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The question of whether to consider dating or marrying someone who has a psychological problem is one of the most difficult relationships matters. The consequences could be enormous, and there is also a great deal of confusion and fear surrounding this issue. The purpose of this article is to offer some clarity to help you to make a thoughtful decision as to what is in your best interest.
Some people may find some of the ideas presented here to be challenging. I urge you to approach what is being suggested with as few preconceptions as possible and keep an open mind. Much of what passes as settled opinion is utterly baseless. To help us navigate this question, let us separate it into two distinct components: “psychological issues” and “psychological illness”. There is a wide gulf separating these two categories.
Psychological issues have been called “problems in living.”
Psychological issues have been called “problems in living.” Show me someone who does not have some kind of psychological issue. Granted, not everyone has problems that are as severe, but we should abandon the nonsense that only a small minority of people have psychological problems. The reality is that most issues are dismissed as “that is just how he is” or “she is funny like that,” whereas other things get the “honor” of being labeled an official issue. This is entirely down to prejudice and has no basis in reality.
Some people are naturally lazy – that is a psychological issue. Few would claim that laziness is a virtue. It is also not without its consequences. It may be challenging to live with a “couch potato” and it could lead to weight and fitness problems, with all the health issues that gives rise to.
Other people are naturally irritable, and get upset and agitated at the smallest noise. This can be quite debilitating, as those around irritable people are under pressure not to upset them. When the irritation rises to an acute level, this could trigger an unpleasant reaction.
The list is endless. These matters are rarely raised as psychological issues, even though they could play a major role in that person’s life.
You may be considering a shidduch or be already dating someone with ADD or who was diagnosed with dyslexia, or was treated in the past for depression. Of course, each person is different, and some people are dramatically affected by these conditions. In general, however, it is safe to have a starting assumption that so long as these types of issues were properly addressed that they are no different from any other flaw that is weighed up when considering dating and marriage.
There are many dozens of such issues, so it would not be feasible to list everyone that would fall under the “psychological issues” heading. I would just like to caution against taking the word of the many “couch psychologists,” who speak with enormous authority while possessing none.
Who does not have issues?
Such people quite possibly suffer from a psychological condition called “being over-opinionated” with perhaps a secondary condition called “opining on matters one knows nothing about.” Luckily for this person, this is not yet recognized as a psychological issue (I am working on it), so this means it is fine. In reality, this “condition” is no less problematic than ADD, dyslexia, or depression – with the important difference that at least the other issues have actually been successfully dealt with!
In short, to make these relatively minor issues into a central consideration when considering dating or marriage is utter folly. It is one of many aspects that get put into the mix, along with many other considerations – many that are much more important. It is mistaken to accord them exaggerated importance and overshadow the truly significant matters merely because they are perceived as unusual issues.
More fundamental personality traits, religious and moral values, and a whole slew of preferences (nationality, appearance, education level, professional background, etc.) are the key factors in choosing a mate – and they remain so here as well. If someone is highly suitable on those dimensions, it would be highly questionable to zero in on the fact the shidduch or marriage prospect lives with a mild anxiety issue.
This is not about being ethical or charitable; it is purely a matter of self-interest. Some people are so quick to ignore fantastic and highly suitable people because of irrational biases, but then complain that they cannot find suitable people to date. Clearly, besides being ridiculous, it is also highly unworkable.
Sadly, there is also “psychological illness,” where the nature of the issue rises to a medical level. Without making mass generalizations, these conditions require long-term treatment, and if not treated effectively can have a massive impact on the person’s functioning. Severe mental health conditions, such as schizophrenia, bi-polar, borderline personality disorder, severe OCD, and such like, are examples of psychological illness.
A severe case of what in a mild form may be considered a “psychological issue” could also rise to the level of illness. For example, mild depression is easily treatable through commonly used medications or simple therapy. Millions of people go through this life challenge, and it is no big deal. But clinical depression is a whole different matter. It can make it highly difficult – even impossible – for the person to function normally.
Another example: many people experience a mild form of anxiety. They may excessively worry about future events, or get badly stressed by deadlines. This too is easily treatable, and people can learn how to successfully manage with this issue. But if the person has a panic disorder or serious phobias this could dramatically affect his or her ability to go about life.
When it comes to whether you would consider dating or marrying someone with a psychological illness, there are two general major considerations – in addition to the specifics of the case (nature of the illness, how severe, how it impacts the person, etc.), of course. It would only be wise to consider a relationship with someone who has a mental illness if these two conditions are met in full. If they are not fully met, there is a significant risk that things will not end up well.
First, is that they take ownership for their illness. One of the sad things about mental illness is that by its very nature it impairs the mind. People often find it possible to deny they have an illness or to play down its severity. Outwardly, the person may look normal and it may be possible to create the impression that things are okay. Of course, he is mainly fooling himself, as it is normally impossible to disguise this from people who are close enough to see. This is the absolute worst response to mental illness.
Fortunately, even serious mental health problems can usually be successfully treated. Not going for help is a terrible idea. Dealing with a mental illness is not easy. It typically requires commitment over an extended period of time. You would want to see evidence that he or she is as serious about their illness as the illness itself is serious.
The second condition is if the person is getting suitable treatment, and the treatment is being effective. You would want to satisfy yourself that whatever the treatment, it is enabling him or her to lead a functional existence. Not everyone responds the same way to treatment, and there are wide variations in how effective treatments are for each individual. You need to be confident that the illness is being managed successfully.
Someone should not be judged for not wanting to date or marry someone with a mental illness, any more than we do not judge people who want to date or marry someone of a particular height. Still, people all the time complain about not meeting someone suitable. If someone is suitable, and the major hesitation is due to mental illness, it is unclear why this would be an automatic disqualifier. It would be more sensible to look into this deeply and see what the situation is. I have met people who are affected by such conditions as OCD and Generalized Anxiety Disorders who are highly successful people and have learned how to thrive despite their challenges.
What About the Kids?
One final point. Many people would be willing to overlook the mental illness for themselves, but are concerned that it may be hereditary. They reason that they could make this judgment for themselves, but feel it would be wrong to saddle their children with this burden.
It is true that mental illnesses to some degree can run in families. Just as a child can inherit a parent’s brown hair, green eyes and nearsightedness, a child can also inherit that parent’s tendency toward a particular mental illness. The extent to which these illnesses are genetic varies, but it is safe to go with a rough estimation of one-third likelihood of intergenerational transmission. Many people will weigh this very carefully.
But here is the rub: the possibility that this person will pass those defective genes to his or her child is broadly a third, while the chances that he or she will pass on the good genes that produce the features you find attractive is far higher! Say, she is smart, attractive, capable, and resilient. These factors are also genetic. The chances of her children having higher than average qualities is something like twice as great as them inheriting her deficiencies.
Moreover, if her children have a 1/3 chance of inheriting her problem, they are equally and probably way more likely to inherit her coping mechanisms as well. If so, they will probably have to struggle a bit, but will eventually turn out as smart, attractive, capable and resilient as she is. So, be careful not to waive the genetic risk too wildly. Better that you consider all sides of the issue carefully and make a balanced judgment based on all the factors.