When you think of being in a relationship, most of us would think of happiness, being in love, lovely , positive thoughts. We mostly think this even if this is not the case for us. Unfortunately it is not always so wonderful, and in particular, not always good for our mental health. The question is does mental health affect your relationship, or does your relationship affect your mental health?
Firstly its important to look at what a relationship is and how it is formed.
Relationships come in all shapes and sizes and are the connections we form with others, whether chosen for us such as family or even work colleagues or people we choose ourselves, romantic or friendships etc. Either way, the way In which we interact and maintain these relationships, may affect our mental health.
When we look at our childhood, it’s important to look at the relationships we had which may have lead to the type of relationships we have now. You can also look at previous friendships and relationships in the same way, any patterns in social behaviours, emotional and behavioural patterns which may affect how we form future relationships. This can be positive if you have had a stable and honest relationship, whereas can lead to future unhealthy relationships if you have previous painful or damaging connections.
So how does mental health affect relationships?
When you feel low already its really hard to maintain relationships. Whether this means family, friendships or romantic relationships, it can have a toll on those connections with other people. You want to isolate yourself, so you may go out less, this may meant that you cancel plans with others. The thought of going out may just be too much, maybe it’s the worry of seeing people you know, maybe it’s the worry of seeing people you don’t know, social anxiety can creep in and makes that seems impossible. You may find it more difficult to reach out to others through fear of judgment or lack of understanding, or perhaps you just think that they wont want to be friends with you if they know how you feel, so you distance yourself, you stop replying, you don’t answer calls. This could also just because you don’t feel able to. Sometimes the words just aren’t there. You may pick up your phone and type the reply, then retype it , and think about it again and again until you just don’t feel able to so you just delete it and turn your phone off. Your phone is ringing, but the words just aren’t there, sometimes you reject it and type a text because its easier, sometimes you just stare at the phone and wait for it to stop ringing. I would sit next to someone, be screaming inside because I needed to talk about how I felt, what was going on in my head, and whereas everything was going round in my head and felt overwhelming and loud, it was silence on the outside . However it affects you, it may also be affecting your relationship with that person.
How do relationships affect mental health?
Having a supportive network around you can be very important in dealing with a mental illness, and it is said that it is the quality of the relationships is more important rather than than how many friends and family you have. With people you know, you expect a level of understanding and support, but that’s not always the case. With mental illness, you tend to take your feelings out on the people closest to you, so those thoughts and actions are intensified. If people value you, support you , listen and care for you then it may be very good for your mental health, however on the other hand, if you have a relationship which makes you feel unworthy, paranoid or that worsens the symptoms of mental illness, then this can be detrimental to your mental health.
And then you have romantic relationships. More and more people are turning towards dating apps to meet people, and for people with social anxiety, although still a terrifying thought, it seems a much better option than going out to be face to face with people you don’t know. On the dating apps, firstly you have the opportunity to speak with people you probably never would have met in ‘the real world’ and it gives you a chance to get to know someone before you meet them, to take some of the anxiety away.
Lets look at the relationship between dating and mental health.
To start with, people with mental illnesses worry about the stigma attached to mental health which makes it harder to reach out to meet other people, in any type of relationship, but in terms of dating, when you want and expect for this new person to get to know all of you, when is the best time to tell them about your mental illness? Do you tell them straight away, wait until it becomes more serious, or do they even have to be told at all? Part of you doesn’t want to be judged so maybe you want to keep it to yourself, but then if you want to form an honest and serious connection, why should you have to keep part of you back!?
Some people say that they would rather have it out in the open straight away, lay all the cards on the table and if they don’t want to even try and get through it, then they aren’t worth your time. This will obviously stop them getting to know the other parts of your life, and miss out on the chance to form something that could be great! Because of that, others choose to get to know someone first, to create a connection and a safe space before bringing up what is very personal to them, in hope that once that person cares for you, that they would have more of an open mind.
My question is, if I have a mental illness , then that is me, why should I be open and tell people my deepest fears on day one, you wouldn’t expect that from someone else, but why should I feel I have to hide parts of me that make me who I am?! If I’m not good enough, and that’s in ANY relationship, then off you go!
Relationships can be both good and bad on your mental health, but it is widely seen that being alone, however scary and upsetting that may seem, is better than being in a toxic or damaging relationship. No matter what your connection with the other person is, how long you’ve known them, how well they know you, the experiences they have been there for, if they are bad for your mental health then maybe you are better off out of that relationship.