It can be difficult to open up about your mental health, but it’s important to be able to talk to your partner. In episode 272, I received a question from a listener who is finding it hard to explain what they are going through to their boyfriend. In this post, I offer my thoughts on how to open up the mental health conversation within your relationship and highlight a few tips to bear in mind.
It’s hard for me to explain what I’m going through to my boyfriend. He’s very interested & trustworthy, but it’s just so hard for me to explain what goes on in my head as far as anxiety, trauma, OCD, depression, etc. How can I introduce all of this to him without overwhelming him? This is an important part of our relationship, I just don’t know how to explain it all to him without just wanting to tell him everything over the course of probably hours!
Thank you for this question. This email actually had several questions, so I’m just choosing one, but thank you for breaking them out into separate numbered questions. I may end up taking another one on the show at some point. Always a good idea to make it catch my eye and not just be overwhelming like a giant wall of text might be.
Great question as well! I think a lot of people can relate to this. Having someone they care about, but not knowing where to start with the enormity of your experience. It sounds like you are starting from a really good baseline, given that you said your boyfriend is interested and trustworthy. To be clear, it’s hard for anyone to explain what’s going on in their own head when mental health difficulties are at play. That’s one of the reasons that a huge part of therapy is simply providing accurate empathy. Reflecting back what someone is feeling in a way that helps them see that you get it is super powerful.
I think that this question somewhat depends on some factors like how long you’ve been together, how much you are comfortable disclosing, how much effort you have in you for educating someone else, and to what extent it impacts your relationship and daily life. If you are early on in the relationship, the need to really make sure they understand your situation is probably less important than them understanding the practical impact of it and having some general awareness. A lot of understanding truly comes from direct experience and seeing the ways your struggles play out in real life. This is part of who you are and part of your daily experience. I think that the most important thing for a partner of yours to understand is the practical impact of things.
You have no obligation to share your mental health information, but if you feel comfortable and capable it can absolutely be helpful. The primary reason why it could be helpful would be to help understand your behavior. Even if your mental health doesn’t cause huge overt changes to your behavior, there might be subtle things that are easy to misinterpret if you don’t have some perspective. For instance, I have definitely had friends that I thought were just ghosting me or being cold only to later understand that it was truly nothing personal and that they were just going through a more difficult period of time of their mental health. For me, that totally clarified things in retrospect and totally shifted the feelings I had toward the interaction or lack thereof.
So I think simply letting him know what you are dealing with and then pointing out times when it comes up, even if it’s after the fact, can be helpful. You can also let him know how you’d like to be treated. If there are specific areas that he could be more helpful or understanding or, conversely, areas where you want to make sure he isn’t treating you any differently from someone else. I know it can be sometimes just as hard to be handled with “kid gloves” as it is to be completely disregarded. By the same token, sometimes you tell someone about your mental health issues and it seems like they start to attribute everything you do to that to an annoying extent. As I said before, a lot of understanding comes from experience. From being around to see things play out and then come to an understanding of why things played out the way they did.
I think that rather than starting from ground zero and explaining everything to him, it is also totally valid to point him toward resources that you think represent your experience well. This could be books, podcast episodes, or even movies or shows. If you don’t have any that come to mind, it’s also valid to just let him know that you would love for him to learn more and also open yourself up to questions. So as he learns, he can ask you honest questions about what he is learning and you can clarify how it does or does not apply to your life.
Given that you have anxiety, OCD, and depression, I’m going to take a huge leap and assume that you are a bit of a perfectionist. That you are hard on yourself and put a lot of pressure on yourself to do things the “right” way. This isn’t a situation where you need to be perfect in how you present this. You don’t have to get it right. It’s an ongoing process. It’s not like you are going to give a little ted talk and everything will be nice and clear from then on. You start the process and continue clarifying as you go. So don’t feel immense pressure to represent yourself perfectly. I also want to clarify that this is just one part of you. There are aspects of his personality that will take time to learn and there are other aspects of your personality that will take time to learn as well. There’s nothing wrong with that and this isn’t all that different from other aspects of learning one another. Just consider it one more part of the equation, but not everything.
I think that you start the process, express that you are open to questions, and then let him take it from there. The way that he adapts and learns may be really good information about the relationship in general. I have a positive feeling about this. You are on the right track. Good luck!
You can listen to this on Episode 272 of the podcast!
Thank you for the great question!
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