarely. Dating someone who has a mental illness is not much unlike conventional dating. Here are some tips to keep in mind if you or someone you know has questions.
As with most aspects of a relationship, communication is key. Having an open channel of communication helps to alleviate any concerns that may arise within either of you. If mental illness is something you are unfamiliar with, chances are your partner will be more than happy to answer any questions you may have about their particular illness.
This leads into the next point: Don’t assume you know what they are going through. The Internet can be both a valuable resource and a great detriment to knowledge acquisition. Just think about the results you can find when you Google “red bumps,” and one website has convinced you that you have Peruvian Moon Fly Bites and will soon go blind. Of course, this is an extreme example, but sometimes the information we receive is often sensationalized. Not everyone experiences mental illness in the same way. Common disorders, like depression or bipolar disease, affect different people in different ways. The only way to understand what your partner is experiencing is to ask them.
Incorporating check-ins in any relationship is highly advisable. This is a chance for you or your partner to voice any anxieties, concerns, confusion or feelings that may have arisen. While you may not agree with every decision your partner makes, you’ve at least created an environment in which each of you can be heard. And mental illness or not, there are just some things that people are unwilling to change. Everyone is entitled to their own choices, but it is up to you to decide what is — or isn’t — a deal breaker for you. Much like you have your own version of normal, they likely do too. Accept that what
they need to survive and thrive may not be tolerable for you.
Ms. Fix It
It isn’t your place to fix your partner. Chances are they have been working through their mental illness since their diagnosis and have a system in place to lead a relatively normative life. Sometimes there are different seasons, moods and behaviors to someone’s mental illness and it may take some time for them to transition to a new one. This will take place on their schedule. You cannot tell them to shake themselves out of it or use coercive tactics to force them. This is both unfair to your partner and an unrealistic expectation. You can let them know you care for them, support them and will listen to them, because it is their journey to traverse, but you can most definitely be by their side.
Do not let someone, mentally ill or not, dictate the distribution of love and care in a relationship. There will always be a give and take, but if someone is not being equitable, its time to say something. The normal relationship rules still apply. A partner who uses their mental illness as an excuse for constantly taking is not being fair to you. Mental illness isn’t a free pass for selfishness. Yes, some disorders deal with different stages at times, but you know the overall tone of your relationship best. Choosing how to react in a constantly evolving situation is key to creating a strong foundation for a lasting relationship, and that includes speaking up for yourself and airing grievances when they occur.
We can all agree that dating, in general, isn’t easy, and when you add in another variable like mental illness it can make the scene even more daunting; but with communication, it is possible to dodge any pitfalls that may appear. Love and happiness are available to all of us.
Originally Published in Women's Lifestyle Magazine