Dating and mental health
“I can’t help you if you don’t know how to help yourself.” If you’ve ever heard these words — or said them — then you know how demoralizing it can be to work through mental health struggles in a relationship.
Understanding how to be supportive of mental health struggles — both yours, and your partner’s — in the context of romantic relationships is incredibly important. After all, almost one in five people suffer from a mental illness in any given year, and over half of all people will struggle with mental health at some point in their lives.
So, how can you be supported and supportive at the same time?
How to protect your mental health when dating
Remove triggers from your environment
Our first tip regarding dating and mental health involves triggering scenarios that might be making your anxiety and depression worse. Ask yourself: “Are there specific environments, situations or scenarios that trigger the worst of my mental health symptoms?” If that’s the case, start removing those triggers now in order to mitigate flare ups as often as possible. It’s also fair to not enter situations where those triggers are readily apparent.
For instance, if you’re in recovery for alcoholism or smoking, it’s perfectly acceptable to tell your partner you won’t be around if they’re drinking or smoking in your presence. You don’t really have the control or the power to tell them to stop behaving that way, but you can control whether you’re involved in that situation — if your partner is supportive and caring, they’ll understand that being in your presence means they’ll need to avoid those substances around you, too.
Create a support system outside your relationship
All of us seek comfort in our relationships. It’s how we get close and gain intimacy with others. However, we can’t use our relationships as the sole place where we receive comfort. Instead of banking on your partner to absorb all of your mental health issues, you’ll want to make sure you have another outlet through which you can discuss, work on and improve your mental health.
Maybe that looks like therapy. Maybe it’s coaching. Maybe it’s journaling. Whatever it is, find another place to discuss what’s going on inside of you so that your partner doesn’t have to be your outlet 100 percent of the time (not that they don’t want to be your dating and mental health confidant, but it’s necessary to diversify your mental health contacts!).
Supporting someone who has issues with mental health
Encourage open communication
It takes a lot of courage to open up about mental health. Even though communication is key to ensuring mental health challenges don’t get brushed under the rug in your relationship, your partner might not feel comfortable talking to you about their deepest struggles. Depending on the nature of your relationship — for instance, if your partner feels unsafe voicing their concerns to you — you may not be able to have productive conversations about mental illness without devolving into an argument.
To make sure you and your partner can talk about mental health together, work to create a safe conversational space regarding mental illness, depression, anxiety, PTSD and other conditions. Let your partner know that you’re not here to judge; instead, you’re here to listen. Even if you don’t have a solution to their problems, your partner will feel a lot more reassured knowing you can provide a safe space for them to vent when they need it.
Don’t badger your partner and give space when it’s needed
Just as communication is important regarding dating and mental health, so is knowing when to give your partner space. The truth is, you can’t fix their mental health condition — it’s the same as trying to “fix” someone with an autoimmune illness, a chronic disease or a physical disability. That means that on days where your partner might want to be alone, you’ll need to let them be.
Further, there may be times where they’ll need to take a break from relationship work in order to prioritize their mental health and seek rehabilitation. If that’s the case, learning to be supportive during those times is crucial in order to allow your partner to return to a state where they can actively contribute to your relationship.
Don’t give all of yourself to your partner
You can’t pour from an empty cup. While tending to your partner’s needs is important, it might feel like “too much” to consistently deal with their mental health concerns. When you start feeling that way, it’s important to take a step back and follow in your partner’s footsteps: prioritize your mental health.
While it may feel cruel to step away from your partner when they need you, championing your own mental health now ensures you have the ability to care for your partner when they need it later on. Make sure to remind your partner that you’re doing this for the sake of the relationship, such that you can come back together and be stronger when you’re feeling back up to par.
We are a coaching company with expertise in lots of different areas like mental wellness, career, relationships, parenting and a whole lot more. While coaching in The Journal That Talks Back™ can help you to take a deeper look at the above topics, we recognize that there are times when other resources, like therapy and/or counselling, may make more sense. As such, we have begun to develop a Mental Health Directory with well over 800 resources and we are investing time and effort into really growing it. It is also developed in a super user friendly way (we hope) so that it's easier to navigate than say another government website. Click the button below to check out our Mental Health Directory.