Disclosing Mental Illness to a Love Interest
Feeling delusional and suicidal doesn’t lend itself to stable relationships of any sort, especially those of a romantic variety. Many people with mental illness, including me, describe a loss of friends, alienation from family, and a general sense of loneliness. The stigma of mental illness is very real and people tend to avoid us, rather than date us. Many people with mental illness, though, do reach recovery and lead relatively normal lives – including dating and marriage. What is the secret to finding love and disclosing mental illness to a love interest?
Telling a love interest about mental illness can be scary. I’ll be the first to admit that these conversations were difficult and often made me feel terrible. Telling a person about yourself and truly connecting means being open and honest. That leaves a person vulnerable.
When to Disclose a Mental Illness to a Love Interest
Deciding when to tell someone about mental illness is also a consideration. I didn’t want to create a dating profile that said, “bipolar man seeks love,” because that just sounded like a bad idea. I also didn’t want to wait until our six-month anniversary, because that seemed dishonest.
There is no magic rule for when to be open about something this personal. Not telling them, however, is simply not an option that will lead to a successful long-term relationship. When we avoid sharing who we are, fully, with another person, we make it highly unlikely that we will have the intimacy and understanding we are looking for. When I was dating, I shared this part of me on the third or fourth date. This way, if I was rejected, it helped to lessen the blow.
Being in a romantic relationship is hard work and involves sharing everything with another person. There is no shame in not wanting to do this, but it might mean you aren’t ready for a serious relationship. If you aren’t willing to share that part of yourself with another person, why is that? If your fear is rejection, then how good can your relationship be if it isn’t built on a foundation of trust? If you don’t trust the person enough to tell them, it is a big red flag.
How to Tell a Love Interest about Mental illness
Once you’ve decided to be completely open with someone, you must then decide how to tell them about your mental health struggles. Again, there are no rules to follow, but I do have a few helpful suggestions:
- Be prepared. Schedule a time and a place free of distractions and interruptions. If you feel the person you are telling might not understand the basics of your illness, print them out. HealthyPlace has basic information about many mental illnesses and those can serve as a guide to spark conversations.
- Be completely honest and open. Now is the time to share yourself with a person you trust and respect. This person has “passed the test” and you believe they can handle the information and still want continue the relationship. Don’t hold back.
- Don’t be defensive. When I spoke to my future wife about this, I had the benefit of preparation. She didn’t know I had anything to share with her that day. To her credit, she didn’t say anything offensive, but it was certainly something I felt was possible. An honest and open conversation can only happen if both sides agree to work together. If something is said that upsets you, be honest about it and share why.
- Keep the door open. A lifelong illness, especially something as misunderstood as mental illness, is not something that can be understood in one conversation. Multiple conversations, over the course of a lifetime, will keep your partner informed. Communication, with or without mental illness, is one of the most important relationship skills there is.
We all know relationships aren’t easy. When two people agree to share their lives together, there are ups and downs and managing mental illness, or any chronic illness, adds a level of stress. Picking the right partner, being open and honest, and taking responsibility for your illness can go a long way in creating a lifelong relationship.
Howard, G. (2014, December 3). Disclosing Mental Illness to a Love Interest, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, June 26 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2014/12/disclosing-mental-illness