Mental health issues aren’t compartmentalized. The distress that comes with them doesn’t stop just because you have a work deadline or errands to run, and it certainly does not go away when you are in a romantic relationship. The process of dating is sensitive and personal, whether it’s swiping right on Tinder, being in a relationship, or living together. Being vulnerable with another person can cause feelings of rejection and anxiety, especially if someone feels these things on a regular basis anyway. It is very important to date mindfully so that you can focus on both your mental health and developing a healthy relationship.
Before going on a date or entering a relationship, think about how your mental health might be affected. For some, joining a dating app can heighten insecurities and negative self-talk. How would your current frame of mind handle rejection or vulnerability? If you are in a particularly sensitive season, it might be best to direct your focus elsewhere. However, if you are in a stable place and have a support system, it might be a perfect time to put yourself out there!
As you grow close to someone, there is bound to be a time where you decide to talk about your mental health issues. In this discussion, try to educate your partner on how your condition affects your life and particular symptoms you experience. No matter your partner’s knowledge of mental illness, you are the expert of your own life.
While your partner may love and understand you, they cannot read your mind. This can be difficult to keep in mind when you have low points and need their support. Consider planning for this in advance by discussing ways your partner can support you. This might include:
- Certain phrases to say
- Certain phrases not to say
- Acts of service (e.g. chores, errands)
- Being with you without talking
- Knowing when you need your space
You can start this discussion by saying, “When I feel ____, it shows you care when you ____.” This might be awkward or robotic at first, but it will benefit your relationship in the long run. Your partner may feel lost or powerless when you experience your mental health symptoms, and would most likely appreciate the direction. Remember that your needs are valid, and you are completely entitled to ask things of your partner. You can even direct them to books or online resources such as The Inpathy Bulletin’s two blog posts on dating someone with a mental illness (links here and here).
Having all of these discussions about your mental health can sometimes turn into a conversation where you are both focusing on your shortcomings. Notice if the conversation seems to drift toward blame or guilt. Just because your mental health symptoms might involve speaking harshly, to give an example, does not mean you are the cause of all of your relationship problems. On a similar note, your feelings are real, even if sometimes you don’t feel like you can trust them. You might sometimes have difficulty interpreting your emotions or determining the truths behind them, but they are real to you and therefore should be to your partner.
Lastly, remember that relationships are not the end-all-be-all. It is very special to have a happy and healthy relationship, but you are ultimately the only one who can seek fulfilment in your life. In the show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Rebecca Bunch is on a search for happiness through romantic relationships. She neglects her self-care because she is confident that the answer to her depression and anxiety lies in reconnecting with her summer camp sweetheart. But unfortunately, (spoiler alert), that was not the case. No matter how amazing your partner is – and I am sure they are amazing – they will not solve all your problems. Though the beginning of a new relationship is exciting and comes with many highs, do not neglect your mental health care because of a false sense of contentment. By contrast, the road to happily ever after most likely involves a lot of hard work and intentional conversations, which is arguably all the more valuable.