Clear and honest communication is one of the pillars of strong relationships, but when it comes to communicating our mental health needs, it can feel scary! But being open about your mental health invites space into your relationship for you and your partner to show up as your true and honest selves, and trust that you’ll be cared for just like that.
Now, that isn’t to say you need to disclose all mental health information to everyone you date–but when a relationship is a significant part of your life, it’s a good time to think about how your mental health condition could show up within or impact that relationship. Here are some things to consider when opening up a mental health dialogue with your partner.
Before you go to them:
Know what it is you want to talk about:
What are the issues you want to talk about? How have they come up in your relationship so far?
On that note; is there behavior that you need to explain or apologize for? It’s okay to take accountability for mishandling a situation, it doesn’t mean you’re admitting you’re a bad person. Just the opposite, it means you understand how you mishandled a situation, and have a desire to do better in the future. It also shows that these sorts of conversations are safe for you and your partner to have; it signals you will still take responsibility for your actions and apologize for hurting their feelings, while also expecting them to be understanding of your perspective.
Consider also, is there anything that has hurt you that hasn’t been addressed? You don’t want to hang onto any secret hurts or fears that your partner doesn’t care about your feelings. A couple other questions to consider before going to your partner would be:
- What is it you need from your partner?
- How can your partner talk to you about these things when they do come up?
Letting your partner know you need support is great, but no one needs the exact same support as anyone else. Think about how they can be there for you before you begin the conversation.
Opening the dialogue:
Be clear with your partner about what you want to talk about:
Why are you sharing this with them? Are you looking for support? Was there something that happened where you didn’t feel supported? Did you behave in a way that seemed unlike you while with your partner because you were triggered in some way and would like to explain what happened?
Let them know: hey, I have something to talk with you about but it’s very vulnerable and I need you to be present for it. Are you open to hearing what I have to say?
And let them know you may need something new or different from them–and you know it may be new to them too. You can say something like “I’m going to let you know what I need and what I need from you, and I want you to be honest with me about how you feel about it. “
Be sure to open the dialogue on the other side as well. Let your partner know that you also want to be sure their needs are being met, so if there is something that hasn’t been addressed that is important to their mental health or health within the relationship, that you would like to hear about it.
Let them know how you navigate the issues normally
What are your coping strategies? What are ways they can help you with them? Even if they just learn what helps you to remind you to do it, that’s one way they can support you. Be prepared to do a little education on your specific condition–not everyone is educated on mental health, and this may be their first encounter with a loved one dealing with mental health issues. Let them know what your condition means for you and your life, and how it may show up in your relationship.
Be specific about what you need from them:
If there is something you need your partner to do to support you, let them know what it is. While it may be obvious to you how you would like support for certain things, not everyone thinks the same way. Just letting your partner know what you’re struggling with isn’t enough if you’re also looking for them to help you through it.
For example, if you have depression, while you may take medication and be in therapy, you may still have episodes where things like getting out of bed are hard, where your basic needs are neglected because all of your energy is being used up just being alive. This can mean that basic needs of yours go unattended–you may not be able to get yourself out of bed or into the kitchen to make dinner. Things you could ask your partner to do to support you could include:
- Texting you to ask if you’ve eaten/showered/etc
- Keeping a list of quick & easy meals you like; either to remind you when you can’t think of them, or to make when they are with you and willing
- Helping you stay on top of household chores
- Planning something small to do to get you out of the house
These are just some examples of ways to ask for support, but think about what it is you struggle with and what support would mean the most to you.
Let them know this isn’t something that will go away:
”Healing” in regards to mental health means finding ways to navigate life with healthy coping strategies and support. Mental health conditions don’t just “go away” even when life is good. What you need from them isn’t someone to treat you like a problem to solve, but someone to offer support, care, and understanding.
We know it’s not easy to be open about mental health needs.
It’s a very vulnerable topic, and there is still a lot of stigma around asking for help. But being open and clear with your partner about your mental health and your needs allows them the opportunity to know you better, and be a better partner to you. It also opens the dialogue for them to address any needs they may have. It’s okay if you’re not ready right away; taking time to figure out what you want to say and how you want to ask for support is important. Working with a therapist can help you decide how to approach the subject in a way that works for you and your relationship.