If you’ve been following my Instagram this past year, you’ll know that I’ve been on a journey of recovering from codependency. As someone who used to be a serial monogamist, I’ve learned quite a bit about what not to do when dating. Thankfully, through over a year of intensive counselling, I’ve almost completely recovered from codependency. Throughout the past year and a half, I’ve learned how our relationship with ourselves provides the foundation for our relationship with others.
These “mistakes to avoid” can be applicable to those who do or do not have a chronic illness, but I’ve personally seen these unhealthy thinking patterns plague the chronic illness community. So from personal experience, and observation in the chronic illness community, here are some mistakes to avoid when dating:
1. Don’t settle because you think you deserve less (because you’re chronically ill). I'm not recommending that you be nitpicky about superficial qualities, but don't compromise on the qualities that matter. I've seen so many young women in the chronic illness community who are convinced that they'll never find someone because of their chronic illness. With this mindset in mind, imagine once these young women finally do meet someone who's interested in them? They'll be more likely to push past some serious red flags because they're just surprised and excited that someone is interested in them. Please don't push back these red flags because you think this is the best you can do. If you end up in a toxic marriage, that’ll cause you so much more stress than being single, and stress will flare your chronic illness symptoms.
A chronic illness is a flaw in biology, not character. Your chronic illness doesn't take away from your worth, just your abilities.
2. Don’t settle because you’re lonely. Chronic illness can be an isolating journey. Whether it's being bedridden, housebound, not getting out much, or just feeling misunderstood, loneliness creeps in and eats away at our mental health. We must learn how to have meaningful friendships, and a fulfilling relationship with ourselves, so we don't look to one single person to fill this void of loneliness. If we make the mistake of expecting our partner to fill this void, we end up putting unrealistic expectations and pressures on them, and feel lost and isolated without them.
If we fear losing a partner just because we don't want to be alone, then we will be tempted to stay in an unhealthy relationship because we've convinced ourselves its better than the alternative.
3. Don’t settle for someone who doesn’t try to understand your illness. In the chronic illness community, I often hear people talk about their toxic partners who dismiss their symptoms and experiences. People with chronic illness are often tempted to settle for just about anyone who will date them despite their chronic illness. It's as if we think "oh at least they still think I'm likable despite being sick" is enough. There are partners who are unconditionally supportive of their chronically ill spouse, partners who raise fundraisers and spread awareness for the illness that plagues their spouse, and partners who don't think less of their spouse because of their illness.
These types of people exist so don't you dare believe the lie that just because they don't immediately knock the idea of dating you off the table because you're chronically ill that they're supportive.
I’ve been in 2 serious relationships since becoming chronically ill, and these men weren’t great boyfriends by any means, but they didn't once make me feel dismissed or unloved because of my illness.
4. Don't jump into a relationship before you've figured out who you are now that you're chronically ill. When we suddenly become chronically ill, we go through a complex grieving period. We've lost everything that once defined us: our abilities, our job/school, our plans, our dreams for the future, etc.
If we start dating during this vulnerable period, we won't be able to figure out what kind of person we want because we don't even know what kind of person we are.
You don't need to have an unbreakable sense of identity, but you need to have made some progress with the grieving process, have found some level of acceptance with where you currently are, and start to show yourself some grace and love before you can expect someone else to show you the same.
5. Don’t put all of your emotions onto the other person and expect them to make you feel better. Verbally throwing up all your emotions onto that other person all day every day is too much for anyone to handle. Yes, this will sometimes happen, and a loving partner will be gracious and want to help. However, your partner can't be the only one you talk to about the hardships your illness causes.
It's your responsibility to deal with your cognitive distortions, get counselling, and have other people in your life who love and support you.
6. Don’t constantly tell them that you feel like a burden. Yes, be honest about your emotions, and say if this is how you feel. But at the same time,
if you’re constantly telling them this in the hopes that they’ll reassure you that you’re not, then you’re using them to reassure you of your identity.
That’s exhausting for your partner.
7. Don’t project your feelings onto them. If you feel like a burden, talk about that, but don’t assume that they think this way as well (especially if they’ve given you no reason to think this).
This is why having a good relationship with ourselves is so important (and something to actively practice) because we assume other people feel the same way about ourselves that we do.
8. Don’t isolate your relationship from external input and wisdom. When you develop an emotional bond with someone, you'll be tempted to spend as much time with them as humanly possible. You'll have your inside jokes, your constant alone time, and your intimate bond which, combined with your limited energy of not being able to go out and do a lot, will tempt you to spend all of your time with this one person. Make sure that you prioritize having mutual friendships as well as your own friendships to keep you both grounded and your social circle well-rounded.
If you isolate your relationship from outside perspectives (by not hanging out with friends together, or sharing some details of your relationship), then you deprive your relationship of well-intended wisdom and advice from your loved ones.
If one person suggests that your relationship might not be the healthiest, don't ignore this. Take it into consideration and try to have an open discussion without being defensive. If multiple people start to suggest this, it's time to reevaluate your relationship. It doesn't mean that they're right, but it does mean that they might be seeing something that your subjectivity doesn't allow you to accurately see.
9. Don't forget about boundaries. Some of us have to be financially and/or physically dependent on our partners but we must actively try to not become completely emotionally dependent on our partners. If we expect them to fulfill our every need, they will feel pressured and start to withdrawal.
We cannot expect our partner to be our everything if we want a healthy, fulfilling relationship.
10. And finally, don’t think that just because you don’t have a perfect relationship with yourself (who does?) that you’re not ready for a relationship. We’re never going to be a “finished project!” As long as you’re intentionally prioritizing self-awareness and self-acceptance, it’s safe to say that you will instinctively know when you’re ready for a relationship.
You deserve to love and be loved no matter where you’re at in this journey of navigating life with a chronic illness.
What are dating mistakes you’ve learned from, or tips you’d like to share? Leave a comment below!