When’s the right time to talk about mental health with your partner?
Having open conversations with your loved one can be healing.
While much has been done to ensure mental health awareness and acceptance is at the forefront of our nation’s priorities, it may still seem daunting to talk about it.
It is a kind of undressing to reveal the vulnerable parts of you that you may not yet be comfortable with, especially with someone you love.
You may worry about how the conversation could go wrong, or feel anxious that your partner might find your issues – and by extension, you – off-putting. Perhaps, you may feel it’s unnecessary to talk about this or to label yourself at all.
Instead of bringing about a healthy and open discussion, they might not respond supportively and end up hurting you.
Whatever you may feel afraid of is completely valid, but this isn’t something you should pressure yourself too much into.
When’s the right time to bring it up?
In the timeline of a relationship, there is no fixed date for an honest discussion about a topic as personal as mental health but there are several signs you can look out for.
The biggest sign would be when you see yourself being in your relationship romantically for a long time to come. If this is a commitment you see yourself making, you owe it to your partner to be honest about any issues you face.
While mental health issues may be stigmatised in contexts outside of your relationship, it’s important to normalise them between you and your partner because getting into a relationship means that you no longer have to face them alone.
Another sign to have a meaningful conversation with your partner is when you feel safe in the relationship, and that there is a good amount of trust between the both of you.
It may be wise to test the waters first by sharing with them information that is a little less sensitive, and see how they react to it. You wouldn’t want to tell someone something more personal only for them to react badly, or worse, spread that information around.
Why it’s important to talk about mental health in a relationship
Mental illnesses affect not only the person suffering from it but also their relationships with the people surrounding them, particularly their romantic partners.
While you may face unique challenges, it is possible to be in a healthy and long-term relationship with someone who has a mental illness. The key to this is having open communication with each other.
This can avoid issues such as intimacy problems and having shame, guilt or resentment relating to not being understood by your partner.
Intimacy problems may arise from an inability to express what you need or want from your partner, and may lead to a disinterest in sex. This stems either from the condition itself or from the medications you take and leads to unmet needs for both partners.
Having enough trust and faith in each other can help in ensuring clear communication pathways when it comes to expressing feelings and thoughts about difficult situations.
Feelings of shame and guilt come from facing a stigma associated with mental health conditions.
I did not, for a long time, discuss my mental health history with my partner because I felt ashamed of it. I hid the symptoms I felt and did not seek medical help when I needed it. This resulted in my partner feeling frustrated and helpless.
Resentment sets in when a person with a mental illness has limited emotional availability, finds it difficult to socialise or commit to the tasks they normally do. These things can put a strain on the relationship, leading to feelings of disconnect and disappointment.
When you and your partner are able to have open discussions about your symptoms and the types of issues that can emerge from them, your partner will have an easier time understanding and giving the support you need.
How do I talk to my partner about this?
When I met my partner, I knew that I wanted to share my life with him. I also knew that to do that, we would need to know how to take care of each other better through the ups and downs of life and mental illness.
For those looking to do the same, there are several ways for you to talk to your partner about it.
With the help and advice from my friends and therapist, I practised saying my points to ensure they are brought across clearly enough for him to understand. As he never experienced what I was going through, I had to reframe my terms to things he could relate to.
For example, instead of saying that I felt empty – which he wouldn’t understand – I tried explaining it meant that some days I didn’t feel like going out, having fun or doing anything at all.
I also made sure to say it when I felt I was in a good headspace. I knew that feeling as well as possible was the only way for me to properly articulate my feelings and thoughts adequately, as well as in creating a calm atmosphere for that discussion.
As I was initially worried about how he would react, I also tried a ‘sandwich’ method my therapist suggested. The idea is to sandwich the bad news in between two pieces of good news.
I started the conversation on a positive note about how loving and supportive he has been for me and because of that I felt the need to share something more harrowing. After discussing the details of my mental health history, I mentioned the treatments and ways that have helped me. By ending it on an optimistic note, it makes the conversation less bleak.
My mental health history was never something I planned on discussing with my partner. Childhood stories, maybe. Hopes and dreams for the future, definitely. But I didn’t imagine I would be disclosing such personal information about myself with anyone but my therapist.
Building a support system requires having trust and faith in each other. I’m glad I took the step forward to share my diagnosis with my partner as it only strengthened our relationship.
If you are looking for more mental well-being resources, check out Youthopia’s resource page with everything from mental health self-assessments to tips for coping with challenging seasons in life.