How to Talk About Your Mental Health Issues With Someone You're Dating

Stephanie Booth
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couple having serious talkRocketclips, Inc./Shutterstock

Not once upon a time but every day, someone suffering from depression, anxiety, sexual abuse, addiction, schizophrenia, an eating disorder, ADHD, OCD, or a panic disorder falls in love. And then, before she or he can live happily ever after, that person has to figure out how and when to talk about his or her mental health.

Call it a contemporary fairy-tale, with mental health issues standing in for fire-breathing dragons.

When PsychGuides.com surveyed over 2,000 people, they found 64 percent self-identified with a mental health disorder. However, 26.5 percent of women and nearly HALF the men -- 48 percent -- hadn't told their partner.

Of the people who had come clean, 12 percent waited between 1 and 6 months to do so.

The top relationship insecurity of respondents? That their mental illness meant they weren't "good enough" for their partner. Which is all kinds of heartbreaking.

Despite a leap forward in neurological research, not to mention celebs like Gwyneth Paltrow and Miley Cyrus opening up about their mental health, there's still a heavy stigma attached to not having what's considered a "normal" brain.

More from CafeMom: How 'Trying to Have It All' Has Put Women -- and Their Mental Health -- At Risk

"But while challenging, mental health issues can actually make relationships stronger," says Paul Hokemeyer, PhD, JD, a licensed marriage and family therapist in New York City. "When addictions or mental health issues exist in the context of a romantic relationship, the couple must learn to set boundaries, communicate painful truths, and tolerate the often imperfect process of recovery."
 
Mastering these tasks, Hokemeyer says, can make your partnership rock solid. For that to happen, though, you've got to explain what's going on in your head.
 
Here's where to start.
 
1. Slow down. While you might be actually anxious to get your issues out in the open and see how your new SO responds, "it's not necessary to disclose mental health issues in your dating profile or on the first date," assures Hokemeyer. "While there's no reason to be ashamed of your condition, there's also no reason to lead with it."
 
In short, "hold off sharing until you intuitively feel your mate is worthy of respecting your truth," Hokemeyer advises.
 
2. Be honest and observant about how they react. No one's accusing your partner of lying if he or she responds, "Cool, cool. Whatever. No worries!" But "words can be empty and belie the truth," Hokemeyer says. Focus on the physical reaction that unfolds when you share your news.
 
If what your partner does contradicts his or her words, "then take 48 hours to process their reaction before making any decisions about moving forward with the relationship," says Hokemeyer.
 
3. Don't apologize. Whether you have depression or social anxiety or bipolar -- it's not your "fault." It's just you.
 
"The existence of mental heath issues are the result of conditions out of your control," says Hokemeyer. "You don't need to apologize or feel inferior for having them."
 
4. There is a right way and a wrong way to respond. If your SO belittles you, either to your face or indirectly, "move on," urges Hokemeyer. "Shaming is unacceptable. People who live with mental health conditions are the strongest, most courageous people I have the privilege of knowing. Own the truth of your strength and demand others honor it as well."
 
5. Focus on being happy and healthy. "Don't get stuck in the weeds of the past," notes Hokemeyer. "If your condition is relevant to how you react in relationships, then it should be shared, but as data for moving forward."
 
Your recovery is THE most important thing in your life, he adds. "Make sure you set up your relationship to enhance it."
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