Romantic relationships are inherently complicated, especially during the early days. Even in healthy relationships, both partners must learn effective communication skills, compromise and conflict resolution. Daily routines, which can be a lifeline to those with mental illnesses, are inevitably disrupted with a new relationship and can slow the recovery process. While they can be a great source of comfort and support, particularly during difficult times, relationships can also introduce additional stress.
For that reason, many people with mental illnesses wonder if a romantic relationship is off the table for them, at least until they feel like they’re effectively managing their condition. Conditions such as bipolar disorder, social anxiety and depression can make romantic relationships difficult to navigate, and some people doubt whether they can be a good partner or maintain a healthy relationship while they’re learning to cope with symptoms and find the treatment options that work best for them.
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer for whether someone should be in a relationship if they have mental health issues. For some, a new partner may be a significant setback to their recovery, while for others, it provides support and motivation to adhere to their treatment plan. However, it’s important to recognize that people with serious mental illnesses can enjoy and maintain healthy, long-term romantic relationships in which they can support and receive support from their partner.
Relationships Can Be an Emotional Burden
A romantic relationship can take a toll on an individual’s mental health. While they can be a source of happiness and support, they require dedication and effort. Not only do partners have to manage their own stressors, but they have to provide support to one another.
For someone with a mental illness, it can be difficult to navigate their own symptoms and challenges while also providing their partner with the support they deserve. In some cases, maintaining a romantic relationship can make it difficult for someone to focus on what they need to do for their recovery.
Do Relationships Improve Mental Health?
Stable, healthy relationships can have a profound impact on mental health. According to one study, romantic relationships result in lower stress levels and faster emotional recoveries from stressful situations. Another study demonstrated less activity in the region of the brain responsible for feelings of anxiety. While romantic relationships don’t replace the need for professional treatment for mental illnesses, they can provide support throughout recovery.
Unsurprisingly, unhealthy relationships can negatively impact mental health, especially for someone with a mental illness. They may contribute to a toxic social environment that can heighten stress and intensify depression or anxiety. The individual may constantly be in fight-or-flight mode and may neglect self-care practices that are necessary for their recovery.
To make sure your romantic relationship supports your mental health, have open, ongoing discussions about boundaries, healthy habits, and how your partner can support your mental health journey.
When to Know If You’re Ready for a Relationship in Mental Health Recovery
While mental health recovery may not seem like the best time to begin a romantic relationship, it doesn’t necessarily need to be a roadblock. You can still begin a healthy relationship as you navigate the road to recovery. However, your mental health should take priority as you begin the process of finding a relationship.
As you jump back into the dating pool, it’s best to keep things casual. Entering into a serious relationship too soon could jeopardize the recovery process and make you more vulnerable to a relapse. Taking time to recognize how your mental illness affects your personal relationships can help you determine whether you’re ready to enter the dating world.
Instead of focusing on meeting “the one,” spend time getting to know new people, enjoying yourself and building confidence. Not only does this put less pressure on yourself and potential partners, but it will help keep the focus on your recovery.
Knowing When to Disclose Details about Mental Health
When you’re meeting new people and dating casually, there’s no reason to divulge information about your mental health. However, if you’ve met someone that you may want to pursue a long-term relationship with, you should be upfront about mental illness. In most cases, it’s best to talk about it early on rather than waiting until you’re in the middle of a mental health crisis.
Prioritizing Communication During Recovery
While you’re dating, your inclination is to put forth the best version of yourself. This may mean downplaying low moods, anxieties and triggers. However, if your goal is to build a lasting relationship, open communication is a must. If you’re not ready to do this, then you may want to reevaluate whether you’re ready for a serious relationship.
Keeping Track of Changes in Mental Health
Dating with a mental illness can put you in various situations and environments that may trigger symptoms of your mental illness. While it’s not always possible or even healthy to completely avoid triggers, preparing for them can put you in a better position to cope. By being aware of the things that could affect your mood, you can more effectively prevent relapse.
Talk About Relationships and Mental Health with Your Therapist
Before you begin dating someone, consider talking about it with your therapist. They can help you assess your journey, how much progress you’ve made, and how much farther you need to go. They can also assist you in determining how to enter the dating world while continuing to prioritize your mental health.
Should You End a Relationship for Your Mental Health?
While many people are able to maintain healthy relationships despite mental illnesses, there are cases in which ending the relationship may be the best course of action. If someone isn’t getting the emotional support they need from their partner, if they feel belittled or dismissed because of their mental illness, or if their partner avoids them during their low times, then ending the relationship may be something to consider.
However, before ending the relationship, it’s important to remember that mental illnesses can cloud someone’s judgment, causing them to end a happy, supportive relationship. Depression, for example, can cause someone to experience low moods and feel overwhelmed. The individual may feel guilt over the symptoms of their illness and wonder if their partner would be happier without them.
While someone’s mental health can decline if they’re in an unhappy relationship, ending a happy, stable relationship is highly unlikely to improve your condition. Depression is difficult to manage, but be careful before letting your feelings guide your decisions during the low points. You owe it to yourself, your partner and the relationship to do everything you can before calling it quits.
Seeking Help with Mental Health Issues
Romantic relationships provide intimacy and support and can have a positive impact on someone’s mental health recovery. While mental illnesses can be a barrier to developing a relationship and make it difficult to meet people, following your treatment plan can help you have the tools you need to build a healthy relationship.
For those who feel that their mental health is keeping them from enjoying a romantic relationship or sabotaging their relationship with their partner, help is available. At FHE, clients get individualized treatment for mental illnesses and find the support that can help them build happy and healthy relationships. To learn about our treatment programs, contact us today.