1 out of 5 adults within America have a mental illness. Thus, many relationships have at least one partner suffering with a mental illness. These relationships can be very difficult for a variety of reasons, causing unhappiness, conflict, and disconnect. Here are some tips for dating someone with a mental illness.
1. Knowledge is power! There are many different mental illness, none created the same. Learn about the mental health illness of your partner through reading books and articles, and researching online credible sources. With the consent of your partner, attend a counseling or psychiatry appointment to ask questions about their illness and how you can support their recovery and stability.
2. Develop appropriate boundaries. To protect your relationship from codependency, make sure you set appropriate physical, mental and emotional boundaries. Boundaries are figurative rules for how we want to be treated by others, and the standard that we will hold others to when interacting with us. A relationship is only as strong as the "weakest" person. Take care of yourself by setting appropriate boundaries.
3. Communication can be the most impacting component to any relationship. Work on communicating with dignity and respect. Listen to identify the true problem, the true emotional need. The emotional mind is not always rational, but the feelings are very real! Use communication to validate your partner's feelings, and seek resolution. In addition, communicate with your partner about their illness openly. Develop this level of trust and vulnerability to openly discuss.
4. Accept that mental illnesses are generally chronic, meaning lasting in someone's life. Yes, they become more stable and functional at different points, but these illnesses may present themselves at different times within their lives. Mental illness is not an indicator of someone's true personality, or intentional. Acceptance means that you understand this is a cross that they carry throughout their lives, and you are willing to help them on their journey without judgement.
5. Your job is not to fix them! Seek help and additional resources. Treatment is available if necessary, and the best source of help to create and maintain stability. Depending on the illness, different levels of treatment may be recommended such as counseling, medication management, or hospitalization. Along this journey, support your partner with patience, encouragement, and accountability.
Although these are some good tips, I strongly encourage couples counseling. Counseling will help to explore specific issues related to your relationship, and develop strategies to improve the relationship dynamic. In addition, couples counseling increases available resources for each partner through an open, safe space to explore feelings. Schedule your couples counseling appointment via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via phone at 404-490-0081.