Mental illness is something that commonly gets romanticized in literature and the media — perpetuating the idea that a handsome guy can somehow cure depression and anxiety disorders.
However, this is simply not the truth. Dating while also dealing with a mental illness can be draining for both partners, especially during a major episode. This all gets even harder when you start a relationship with someone who suffers from a mental illness as well.
There are many reasons that someone who has a psychiatric or mood disorder may choose a partner who has a similar diagnosis. They may feel like this person understands them in a way that others might not, or that it’s easier because they don’t have to worry about facing judgment based solely on their diagnosis. Or, hey, maybe it’s just because they like each other. Whatever the reason, it’s definitely possible for two people with similar, or even very different mental diagnoses to have a happy, healthy and functional relationship. But just like any other relationship, it can take a lot of work.
I often see tips floating around about how to exist in a relationship with a mentally ill partner; however, I don’t often see any advice for how to deal when both parties in the relationship have been diagnosed. Although every relationship is different and it’s important to learn what works best for both partners, here are a few things to keep in mind if you are in a relationship like this and find yourself struggling because of your mutual diagnoses.
1. Use Open and Honest Communication
This one seems obvious, but it can be one of the hardest things to do, especially if you have an illness that makes it hard for you to express your thoughts and emotions. Even if you can’t find the words to describe exactly how you’re feeling, simply letting your partner know that you’re having a bad day or that you may not be able to communicate as well today as you usually would could help you both feel more comfortable.
It’s also important to ask your partner questions and to check in with them about how they’re feeling and how you can help them work through what they’re feeling.
2. Use Safe Words and Physical Cues
When one or both partners are struggling to communicate, it’s a good idea to have words or hand signals prepared so that you can still check in with each other. This is especially important for partners who are experiencing extreme mood swings or episodes since it can often be hard to get out full detailed explanations about your feelings during this time.
Hand signals can be great when someone is feeling non-verbal, or wants to express something without offending the other person such as “don’t touch me right now” or “drop this subject.”
3. Be Willing to Back Off
While you should always try to be there for your partner, sometimes it’s better to let things go and to give them some space, whether it’s emotional or physical. This can be vital for people who have panic attacks or get over sensitized during extreme emotional periods. For instance, while one partner may simply want to help the other, over stimulation as a result of physical touch or emotional prodding can often make an episode worse.
This concept also applies to you, and you should try to be conscious of your own mental and emotional state when attempting to help your partner through a rough time. If you feel you’re in a place where your own mental health may be at risk if you attempt to comfort your partner, do not push yourself — be willing to admit that you cannot help at that time and find another way to get both you and your partner through the episode.
Ignoring mental illnesses does not make them go away. In a relationship where both partners are mentally ill, acknowledging that there will be struggles could ultimately make it all more manageable. Although all of these steps may help you at different times, one of the most important things to remember is to practice forgiveness. Mental illness can sometimes cause people to say and do things that they don’t mean, and when both of you are struggling with this issue, it’s inevitable that someone will trip over words. If you can learn to apologize and accept apologies, the chances that you can both get through even the roughest of episodes are much higher.
This process is not easy, but you should not be afraid to love someone with a mental illness, nor should you fear that you are unlovable because of your illness. Everyone deserves to receive the kind of love, kindness, and understanding that can happen in a healthy relationship, no matter their diagnosis.
COVER IMAGE COURTESY OF SHUTTERSTOCK.