Dating can be tough for anyone. A serious mental health condition like schizophrenia adds even more challenges to the mix. At times, it can cause psychotic behaviors, like hallucinations and delusional thought processes. In severe cases, dating is probably out of the question. Even if your condition is well-treated, you may have trouble enjoying activities. It might be difficult for you to show your emotions, too.
As a result, many people with schizophrenia find it hard to start relationships and keep them. Others avoid it all together. But some are able to have healthy relationships. If you have schizophrenia or you’re romantically involved with someone who does, here’s what you need to know.
It May Not Be Right for You
You may not ever feel like or be able to pursue a romantic relationship – and that’s OK. “Your symptoms might get in the way of socializing or make you anxious,” says Lionel S. Wininger, PhD, a psychologist at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City.
If you’re in treatment and your condition is well-controlled, it could be something to try. Though many people with schizophrenia do get worse, others do improve and can have successful relationships.
It can take a while to find a treatment plan that works. You may have to wait weeks or even months before it fully takes effect. Ask the doctor who treats your schizophrenia if they feel your plan is working and you’re ready. Besides medication, you’ll want to discuss lifestyle issues. “For example, if you spend the night at someone else’s house, do you have a plan for making sure you’re able to take your medication on schedule?” says Alex Dimitriu, MD, a psychiatrist and the founder of Menlo Park Psychiatry & Sleep Medicine in California.
You also need think about how the rest of your life is going. “Regularity is important if you have schizophrenia, and dating can disrupt that,” Dimitriu says. If you’re dealing with another big change, like a new job, location, or treatment plan, you may want to wait until you’re settled to try dating.
How Do You Let Them Know?
There have been major advances in treatment for this condition over the past several decades.
But many people don't understand mental illness well, and there can be stigma or negative labels associated with it. For instance, the person you’re seeing may have wrong ideas about what it is. For example, they may think you have multiple personalities or that you frequently hallucinate.
They may not know that most people who live with it aren’t violent and that treatment can ease and even prevent psychosis.
That’s why you may want to wait until you’ve gone out with someone a few times to tell them you have it. “Once the person has gotten to know you a little, it may be easier for them to see that you don’t fit the stereotype of someone with schizophrenia,” Wininger says.
When you’re ready, let them know you’d like to discuss something personal. You might say something like, “I want to share something important with you. It’s tough to talk about, and I hope you’ll hear me out.” Dimitriu says to stay honest and emphasize the positive.
For example, you could say, “I have schizophrenia, but it’s well-managed and I’ve been symptom-free for X number of months or years.” Explain that it’s a lasting mental disorder that can affect how you think, feel, and behave. Also let them know that while it can cause severe symptoms, you can also treat it so that you avoid these problems in the future.
It’s possible that your partner may have a negative reaction after they find out. Know that surprise and discomfort are normal. If the person cares for you and wants to keep seeing you, they’ll find a way to support you.
With schizophrenia, it may seem hard to hone your social skills and build long-lasting relationships. But with effort and proper treatment, it can be done. One way to build those skills is to join a support group where you can meet people who understand and help with what you’re going through. Building strong relationships can help you feel understood and supported in staying on track with your treatment.
Of course, support doesn’t have to come from romantic partners. But sometimes, putting yourself out there – when you're ready – can be rewarding.
Tips to Make Dating Better
If your doctor gives you the green light and you feel ready:
Keep your expectations in check. Even if your condition is well-managed and you feel good, keep in mind that it may cause social anxiety and other issues that can make it a challenge to date. You could have trouble with focus or flat affect (when your voice and facial expressions don’t express your emotions). You may not speak as much as other people do, which can make it tough to communicate. It can help to work through some of these issues with a therapist. You’ll find ways to feel better about yourself and your condition.
Take it slow. Stress can make schizophrenia harder to manage. That’s why it’s smart to ease into a relationship. You may want to choose low-key activities, like a meetup for coffee or a walk together, for your early dates. If it heats up, “It’s important to try to keep the rest of your life as regular as possible so you can stick with your treatment plan,” Dimitriu says.
Know that sexual side effects are common. Your medications may impact your interest in sex or ability to get aroused or achieve orgasm. If you do have sexual side effects from medication, talk to your doctor and partner about them. It could help to switch medications.
Take a team approach. If you and your partner get serious, you may want to bring them to doctor appointments or therapy sessions. “A committed partner probably knows you better than your health care provider does,” Wininger says. “They can check in with you and help you pay attention to important signs [that you need to adjust your treatment], like feeling more down than usual.” A partner’s support can be one more way to live better with schizophrenia.