Alice Proctor, First Year History
Euan Merrilees, First Year Philosophy
With Valentine's Day approaching, Alice and Euan talk about how to look after one another in a relationship as well as maintaining a balance and making sure you look after yourself.
We are now approaching Valentine’s Day, which you are undoubtedly aware of, because it is unavoidable! If you go window-shopping in Cabot Circus you will be confronted with Valentines cards and naff gifts, declaring things like ‘You’ve stolen my heart’ or ‘I will always love you’, and walking along the Clifton Triangle you will see that the local clubs are all hosting Valentine’s-themed events, complete with ‘romantic’ music and giveaways.
For those who are in relationships, this may be cute or exciting, and an excuse to show your partner how much they mean to you. However, for those people who are spending Valentine’s Day alone, this can make feelings of loneliness so much worse, particularly if you experience mental health issues already.
The solution seems simple; get into a relationship and you will no longer have to be alone. However, in reality this does not solve all of your problems. In fact, getting into a relationship expecting it to solve everything could actually make things worse. Not being aware of why you feel the way you do may result in a breakdown of communication, lack of understanding, and an underlying feeling of dishonesty. If you do not understand how or why you feel a certain way, your partner will certainly not be able to.
Getting into a relationship and expecting it to solve everything could actually make things worse.
So, how do you approach a romantic relationship with a history of mental health issues without letting them weigh you - or your partner - down?
One answer is to tackle your own mental health illnesses before doing so. This seems reasonable, but in many cases mental health issues are chronic, so they will never be completely ‘gone’. Even if they were, no one is perfect and once you have sorted one issue, you may find yourself going down a slippery slope of trying to improve yourself in other ways, eventually driving yourself into a corner of ‘I’m not good enough for a relationship’. Trying to ‘fix’ yourself completely before you are able to feel ready, or good enough, to be in a relationship is in some ways just as dangerous as getting into a relationship purely because you believe it will immediately solve everything. So, if you want to be in a relationship, waiting for these problems to be entirely fixed is not an option, but neither is getting into a relationship because you think it will automatically solve everything. This means that you need to find a middle ground between these two extremes.
This ‘middle ground’ is being able to accept and acknowledge your own issues, whether you are in a relationship or not. If you are single, being kind to yourself, and being able to understand yourself are integral to feeling content and happy. When you are in a relationship, this extends to the other person; a healthy relationship is one where you really feel like you trust - and can understand - each other. The first step towards someone else understanding you is to first be able to understand yourself.
In our experience, there are some general rules that would be good for both parties in the relationship to follow. As clinical and robotic as having ‘rules’ may sound, they can be very grounding and help to ensure that both you and your partner feel safe and understood within the relationship. A relationship is, after all, a two-way street and having ‘rules’ like these will help both of you maintain a good balance and a healthy understanding of yourselves, but also each other.
Firstly, always be honest, especially to yourself.
If you want to understand the mental health issues you have and how you are affected by them, you must first be honest with your thoughts and emotions. Do not be ashamed to admit when you are not 100%. Firstly, to yourself, but then also to your partner. Often in relationships, we find ourselves expecting our partner to automatically know and understand exactly how we feel, which of course is not possible; as perceptive as your partner may be, no one is telepathic. That is why honesty and the ability to be vulnerable with your partner are so important. Trust and understanding, at a high level, is not possible without honesty.
Secondly, always do your best to be sympathetic to your partner. Especially if you are facing some sort of argument or conflict. Many arguments and spats in relationships stem from a lack of understanding and a lack of sympathy, so it is important to try and be sympathetic to your partner, particularly at times when you do not really understand their actions or motives. Ask them how they are feeling and really try to listen to where they are coming from. Trying to be sympathetic is really important in leading to understanding. If you do this for them, they will want to do their best to do the same for you too. Odds are, your partner may have mental health issues of their own, or even if they do not, nobody is perfect and everyone has their own problems and insecurities. Make sure both of you know that you will be there for each other and will always try to be sympathetic and understanding.
Image by / Unsplash Everton Vila
So, what you are really striving for in a relationship is not a fairytale perfection that will instantly make your problems magically disappear. Nor is it something that you work towards and attain only after you’ve completely ‘fixed’ your problems and dealt with your own mental health issues. What you really need is to be able to understand yourself, and come to terms with any issues you may have. This applies if you are single and is important in platonic friendships too. Particularly in a romantic situation, though, genuine understanding is a keystone of a healthy relationship and can really help you with your own mental health issues, as well as allowing you to help your partner with any of theirs.
Featured Image: Unsplash / Laura Ockel
How can you make sure you maintain a healthy relationship? Comment below or get in touch!