One in five American adults experience mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, substance abuse, and more. These issues can impact every facet of life including, of course, your romantic relationship.
Some worry that their mental health issues will sabotage their relationship. Others believe that things will possibly be better if their partner has a similar issue. Are compatible experiences with mental health really necessary for a successful relationship?
The Benefits of Understanding Your Partner’s Issues First-Hand
On one hand, people with similar issues will understand one another on a deeper level. For instance, if you struggle with social anxiety and so does your partner, then there is no need to constantly explain why you avoid social events. Your partner knows why, and can easily empathize. They will not push you to do things that make you uncomfortable or act empathetically.
Additionally, your partner will understand when you have to take time from the relationship to go to therapy, or to your psychiatrist. They may also be understanding about medication side effects, such as lowered sex drive, particularly if they have suffered from side effects themselves.
The Downsides of Sharing Issues
However, there is a downside to having the same mental health issues as your partner.
First, if both of you struggle with the same issues, then it will be hard for you to push one another outside your comfort zones. In the example above, if you’re someone with social anxiety and your partner has it as well, they are just as anxious about attending social events as you are. Therefore, they are less likely to enthusiastically encourage you to face your fears and go to the event anyway. They are certainly less likely to come along to support you.
Additionally, people with similar mental health issues can end up ruminating together about their issues, and being less likely to do anything proactive to address them. Depressed people, in particular, can develop extremely negative ways of viewing the world, which are then validated by their partner, who shares this negative lens.
You can see how this would end up making both partners feel even more depressed. Often, when both people in a relationship suffer from similar problems, it is easy to feel like everyone in the world feels the same way that they do. There is no window out to the rest of the world, where people may feel and behave very differently. The relationship develops blinders, in a sense, where both partners can’t see outside their own shared worldview.
Each Relationship is Unique
This is not to say that people should outright refuse to date those with similar issues, or should look for partners with different issues, or with no issues (if such people even exist!). Every relationship is unique, and has its strengths and its flaws. Overall, though, it is imperative to be conscious of the ways your and your partner’s issues may interact, and the range of possible outcomes.
If you notice that your boyfriend’s body image issues, for example, are making you feel more negative about your own body, it is important to be able to recognize this effect for what it is, rather than joining him in patterns of disordered eating.
Explore Your Mental Health Options
This type of objectivity is very difficult, and can be accomplished with the help of a therapist. Couples counseling is particularly useful in helping partners gain more insight into how their mental health issues impact one another.
Recognizing the interaction between your issues and those of your partner can put your relationship on a much healthier path, so do not feel ashamed about reaching out for help. It can be the difference between a dysfunctional relationship and a healthy one, which helps both partners feel fulfilled and happy.