Is There Such a Thing as a Healthy Relationship when You’re Mentally Ill?

Someone who was once a friend used to tell me that two unhealthy people could not have a healthy relationship.  That honestly ate at me because my mental illness is based, to a large degree, on a genetic mutation.  I was born with it.  I’ll always have it.  It is a part of who I am.  Did that mean I would never be able to have a healthy relationship?

From my earliest memories, I’ve always been surrounded by examples of dysfunctional relationships.  I’ve had many unhealthy and abusive relationships in the past as well.  Until recently, I wasn’t exactly sure even what a healthy relationship even was, let alone even believed I might experience one myself.  When my last relationship crashed and burned after eleven painful years together, I honestly thought that I was done in the relationship department.

That is, until the fateful day that I received the unlikeliest message from one of my older brother’s childhood best friends.  He had been my first crush ever.  He was the sweetest, kindest, albeit a bit nerdy, boy I had ever met.  He was always so nice to me, the bratty kid sister of his best friend, and had always made me feel like it was okay to be myself – something I’ve rarely experienced both back then and all the years since.  We were too young to really have a “thing” back then, though admittedly I did once playfully tie him to the headboard of my bed, declaring that since I caught him, he was now mine.  I was nine or ten, he was a few years older.  It had been a brief moment in time, a pleasant faded memory amidst my rocky childhood.

He found me again, over twenty five years since I had left behind my childhood and the town we had grown up in, on Facebook of all places, listed as a friend of a friend he might know.  My last name had changed, a remnant of a failed marriage, but my face apparently still held enough of the little girl he remembered.  It was honestly the first time I was ever grateful that my chipmunk cheeks had never faded away.

He reached out with a short message, not sure I would even remember him.  My heart skipped a beat when his message appeared.  How could he ever assume I would have possibly forgotten him?  He had been my first crush and had inadvertently influenced my taste in men my entire life.  I was forever a sucker for the sweet, boy next door, nerdy type because of him.

We friended each other and began talking nonstop.  I admittedly went full force Facebook stalkerish, scouring through his pictures and posts, wanting a better feel of who he had become over the years.  His sweet smile and warm eyes that had captured my heart all those years ago were still the same, as was his love for Transformers and rc cars.  He was still very much himself in so many ways, but all grown up.

We made plans to meet up, to sit, talk and catch up more.  I don’t ever remember being so nervous meeting anyone.  When he picked me up at the train station, my heart was pounding so loudly I was sure everyone around us could hear it.  My first thought was that his pictures did not do him justice.  Our hug hello left my stomach all a flutter.

We sat down by the river in the town we had grown up in, talking while we watched the sun set over the water.  It was a city I had avoided for decades for the most part, a place plagued with bad memories of a traumatic childhood.  It was a place he had left behind, as well.  It was where we had once known each other all those years ago and the familiarity brought us back.  I usually dreaded being anywhere that had ties to my past.  Yet for the first time, I felt at peace being back home.  Being there with him gave me a comfort I had never known.

We talked for hours and bonded.  We had both unknowingly walked very similar paths, were both working through very similar issues.  We had both struggled with abuse, mental illness and failed relationships.  He understood me in a way no one else ever had and there was no judgment in his eyes or his words.  As he shared much of what he had been through over the years, I found myself reaching out to take his hand to comfort him and let him know I was there, that I understood.  As we began to kiss, he pulled back and asked “Are we really doing this?”  It was honestly the sweetest thing I had ever heard.

For a couple months, we seemed inseparable, spending every minute we could together, talking and texting in between.  On days he traveled and worked out of town, he’d often rush over when he returned to the area later that night, even if it was just to spend an hour or two walking through the park together, hand in hand, talking.  It didn’t take long for us to begin sharing our feelings.  We were both hesitant at first, afraid the other one would think we were nuts for feeling so much so soon.  But we were both right there, on the same page, just as we were with everything else.  We began to see the possibility of a future together and slowly started easing our children into it all, hoping they could see even a portion of what we saw in each other and how happy we both were.  Everything was coming together beautifully.

We began looking for a place together because living almost an hour apart felt too far.  While filling out an application with a rental agent, she asked him about our relationship status.  Without a second thought, he smiled at me, squeezed my hand and responded “Fiance”.  I did not question it.  Everything felt so perfect when we were together.  As crazy as it sounded, I already could not imagine my life without him at my side.  To know he felt the same way was heavenly.

As is often the case when things seem to be going too perfectly, tragedy hit.  His father had a bad fall.  In a matter of days, he went from bed rest to ICU to hospice.  I watched the man I had fallen in love with crumble into despair.  The loss of his father only a few short years after losing his mother was too much to bear.  The world felt too overwhelming to face.  He had a breakdown and needed to take some time off from work to recover.

From the time his father went into hospice, we had been inseparable.  I understood all too well what he was going through because my father had gone into hospice and passed away less than a decade prior.  Though every moment in the hospital with him was a painful reminder of losing my own father, I could not leave his side.  In the midst of this tragedy, we transitioned into living together because we could not stand to be apart.  I had never felt closer to anyone.  We not only wanted to be with each other, but seemed to need each other, as well.

He was home on a temporary disability for almost four months.  In that time, we honestly did not spend more than a few hours apart at a clip.  You’d assume being constantly together would wear on us after some time, but we seemed to soak it all in, craving all the time together we could get.  There was a peace, a solace, we found in each other’s presence unlike anything either of us had ever felt before.  For the first time ever, we both felt like we could completely be ourselves with someone else and that, no matter what we were feeling, it was okay.

It is a relationship unlike anything I have ever experienced.  We have moved very fast but it all feels very natural.  I never have felt so comfortable or so sure of anything else in my life.  We have been through some very rough times together and it has only brought us closer.  It feels like we have been together forever, like we had been meant for each other all along.  I often find myself looking at him, amazed that this is my life.  As much as I have so many other struggles to face, he has become my safe place, my happy spot, my calm in the storm.

We have yet to have a single fight.  It is not that either of us is being disregarded or is swallowing any slight, or that that we are passive-aggressively lashing out at each other instead of addressing problems.  We are not avoiding issues or pretending our relationship is okay when it’s not.  Our relationship is one of the few truly wonderful things we both have in our life.  We see eye to eye on almost everything and we talk.  We talk a lot.  Neither one of us has a stomach for yelling, screaming or lashing out.  If something is on our mind or bothering us, we bring it up.  We say how we feel calmly without anger or personal attacks.  Whenever we’ve had a misunderstanding or hurt feelings, which has happened very rarely, we have talked it out and have spent more time apologizing to one another for not realizing it was an issue or for hurting each other’s feelings than we have discussing the topic on hand.  We’ve both been hurt so much in the past that the last thing either one of us ever wants to do is hurt each other any more.

I have heard many people say every couple fights.  The internet is full of articles about how healthy and normal it is to argue.  I’ve found myself wondering more than once if what we have is normal or healthy, as well.  Neither of us is holding back feelings or being disregarded or feels unheard.  We have both had our fill of arguments in our pasts where the goal seemed to be trying to lash out and hurt each other instead of resolving issues.  We simply decided we were not going to live like that any longer.  We both prefer to talk.

I have also heard many people say that time apart is healthy.  He’s back to work now so we are no longer together 24/7 like we had been in the beginning of our relationship, but we still very much enjoy our time together.  We are both homebodies.  We both enjoy spending time with our kids and curling up watching movies together.  When we do go out and do things, we enjoy doing them together.  We never feel crowded by each other and enjoy having each other tag along even when out with friends.  We can deal with time apart but honestly enjoy being together more.  Neither of us have that nagging feeling that we just need time away from one another.  We genuinely miss each other when we are apart.

We are very openly affectionate all the time.  If we are feeling love, we say it.  More importantly, we show it.  If one of us is sore, the other is massaging the aches away.  We are forever fetching things and doing things for one another to make each other’s lives easier or to make each other feel cherished and loved.  We are always considerate, always sharing, always mindful of each other.  We are both very touchy feely and revel in the closeness we both have been lacking for far too long.  He makes me feel beautiful and I am always telling him how adorable I find him.  But our love for each other is more than skin deep.  We seem to be forever talking about all we love in each other and how lucky we are to have found one another again.  Perhaps most importantly, we are both very appreciative of everything we both do.  We acknowledge and thank each other for all we do because we both understand that none of it is a requirement or a job but rather is done out of love.

Is all the time we spend together and the fact that we never fight healthy?  Honestly I don’t know.  What I do know, however, is that this is the healthiest and happiest relationship I have ever been in.  For the first time, I feel completely accepted for who I am, loved and cherished for all my quirks.  For the first time, I don’t feel like I’m walking on eggshells, afraid of a blow up if I say or do the wrong thing.  For the first time, I can be as lovey or snuggly as I want without being accused of being clingy or needy.  I can be me.  He feels the same way.  Like everything else, we are on the same page.

I am not sure whether our relationship would be considered healthy or normal by anyone else’s standards.  I just know that I’ve never been happier, never felt more loved, cherished or appreciated.  I have stopped dwelling on what my once friend said about unhealthy people not being able to have a healthy relationship.  I no longer wonder whether love is possible when struggling with a mental illness.  The truth is that, healthy or not by anyone else’s definition, he is exactly what I want and need in my life.

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