Relationships are complex, and require a great amount of effort between two people, one or both of which may be working through mental health challenges. We recently asked Talkspace Instagram followers to share their burning questions about relationships, specifically in a mental health context.
Talkspace’s relationship expert, clinical psychologist Iris Reitzes, PhD, kindly lent her expertise to help answer your important questions.
Should you bring up your mental health journey at the beginning of a relationship?
During the the first few meetings or dates with someone, our tendency is to size each other up in a shallow, almost stereotyped way. We tend to categorize people according to what we know is good or bad, both for us and in a societal sense. For example, are they tall, fit, educated, religious, or wealthy? This helps us feel secure initially that we’re moving in the right direction by letting this person in our lives. To this point, I would recommend withholding intimate information and details about ourselves, like our mental health journey, until we’ve spent more time with them.
There are two main reasons for this:
One, it’s relatively private information, and we need to trust that the person we share this info with is someone who will treat it with respect and delicacy.
Two, if we want to give the relationship a chance, we need to give the other person a chance to know us in a natural context. They need to get a truer sense of us as people by knowing the little things that make us special to them, like the way we laugh, or how smart or loving we are.
Our mental health history is a single piece in the complex puzzle that is our life. The more a potential partner gets to know us, the better they can appreciate our journey and its influence on who we are. This also makes their decision less about a single issue if they choose to stay in the relationship after you’ve had more these intense personal discussions.
However, before we make a commitment forever, it’s important not to hide critical information about ourselves like our mental health challenges. You don’t want to be marked as someone who is deceptive, and you don’t want to live with hiding heavy secrets from your life partner.
Is it normal to become more anxious when I start a relationship? I feel like I become too “clingy” or insecure.
Yes, it is normal to be anxious at the beginning of the relationship. It’s even recommended to a certain extent since you should be focused and aware on how you present yourself.
However, this is very different from exposing that you are clingy or insecure. If you let your insecurity show, your chances of turning this relationship into something long term will decline automatically. Almost everyone is looking for someone who is independent enough to choose their partner by choice, not because of neediness.
Work to convince yourself through meditation, positive self-talk, or through therapy that you are worthwhile, and that the person you will date will gain a great deal by being with you. Also, convince yourself that if it doesn’t work out you’re still a catch, and that this person probably wasn’t right for you.
Why is it so hard to let a relationship go, knowing your partner let it go a long time ago?
The less we believe in ourselves, the more unable we are to let go of past relationships. In this scenario, we’ve convinced ourselves that this person is our salvation, or that she or he is the only person that we can enjoy our life with or love. The fear of being left with just ourselves is proof of how we sometimes over value another person’s presence in our lives. We might think that we’ll never be able to love anyone again in the same, intense way.
In reality we are clinging to a person who doesn’t want us as their partner, and this actually does a lot of harm to our self-image. If we continue to think this way, rest assured that things will only get worse. They will have less patience for us over time, and we will connect their worst thoughts about who we are to our self-worth.
Sometimes we need to treat behavior like this in the same way we treat someone who is addicted to substance or other analogs. In order to be weaned from an addiction you need to take steps that are extreme and total, like distancing and detaching yourself from this person physically (i.e. not working or living in the same area, not talking, writing, or texting them). Try this until you find it easier to live without their presence in your life, and without being offended by knowing someone doesn’t want you in the same way anymore.
What are the best ways to avoid a “funk” after a dating rejection? I want to stop obsessing over it!
Obsession stems from anxiety. This anxiety is a result of fear that you will never find someone who is worthwhile, and that you are not worth anything.
It’s fine to be sad after a relationship (no matter the duration) has ended. Let’s not be afraid of sadness. Although it isn’t pleasant, it’s sometimes an important step in order to arrive at your next relationship. And some sadness helps you find closure from the last relationship.
If you obsess over rejection, you’re likely on a road to nowhere. Relationships can drain your energy, especially when the other person is not excited about what you have to offer. This is the time when you, and others in your support circle, need to remind you how wonderful you are. This helps you return you to your independent self, as long as the support remains somewhat objective.
Again, short-term therapy can help remind you of all the positive things you bring to others’ lives and also direct you to look for people who are a better fit in your life.
Why do some choose to cut people out of their lives, rather than fix relationship problems?
The short answer is because it’s so much easier. The fallacy is that if the current relationship doesn’t work out, the next one is just around the corner, and it can be so much better.
Yes, the next one is likely around the corner. But if we don’t learn how to fight for the one that we are in, then history will repeat itself.
Staying in a complicated relationship demands that we will look in the mirror of the other person’s eyes, see our unflattering sides, and deal with our shortcomings. It demands that we deal with behaviors we don’t want to change, which can seem disturbing and insurmountable.
Changing ourselves in order to accommodate another person is not convenient, yet it can be an opportunity for growth. We can simply ask ourselves if we are givers or takers in this relationship. If we take more than we give, it might be a positive growth experience to compel ourselves to make necessary changes.
We Hope This Helps Your Grow in Your Relationships!
Thanks again to our Instagram followers for their excellent questions about relationships and mental health. It’s important to note that our individual challenges are unique, but we’re not alone in our experiences when it comes to these tough topics.
If you feel you could benefit from extra support in your relationship, as an individual or a couple, Talkspace therapists are available to guide you through these challenges.