Dear Rabbi and Shira,
Thank you for your column! I read it with my family every week and we enjoy discussing it! I am in a relationship with a wonderful young lady, and things are progressing well. I suffer from anxiety disorder and am not sure at what point I should get engaged. In light of my condition, when is it responsible to start a life and family?
Scared to start
It’s responsible of you to consider these things, and brave to talk about these things in the open! The more awareness that we have surrounding mental health and it its intersection with life and relationships, the more we can decrease the stigmas surrounding mental health, as well as create healthy relationships all around. People who have mental illnesses can have long-term strong, mutually supportive and healthy relationships!
Everyone’s specific situation is different and we highly recommend you discuss these questions with a mental health professional.
Here are some points to consider.
Do you have episodes which incapacitate you? How long do they last?
While showing up to a date is an achievement, it is a small slice of your life. Your life with your spouse and your disorder is going to be more intensive. They will see you at your best and at your worst. You will not be able to hide symptoms from them, and you must have an honest understanding and assessment of your state.
Are you able to hold down a job that produces significant revenue? How long have you done that? Can have you maintained it with other stressors in place including a girlfriend and family stress? Do you have a plan as a backup in case of a debilitating episode?
Part of life as a responsible spouse includes the emotional and financial contributions you will make to the family. You must be able to meet the financial commitments, including rent/mortgage and utilities and of course tution. If you cannot hold down a job due to the stressors involved, or with the added family pressures, you should discuss what skills or interventions you must make to enable yourself to do so.
Have you discussed your mental health condition with the young lady you are dating? At what point do you plan to?
It is important to consider the ill will which concealing this from your future spouse will engender. This of course does not mean you should blurt it out on the first date, but after getting to know each other well, should be a topic of conversation, like all other matters of import as the dating becomes more serious.
As with any disclosure people will respond differently. Some people won’t consider your mental health condition an issue. Everyone has struggles and that a long-term relationship means supporting each other through difficulties
Other people may not be able to handle their concerns, leading them to end the relationship. Lastly, a large proportion of people will respond to a partner’s mental illness with uncertainty or curiosity. As they learn more about the facts and your treatment plan, they’ll grow more comfortable and learn how to support you. A relationship can grow stronger through this process.
Rabbi Reuven and Shira Boshnack