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Mental Illness and Dating

Mental Illness and Dating

It’s not easy telling someone you have a mental illness, but your greatest fears may be your ultimate strength.

by

Esti* had been dating someone for several weeks and felt that before continuing, she must let the guy in on her secret. She had to tell him that she suffers from a mental illness.

Esti had been diagnosed with anxiety many years ago, but few people knew about it. She regularly engages in psychotherapy and takes daily prescribed medication. She is successful socially, educationally and occupationally, but she is constantly battling her illness, trying to prevent it from flaring up. And she conquers her illness with much perseverance.

Now she stood at a bridge and called me for advice. I heard her get choked up as she said, “I really like him and I’m afraid he won’t want to continue anymore once I tell him. How do I deal with this stress? This is such a huge part of who I am.”  

Suddenly, a light bulb went off in my head. “You know, God gives us lots of struggles and I am genuinely inspired by the way you handle yours with such grace. Yes, you have very difficult days and sometimes weeks. But you put your effort in and persevere. You’re aware of the warning signs and what exacerbates it, and you get the help you need before it is too late. You’ve learned to live with your illness and the challenges it brings.

Revealing a part of you that you try to keep hidden from everyone is daunting, even terrifying. But it must be done.

“These experiences have enabled you to help yourself and others in ways nobody else can. It would be much more worrisome for someone to get married when they don’t know how to manage their illness. Your adversity will be an asset to the marriage, not a hindrance. All marriages face struggles and you already have more insight than the typical girl who is dating. Tell it to him like it is and explain how you overcome the obstacles.”

I could sense Esti’s despondency starting to lift. She begged me to call her boyfriend and share my insight with him. I assured her that it was a message that only she could deliver. The rest was in God’s hands. Esti thanked me and I prayed for the best.

Disclosing your Illness

Mental illness can add a significant amount of additional stress to the dating process. The thought of revealing a part of you that you try to keep hidden from everyone is daunting, even terrifying. 

But as frightful as this task is, it must be done. There is no way around it. Marriage is a lifelong commitment with your other half, built on love and accepting someone’s strengths and weaknesses. It is important that your future spouse knows you and your imperfections before getting married. It is unethical to conceal something this crucial.

Hopefully, the person who discovers that the person he cares about suffers from mental illness will see this issue in the greater context of his partner’s life. It may be a good idea for him to speak with his partner’s therapist or mentors who have seen her thrive when the illness is creeping up on her and work together to create strategies to cope with stressors that otherwise may strain the relationship. It is important for him to learn to see life through his partner’s eyes and gain a better understanding of where he stands. This way when the going gets tough, they will be able to work together to overcome their challenges.

I told Esti that many people have been in her place and that she should take a deep breath, recognize her strengths and love who she is. “If he says no, hold your head up high and keep walking. Know that one day someone will see how special you are and not marry you in spite of your illness, but because of the valuable tools and insight it has ingrained in you.”

Esti had that difficult conversation with her boyfriend and he took some time to think about what she had divulged. Ultimately, after many conversations, he realized how special Esti is and was undaunted by the challenges her illness might bring their way. They got married and are living happily with mutual support and honest conversations.

For mental illness support or more information on de-stigmatizing mental illness in the Jewish community please visit RefuatHanefesh.com

*Names and details have been changed to protect the identity of the people involved.

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Visitor Comments: 11

(6) Annie, March 10, 2017 2:07 AM

IT'S ALL CREATED BY H'' - SO LEARN TO GET USED TO IT...

Oh good grief! 'she' took so long to tell? Good for her, and good riddance! was from H" - who is he to set the timeline? he too is obviously imperfect. This would have broken off sooner or later with that attitude; too bad he doesn't have a kinder soul; lately the rabbis told of the story of the girl who didn't want to marry the guy with the hump on his back, he said in shamayim he asked that he should have the hump instead of her; they married! the biggest handicap is simply living in denial. Anxiety!? oh please ! that's it?! no problem, this girl & partner will be Just Fine! Aspergers? breast cancer? scoliosis of the spine? to name a few, Very common especially in the ashkenaz...so many brilliant achievers have Aspergers! why not just learn SKILLS HOW TO COPE because none of these issues are going away; they are here to stay and are multiplying ... we MUST LEARN TO WELCOME THESE ISSUES AND LEARN HOW TO LIVE TOGETHER, this is 'how' we grow in Life. Otherwise almost no one will be left making shidduchim. And incest-like marriages are worse (even if rabbi approved) & showing it's fractured signs in the community!
The biggest handicap OR solution is in one's own mind:
Shmot 21.19 vrapoh yirapeh; sh'mot 15.26 ki ani H" rofecha.
Emunah/Bitachon; Believe in yourself, and Believe in others. We all have the very same AUTHOR Who made us this way!!! Learn how to heal yourself from whatever ails you: depression, cancers, pains, hepatitis, etc., it's done all the time.
As mothers we must "get over our woes" to be THE biggest and best 'cheerleaders' to our families & community. That's it. We too have our own issues. The only ones who don't ... are 6' under.

(5) Anonymous, January 29, 2017 10:14 PM

I do and I don't agree

As my son is going into the "parsha" now I have something to say on the subject. I do agree that it takes a lot of guts to tell her young man about her illness. And equally it took a lot of guts for him to see beyond that. Having said this, you mentioned that she is taking medication to help her control her anxiety issues. Marrying someone who takes these types of meds have to be very careful. Many of these meds can cause birth defects of many kinds, be they forms of autism or other view-able handicaps. My heart goes out to anyone dealing with these issues, but as for me, I would not want my son to marry someone who is taking these types of meds without talking to doctors and da'as Torah. I would always be worried. Anyone, male or female, taking these types of drugs or any other types must tell the person after their third date. A friend of my son's was on his EIGHTH date when the girl informed him that she was suffering from a certain ailment. He was ready to pop the question that weekend. Needless to say, it didn't work out...not because of whatever the ailment was, but because she took so long to tell him. Doctors and da'as Torah spoke with him and the families involved, but the young man felt his bubble burst and he just felt he couldn't trust her anymore. I wish shadchanim would stop lying about their boys and girls. I wish everyone in the parsha much hatzlacha and may each one find the right zivig.

Anonymous, January 31, 2017 8:03 AM

To commenter #5 Anonymous

Please do NOT refer to "kinds of autism" as a birth defect! Nobody knows what exactly what causes it and we do not know what the cure is yet. I am a very close relative of two wonderful children on the autism spectrum. It is NOT a mental illness and not a communicable disease. If you really want to learn about autism, read a scholarly work. Don't rely on some celebrity piece of garbage. Would you and your son feel the same way if a young woman needed to take medication for asthma for a cardiac problem?

Anonymous, February 1, 2017 12:51 PM

Empathy

Empathy is not your biggest strength, uh?

Anonny, February 10, 2017 2:13 PM

Do you have a source that anti-anxiety medication causes autism...? That sounds like scaremongering. I've read about some prescription drugs causing breathing problems or premature births, but never anything causing autism.

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