[Advice] Dating & Disorders

I’ve started answering questions…with questions. If you have a problem that might benefit from other angles of consideration, send it to donovanable [at] gmail [dot] com. 

So I very recently left a longterm relationship with a girl with a history of eating disorder and some other badbrains issues. I am cautiously confident this was the right decision but I still wonder if things could have been different.

With specific respect to histories of EDs but also other badbrains, what questions are useful to ask yourself to maintain good boundaries, balance give and take of emotional energy, and otherwise have a healthy relationship?

Congratulations and condolences (simultaneously!) on your first paragraph.

I think a lot of the stuff here is about values, things you like but don’t have to have consistently, and things you’re willing to not have. Of course, the complicated thing about values is not the having them, but the figuring out which ones you have, and in what order.

…though having reasons is often comforting. 


When you think about the things you enjoy doing, what types of experiences are important to you? What activities that others like that you find annoying/unpleasant/stressful?


When you look back on the kinds of experiences that have made you feel connected to others, were there any uniting characteristics?
Love languages might be one way to think about that, though things like “doing [activity type] together” or “spontaneity” or “vulnerability” work too.

How much can you accept someone being actively mentally ill around you? In what ways? What things will be too distressing, which will be distressing but bearable?
I ask this because it’s hard. These can be your hard limits, the things you won’t be comfortable with, and that is okay. Some examples of things you could consider when thinking about this:

-Seeing your partner self-harm (or restrict, or binge).
-Noticing that your partner is responding to internal stimuli (aka, psych-speak for experiencing hallucinations or delusions)
-Seeing obsessive or compulsive behaviors. Not once or twice, but over and over and over and over.
-Having the same conversation over and over about something that seems unimportant or silly.
-A partner who feels suicidal when you two disagree.
-A partner who declines to share their experience of mental illness with you.
-Any of the above occurring in public, unpredictably, or in ways that are considered socially inconvenient.

I note that even the most mentally healthy might do these, and of course, we don’t date our partners with a promise of Never Ever Experiencing Mental Illness, Ever.

In what ways do you like to be cared for?
Conversations about dating and mental illness are often centered around the Healthy Partner(TM) caring for the Sick Partner(TM). Lovely, but it can lead to one partner always in the mode of thinking about how they can help, and not advocating for themselves when they’re struggling. This pattern also makes it hard when someone is trapped being the Sick One—they might not know where to begin. Knowing what you like is a first step to communicating it.

What feelings or thoughts or behaviors make you notice that you’re overwhelmed or burned out? 
You asked about balancing the give and take of relationships. What things are warning signs that you might have over-extended yourself?

Good luck, LW. I wish you relationships of mutual learning and support and happiness.


Stuff I read when thinking about this:
On Supporting Borderlines
In a Relationship and It’s Complicated: Eating Disorders in Intimate Relationships
The Art of Comforting
Image credit: Emm Roy at Positive Doodles

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