“Just because someone has a mental illness does not mean they can’t be happy and in a relationship,” Pete Davidson recently posted on social media, responding to the backlash over his whirlwind relationship with singer Ariana Grande. “It also doesn’t mean that person makes the relationship toxic,” he wrote.
The Saturday Night Live comedian, referring to his diagnosis of borderline personality disorder (BPD) took fans by surprise when he proposed to Grande after only a few weeks of dating, and Davidson posted his thoughts on Instagram to address the waves of gossip surrounding his relationship and the couple’s mental health struggles. Grande has been open about her own experience with mental illness as well, opening up to the press about her symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety that emerged after the bombing at her concert in England’s Manchester Arena last May. Grande recently posted a photo of she and Davidson on her own Instagram account, writing, “Not bad for two babes with crippling anxiety.”
Davidson and Grande are dating in the public eye and doing their part to bust the still-pervasive stigma around mental health challenges. But there are so many couples struggling with similar issues in private, and it’s important to know that it is possible for this type of relationship to be a healthy and happy one. The key? The couple must establish boundaries and prioritize their mental health, says Rachel Sussman, LCSW, a licenced psychotherapist and relationship expert in New York City. “Mental health comes first and everything else comes after,” Sussman explains. These relationships work best, she says, “if both partners are really taking care of themselves — getting regular counseling, exercising, taking their meds, meditating, or going to support groups.”
Sussman believes these relationships will take more effort and communication (for anyone dealing with mental health issues, those issues will factor into your decision-making and may be an ongoing challenge). But she points out there’s also a bright spot for both parties: by finding a partner with similar issues, one can feel comforted and better understood. And similarities and shared experiences can bring two people closer together as a couple. “All the research shows that the more couples have in common with each other, the greater the likelihood is that they’ll stay together,” Sussman says. As long as both partners are acknowledging and prioritizing their health, their relationship can be just as happy and healthy as other couples’.
“Everyone’s got something,” Sussman says. “The nature of every relationship is unique. And this would be their uniqueness.”