Navigating Relationships without Compromising Your Mental Health
With Valentine’s Day rapidly approaching, it can seem like everyone’s coupling up. Although we don’t recommend rushing into a relationship in time for the holiday, you shouldn’t let mental health problems interfere either. The truth is we all struggle to develop and maintain successful relationships. Whether romantic or not. But, in honor of the month of love, today we’ll focus on ways you navigate togetherness when mental illness comes into play.
Be Honest…With Yourself
Whether you’re struggling with mental health issues or your partner’s going through a difficult time, each of you must be honest. First with yourselves, and then with each other. Do you know when your mental health is suffering? Are you prepared to talk openly about what you’re experiencing? Or, more importantly, are you able to ask for help when things get especially difficult? If you’re not, then you may need to spend a little more time on self-care before you’re ready to enter a healthy relationship.
From the opposite standpoint, if you’re unfamiliar with mental health issues, you need to examine your own preconceived ideas about them. Do you carry any stigmas, consciously or otherwise, about mental illness? Are you willing to open up and learn more? As well as have the patience and understanding for the effects of the disorder(s)? If you’re not prepared for all of the above, then you should acknowledge that from the beginning. Not just for your partner’s mental health, but also for your own.
Keep the Communication Lines Open
Honestly, poor communication contributes to the downfall of a lot of relationships. Whether or not mental illness is involved. Still, you have to work at it! Even when the symptoms of your mental health issues start to affect everything else and you feel completely overwhelmed. If you don’t say anything, your partner will simply have no idea what you’re going through. Moreover, if you say you’re fine, but internally you’re seriously struggling, then they’re just going to be confused by your behavior. Of course, there will be times when this isn’t possible. However, you shouldn’t underestimate the impact of just trying.
As the supportive partner, you need to be communicative as well. Don’t downplay your own mental health for the sake of someone else, as that creates more problems than it solves. Instead use your feelings as the basis of communication. Too frequently, we put the fault on the other person. Rather than saying “I’m upset because you’re not being as open or affectionate” we say “You’re being cold/distant. You never spend time with me!” And it ends up coming out as an accusation. Just be aware of this tendency and work to overcome it—together.
Create Expectations as a Team
When it comes to mental health, we prefer to throw the term “normal” out the window. Particularly for relationships. Now, your partnership may look different, but you have the ability to create expectations from the outset. That really allows both people to be happier overall. We encourage you set boundaries that respect mental health struggles without making excuses for poor behavior.
For example, if your partner has anxiety, he/she may need extra time to adapt to change or enter certain social situations. To navigate this effectively, you might give them an extra day or two to process information before having a conversation about it. Or check in with each other regularly when you go out to ensure you’re both still feeling comfortable. In any case, this doesn’t give them the right to lash out at you or withdraw from social settings completely. Just be upfront about what you honestly expect (and need) from your partner, so you both can move forward.
Of course, even if you do all of the above, there will still be difficult days. No amount of preparation can make your relationship perfect. But that’s not really what it’s about, is it? Relationships are more a matter of working together to navigate through life in a way that makes both partners happier. If you’re struggling with your partnership and/or your mental health issues, we can work with you both to get back on track. Just contact The Family Center today to get started.