The idea of explaining the challenges you face with your mental health to a partner or someone you're dating might sound daunting. Though there is a greater willingness to discuss mental wellness issues today than ever before, unfortunately there still remains quite a bit of societal stigma around mental health, making it difficult to open up about our personal experience with it. Today's post is aimed at those who are either dating or are in an intimate relationship and are struggling with how to break it to their partner they are living with a mental illness. Or, if your partner already knows, then this post will provide some tips for ongoing conversations with your beau around these topics. Below are my best recommendations for explaining mental illness to your partner:
1 | Be Open and Honest
When talking about your struggles with anxiety, depression or other mental health conditions, this is not the time to sugar-coat the truth. If you have a true diagnosis from a mental health professional, share it with your partner. Give them space to ask questions and answer them as honestly and thoroughly as you can. If there are aspect of your illness that you're not ready to share yet, let your partner know and maintain your boundaries. If there are questions they have for you that you don't know the answer to, offer to ask one of your professionals and get back to your partner about it later when you're equipped with more knowledge.
2 | De-stigmatize Mental Health
Remind your partner that mental illness occurs on a continuum and that all of us — even without a diagnosis — deal with issues like anxiety, depression, difficult life transitions from time to time. What differentiates individuals is the severity of their symptoms and how one copes with them.
3 | Focus on Action
Often a psychiatric diagnosis can feel like a life sentence, but it absolutely doesn't need to be perceived that way. When explaining the situation to your partner, focus on describing the exact steps you're taking to address your mental health — whether that includes medications, psychotherapy or any alternative health treatments you subscribe to.
4 | Involve them in the process
Inform your partner that one of the most predictive elements of one's successful recovery is the amount of support they have from unconditionally loving others. With this in mind, invite your partner to be part of your treatment. Not only will this improve your ability to heal, but it will also demystify the process for your partner. You may be surprised at how supportive your partner is when you give them to chance to step up.
5 | Prepare Yourself
It can be really tricky to go into a conversation with your partner about your mental health condition — it's a sensitive subject! It totally normal if you find yourself stumbling on your words or clamming up when bringing up the subject or when fielding questions from your partner. One thing I recommend my clients do is to take some time alone and write down some basic points you would like to share with your partner (it's okay if you need to refer to your notes!) and write out some questions they might ask and how you would respond to them. This will help you feel more prepared going into the conversation.
6 | Take Responsibility
One area that people find really tough to navigate is the untrue societal myth that people who have mental conditions are trying to use a diagnosis as an excuse to not be a productive member of society or to eschew taking responsibility for their own actions. My experience of working with individuals recovering from mental health issues is quite the opposite — they feel they need to try 100 times harder than the average individual to get the same amount done. Keeping this in mind, explain to your partner the areas of challenge you have, but balance this out with taking responsibility for areas in which you can absolutely improve in your life. This will signal to your partner that you aren't letting mental illness get in the way of an optimal life for yourself.
7 | Be Willing to Pivot
Keep in mind that the conversation may not go as you hoped. Maybe your partner got freaked out...maybe they froze and didn't know what to say...maybe they changed the subject and said "anyway, you want pizza for dinner tonight?" or any number of reactions. Let the information simmer and keep it as an ongoing conversation. Make it clear to your partner that you need them to be on board with this. If they are unsupportive, they might not be the best fit for a lifelong partnership. If they are supportive, then great! They will surely be a huge asset to your continued growth, healing and evolution.
I hope you found this post helpful. Now it's your turn! I'd love to hear from you:
- Do you agree with my recommendations here? Do you have better ideas for how to broach this subject?
- Are you in a relationship with someone and have successful discussions about your mental illness?
- When do you think is the best time to bring up this conversation topic (it's going to be a little different for everyone!)?
- Do you think it's even important to tell a partner about a diagnosis, or do you think it would cause a self-fulfilling prophesy?
I'd love to hear your thoughts and questions in the comments section below. Thanks for reading and be well!
about the author
Hi! I'm Natalie. And my passion is helping people live more peaceful, meaningful lives. Through holistic therapy in Pasadena and here on the blog, my mission is to provide people with the support and tools they need to live their best life.