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    Dating and Relationship Advice

    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 an 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

    Dear 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? Are you able to sustain relationships with your family and friends? Have you had another girl friend? Were you able to sustain a relationship with her for a long period of time? Why did you break up? Were you anxious about making a commitment? If so, discuss this with a mental health professional.

    Are you able to hold down a job that produces significant revenue? How long have you done that? Have you maintained your job with other stressors in place including a girlfriend and family stress? Do you have a backup plan in case you cannot meet your responsibilities due to debilitating episode? Will you have enough money to provide for your family during a relapse? Do you have supportive family?

    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 complicated. They will see you at your best and at your worst. You will not be able to hide symptoms from her, and she must have an honest understanding and assessment of your state.

    Part of life as a responsible spouse includes the emotional and financial contributions you will make to your family. You must be able to meet the financial commitments, including rent/mortgage and utilities and of course tuition. If you cannot hold down a job due to the stress of having a job, or with the added family 0pressures of having a wife and children, 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