The complicated nature of mental illness adds a layer of complexity onto the already daunting task of dating. Dating someone with anxiety introduces some additional challenges that need to be navigated for it to have a chance to develop into something more.
It must be noted that every person is unique, with their own experiences and perspectives. Mental illness adds onto that. Each person will have a different perspective on their mental health, what they need to do to manage it, and what they need to avoid to keep things calm and peaceful. Keep that in mind when reading articles about anxiety.
What are some good things to do, and not do, when dating someone who lives with anxiety?
1. DO Ask Questions And Develop An Understanding
Mental illness is an intensely personal experience. Reading articles to gain general knowledge is helpful, but it can’t offer the answers that an individual should be giving for themselves. So, an open discussion and questions will help smooth out the experience for both parties. The best time to ask questions is when the person is in a neutral, calm mental space. Good questions to ask include…
What can I do to help you if your anxiety is acting up? What can I do to make the process of getting to know you easier on you? Is there anything I should be aware of that will help or harm you? Is there anything that you think I should know?
2. DO Be Patient And Learn When To Take A Step Back
Patience is an important quality because there will be times where waiting is the only option. Anxiety can sometimes be derailed with different techniques, and sometimes not. Sometimes all we can do is wait for a bout of anxiety to pass.
People often have this need to do something to try to fix a problem that they see. Understand that anxiety cannot be cured. It can only be managed through a variety of techniques or with the help of medication.
Don’t be surprised if a person with anxiety asks questions multiple times or needs reassurance. Anxiety can cause a person to dwell on worst case scenarios, even when things are going well.
3. DO Be Prompt And Communicate Clearly
In a society where ghosting, dragging things out, and avoidance of anything difficult is becoming more prevalent, a simple bit of promptness can really help a person with anxiety stay grounded. That is not to say that anyone should stay married to their smartphone or be at the beck and call of a new partner. There is a balance to strike to avoid crossing the line into overbearing or controlling behavior.
It’s just that simple things like returning a call or text message, pre-planning and confirming an activity, or a message if running late can make a big difference by demonstrating consideration. Removing unknowns and variables with the potential to go wrong will let a person with anxiety relax more.
4. DO Practice Maintaining Calm In Testing Situations
Anxiety disorders can produce a lot of different feelings, including anger or hostility that doesn’t necessarily make sense in the context of a situation. Throwing anger back at a person who is working their way through an anxiety attack only makes things worse. It can be difficult to meet anger or hostility with a calm demeanor. The reaction that most people will have is to get angry back if they feel attacked. Avoid anger as much as possible.
This comes with a caveat. Abuse is not something that should be glossed over or tolerated. There is no reason to be anyone’s emotional punching bag. If you are not sure of the situation or relationship you’ve found yourself in, the best thing you can do is visit a counselor and get a neutral, third-party opinion.
That being said, no one is perfect. There are going to be some rough times to navigate. That’s just the way it is in a relationship with someone with a mental illness.
1. DON’T Assume Every Negative Emotion Stems From Anxiety
Not every negative emotion stems from a person’s anxiety. It is really common for people who do not have a mental illness to assume that every negative emotion in a mentally ill person stems from difficulty with their mental illness. That’s not true.
People with anxiety are still people. Sometimes there are negative emotions, actions, or experiences that can result from poor decisions, bad days, or general frustration. Assuming that mental illness is always at the root of legitimate emotions is a surefire way to build resentment and shut down communication.
2. DON’T Take Things Personally
Compartmentalization is a solid skill to hone when dating someone with anxiety or other mental illness. People tend to think mental wellness and control are neat, orderly things. They’re not. Sometimes things spiral out of control. Sometimes techniques learned in therapy do not work. Sometimes medication runs out, or it’s time for a change in dosage. There are numerous reasons why things can go bad.
Thus, the ability to not take things personally is an important skill to have in case there are harsh words or questionable actions. The obvious question is: “Where do you draw the line?” The line is drawn wherever you choose to draw it. Some people have the ability to shrug things off with ease; others don’t. There’s no wrong answer to that question because everyone is different.
3. DON’T Try To Fix The Other Person
Far too many people think that their love or compassion will overcome and fix a partner’s mental illness, anxiety or otherwise. This is amazingly far from the truth. Only an individual can fix themselves. There is no greater, more important truth in trying to extend understanding and love to a person with mental illness. They are the one that needs to learn about their mental illness, learn how to manage it, and actually implement what they learn to push towards stability and control.
No one else can do it. The best you can do is offer encouragement and support their efforts.
4. DON’T Pity Or Look Down On The Other Person
Compassion is an important facet of the human experience. Sympathy for another person’s plight or challenges in life can demonstrate warmth and facilitate healing. Pity, however, is a troublesome thing. Pity leads to enabling, and robbing an individual of ownership of their problems. You can certainly feel bad for someone who is facing a challenge, whether you’re dating someone with anxiety who is having a hard time, or some other complicated matter.
But there certainly needs to be limits and boundaries. The funny thing about it is that people who are serious about controlling their mental illness or recovering from their issues don’t typically want pity. What they usually want is support or understanding, because there are plenty of people who do not want to understand, who disappear when there is the slightest bit of difficulty.
How can you tell the difference? Look at effort. Are they trying? Do they keep their doctor or therapy appointments? Do they take their medication, if any? Do they try to communicate when they are able? Do they try to help you understand? Do they take responsibility for their missteps or damage that they inflict?
It is absolutely worth standing beside someone who is making an effort. But if they’re not? Well, then they have more road to travel on their own personal journey. And you have to carefully weigh whether or not you want to introduce the difficulty of a person with an unmanaged mental illness into your life.