My future husband and I had been dating for a few weeks. For years we had already been close friends, but there was still a side to me that I had not yet shared: my depression and anxiety.
I was undiagnosed at the time; if you had asked me if I was mentally ill, I would have laughed off the question. Still, I had the symptoms—and the challenges depression and anxiety bring with them to any relationship. To add fuel to the fire, I was also going through a family divorce: My parents were splitting, and it wasn’t pretty. Going through advanced classes in school and worrying about my post-graduation life also made things harder to handle for me.
You can imagine my poor husband’s shock, then, when the seemingly sweet and bubbly girl turned into a crying, raving mess! What’s a couple to do, if their end goal is a stable relationship?
You would think that managing an undiagnosed mental illness would spell disaster for any relationship. It can. But after I came to see that my negative treatment of my future husband reflected the same ugly behavior I saw in my parents’ divorce, I began to look for ways to help me cope better through my “episodes.”
Each mental illness is different, so speak with a medical professional about what works best for you and your relationship. But here are three things that helped me love my significant other despite what I was going through:
- Don’t treat your significant other (S.O.) as your punching bag.
They have their own life, worries, and fears. By all means, be clear when you are not feeling yourself or well at all! But do not verbally or emotionally wear down your S.O. After crying over the phone or on the couch next to my future husband, for example, we would make a point to talk about happier things or even just veg out while watching a movie. In turn, allow your S.O. their own space to deal with their problems or to unwind (for my husband, that meant time to play video games).
- Don’t expect your S.O. to solve the problem.
Whether you hope for this yourself or whether your S.O. thinks it is their responsibility to “cure” you, both of you must realize that mental illness can not be “fixed” with hugs and kisses. It’s best to encourage someone who is struggling mental illness to seek help from professionals, rather than trying to BE the professional. My husband learned this the hard way after a few meltdowns. Since then, he has found that encouraging me to go to therapy and discussing medication options is better for the both of us.
- Accept that seasons of life come and go.
Sometimes, life just sucks. You hate yourself, life, or even feel negative things about those you love. It’s going to happen. You and your S.O. should set down ways to handle these times before they happen, in order to prevent further hurt on both sides when they do. In my marriage, this means making sure I have time to be alone and process my feelings through mental exercises; my husband then comes in later to ask how I am doing. If your therapist has shared with you coping techniques, be sure both of you are well versed in how to use them.
Even before my diagnosis, these basic ground rules paved the way for us to continue our relationship and eventually marry. For me, seeing him support me, and, for him, watching me grow and heal despite all the hurt laid a strong foundation of respect and trust on which we have built our relationship. Mental illness and healthy relationships don’t have to be mutually exclusive!