For a very long time I thought I wouldn't ever be able to be part of a healthy romantic relationship. It's often seen a huge trigger for those of us with an emotional vulnerability, and it very often can be. But I soon learnt that having a mental illness does not have to be a reason to avoid being in a relationship. A mental illness may cause more stress and require more work, but having a successful relationship is not impossible. There are few things I had to really work on so my current relationship (of over a year!) could work.
Before I could be in a relationship and worry about another person, I had to prioritize my own health. My current boyfriend actually asked me out a year before we officially started dating, but I was still in DBT and quite unwell. So I decided to wait until I was finished formal therapy and had learnt the DBT skills to help me manage my emotions before I agreed to be in a relationship with him. Luckily he was still around when I finally was in the right place. I'm only going to mention a few DBT skills here to demonstrate how I manage my emotions in relation to how we make things work in our relationship, but there are lots and lots more!
Number 1. PLEASE
Staying on top of any medication I've been prescribed and taking care of my physical health -- exercising, eating well and avoiding alcohol or drugs, is the best thing I can do to regulate my emotions; and therefore the best thing I can do for our relationship. Avoiding alcohol has been a great way of staying present in stressful situations like nights out or large gatherings, where I have had emotional outbursts in the past due to feeling out of control, leading to arguments and behaviours I am not proud of.
Sleep is a difficult one as it can be difficult to get quality sleep for me at the best of times and when he stays over it's even more challenging. I only have a small bed so we inevitably end up elbowing each other in face! If we were to move in with each other, a big bed would be a must!
Number 2. NON JUDGEMENTALLY
Staying non judgemental is *sooooo* important to keeping our relationship healthy. Being non judgemental helps to get my point across in an effective manner without adding a judgement that my partner might disagree with. When I practice this skill, I can look at the weaknesses of others with compassion, not accusation which allows me to respond to them effectively and not lash out in an emotional way.
Believe me, there are plenty of times I am still judgemental. It's a constant effort. We all live with preconceived notions of what's right and wrong, and the minute someone or something doesn't fit our bill of perfection we become judgemental and that affects the way we say things and the things we do.
I practice non-judgementally by OBSERVING my thought patterns. Like all of DBT, this skill requires a few others to make it really work. This might seem hard to do at first, but once you get used to catching your thoughts in ‘judgemental mode’ you can then start to stop them.
I try to develop an understanding of my partner by thinking about why he acts, talks, dresses or just is a certain way. I put myself in his shoes and wonder why his behaviour has emerged. If I want further understanding, I strike a polite (I emphasize polite) conversation using the skills GIVE or DEARMAN.
Once an understanding has been created in my mind of my partners action, acceptance of him just as he is becomes easier. I can accept that this is the way he will react, cause its the way he is made up. There will most certainly always be things we don't agree with, but that doesn't mean I cant accept his presence in the world. When you accept, frustration that leads to judgement takes an automatic back-seat.
On a final note, relationships are hard! They are difficult whether you have an emotional vulnerability or not and require lots of hard work to make them last, and there are so many more things that we need to work on in our relationship, but I have to say that, it's so worth it and really contributes to my life worth living!