Happy November, peeps. Over the last few months, we’ve focused monthly themes. We’ve talked about getting your personal shit together... the stuff that makes you a better dating prospect and a better partner. We’ve talked about communication, and how easily relationships can go awry if communication channels aren’t working properly. Now, I want to devote November and December to a new topic:
Mental health and relationships.
One thing I’ve noticed with dating and relationship advice is that the advice-givers tend to tackle a problem as is (i.e. without context). The guy you’re dating is really moody? He’s got issues. The woman you love gets stressed out about every tiny thing? She’s got issues. What they might not see is that moody guy probably suffers from depression and that stressed-out woman may have anxiety issues. When you begin to look at relationships in the context of mental health, your entire approach changes. And trying to solve relationship problems that involve mental health won’t work without addressing the mental health issue itself.
Mental health problems and mental illness are very common. The reasons for this are too complicated and too many to go into here, but suffice it to say if you deal with this sort of thing or have a partner who does, you are FAR from alone. Mental health issues also have a profound impact on your dating life and your relationships. In fact, when you look at families that have long histories of divorce, abuse, addictions, or other problems, you can bet there’s a whole shit load of psychopathology and mental illness in those families. And when you come from that sort of background, you’re more likely to have some of this psychopathology yourself and/or have grown used to it, which means you’re more likely to pick partners who remind you of what you grew up with. If left untreated, as many are, the issues then get transmitted to the kids, and on and on it goes through the generations.
So what defines a “mental health issue?”
Put simply, it’s when someone has either a diagnosable mental health disorder or shows several signs of having that disorder even if they don’t meet criteria. The latter is more common, and often goes undetected because the problems aren’t severe enough to land that person in a psychiatrist’s office. But even milder forms of mental disorder can cause problems in your love life.
Does this mean psychopathology and mental disorders are bad or that people who have them are bad partners? In the vast majority of cases, not at all. Everyone has their issues and flaws. The key to healthy dating and relationships is being AWARE of issues, including mental health issues, and taking steps to deal with or treat them.
So, while there are many psychological/mental disorders defined in the DSM, we’ll focus mostly on four main categories:
- Anxiety and social anxiety
- Mood disorders (depression and bipolar disorder)
Why these? They’re the most common, for one thing. They’re also problems that are easy to miss and/or can sneak up on a relationship and chip away at it before you realize what happened. And they affect dating and relationships in very different ways. For example, anxiety problems are a huge issue in dating because dating is so anxiety-provoking, whereas narcissism often doesn’t usually rear its ugly head until you’re entrenched in a relationship.
That’s it for now. We’ll talk about each of these, one at a time, and see where it goes.