Tips For Dating Someone With A Mental Illness
We have all dated someone we later called ‘crazy’. Whether that was a true reflection of their mental health issues (probably not) or a random statement regarding our personal feelings about the relationship (most likely), chances are you will again meet and date someone who suffers from a mental disorder.
The truth is 1 in 10 of us will have a mental health issue in our lifetime. My personal feeling is that number is higher, but there is still so much stigma and shame surrounding the term that many suffer in silence.
And while it is true that some mental illness is severe and not conducive to a sustainable relationship, those are not necessarily the norm. It is possible to have a loving, fun, and successful relationship with someone who is actively working on and treating their mental illness.
There are still unique challenges to making a go of it and I’ll try to address some of them here.
Were They Honest About Their Condition?
Some people live in denial about their situation, and still others are fully aware, and even treat it, but are uncomfortable sharing this information. While it is not exactly reasonable to expect someone to disclose a litany of emotional issues on the first date, if the dates continue there should be an honest discussion.
If the diagnosis is mild and they are handling with medicine and hopefully therapy, you might never know otherwise, but it is always a sign of good faith when someone is upfront. In this case, I would encourage you not to hold this against them if other characteristics and values line up. It is really no different than if they were diabetic, for example, and were correctly taking the right steps to control it.
Now if you learn of their highs and lows the hard way, and they are not properly managing their symptoms, you may wish to re-evaluate continuing your relationship journey. Please understand this:
YOUR LOVE WILL NOT CURE THEM
Love can do a lot of things. It is comforting, encouraging, uplifting, and even inspires passion. But one thing it CAN’T do is rewire the brain. If your potential love interest has a chemical imbalance, the only fix for it is proper medication and treatment. Do not be fooled or manipulated into believing their outbursts, relapses, or struggles are your fault.
(Here is where I am going to put in my disclaimer. I believe everyone deserves a chance, as long as they are honest and trying. However, unfortunately, there are some individuals with severe or untreated conditions that are not fit or ready for a relationship. Be wise and cautious when pursuing a long term commitment. Don't become a martyr or someone who enables bad behavior. If they are toxic and unhealthy, walk, or run, away.)
Can You Accept A New Normal?
Living with someone who struggles with depression, anxiety, PTSD, or being bi-polar will require you to re-think how you view a ‘normal’ relationship. You will need to learn their triggers and avoid them if at all possible. And you need to be honest with yourself, and them, if their triggers or reactions are deal-breakers.
If your love interest has severe social anxiety, and you love huge gatherings and lots of interaction with people, this is not the right match for you. It doesn’t mean they are defective or you are unkind. It is simply a reality that is better addressed sooner rather than later.
Compromise is built into every successful relationship. You have traits and quirks that they must accept and adapt to as well. Emotional trauma or mental illness does not have to distress or damage a relationship if both partners are committed to an open line of communication.
Empathy is also an important component. If you have never experienced what they have gone through, it’s hard to understand. But you can still make it clear that you hear them, you accept them, and you validate their feelings. (This can be very difficult if their bad feelings are directed at you, but with love and practice, it can be done.) This brings us to the next point.
Don’t Take It Personally
This can be extremely challenging. When disagreements arise, or they simply have an emotional crisis eruption, they may easily turn their frustrations onto you. And just like you can’t fix them, you didn’t break them. It is not your fault.
Whatever verbal tirade they throw at you, keep in mind their words and actions are not a reflection of their feelings towards you but, instead, a manifestation of the severe mental and emotional pain they are suffering.
What I can caution you about, though, is not reacting in a defensive manner or lashing back out. Realize they are having a moment and allow them space and time to decompress. You may need to remove yourself from the situation for that to happen. Or you may just need to quietly be there for them as they calm down. Only time and experience will reveal how to best help them and, in turn, help the relationship.
But as a side note - These meltdowns do not give them permission to mistreat you!
Respect And Loyalty Are Still Non-Negotiable
As humans, we often look for excuses to our bad behaviors. For someone with mental illness it can often be used as a crutch or ‘reason’ why they acted out. While there may be some truth to that, the bottom line is baseline respect and loyalty are non-negotiable within the relationship.
They cannot use their condition as a ‘get out of the doghouse free’ pass when they cross the line. They must be held to the same standards of any healthy relationship. If they are unable or unwilling, to take on that responsibility, you are not bound to endure abusive or disrespectful behavior.
You, in turn, must afford them the same courtesies. You should never belittle them because of their illness or use it against them to make them feel inferior or weak. That is cruel and they in turn should walk away from anyone who treats them this way.
My Hopefuls, people who suffer from mental illness deserve love and healthy relationships. They are not broken or defective. Their hearts are capable of giving as well as receiving love.
This does not mean you should feel obligated to pursue a relationship with someone just to prove you are compassionate. But it does mean a mental health diagnosis is not something to run from if you are attracted to another person. Compassion, empathy, communication, and good old fashion LOVE can prevail.