Both depression and anxiety are hard to comprehend to the person dealing with them. Trying to explain this experience to someone else can seem fruitless. But if that someone else is your partner, it becomes imperative that you try. We look to our partners for support and understanding.
You know the drill: for better or for worse, in sickness and in health. Thus, productive conversations about your mental health are crucial. The goal is not about doing this perfectly or finding the best possible wording. You just want to get the details out in the open and begin an ongoing conversation.
Talk to Yourself First
The most important first step is to decide what it is you’re looking for. Partners sometimes reflexive go into “I’ll fix it” mode. This can be helpful in certain situations. In terms of mental health, it’s usually best to clarify that you’re not asking for them to problem-solve. You initially don’t need advice. You need validation, compassion, and empathy. Remember, you have every right to explain this upfront.
After that, make a list of what you aim to get out of the first discussion. Do you want to set up regular conversations? Perhaps you need help with looking up information or keeping things organized with related appointments. Would you prefer your partner not to be closely connected to your treatment plan, or are you asking them to be your advocate? It’s also very helpful to learn how much your partner knows about either depression or anxiety.
Explaining Depression and/or Anxiety
First things first. These conversations must be planned in advance. Have them face-to-face (with no devices nearby) and set aside enough time to avoid any pressure or rushing.
Anyone can look up the specifics and you very much want your partner to willingly do this. However, the heart of these conversations is helping them understand how depression and/or anxiety are impacting you individually. Some general topics to consider highlighting:
- How the condition began
- How it has progressed
- What you’re feeling and how it affects your daily life, perceptions, and more
- What does this mean in big areas of your lives, e.g. work, sex, raising kids, taking care of daily responsibilities, social life, and more?
- Be upfront with your partner if this conversation is very challenging for you
- Write down notes just in case you get stressed or anxious
Leave room for your partner to decide the next move. They may need time to process and digest. They may have a whole bunch of questions to ask you. Either way, remind yourselves that you don’t have to cover everything in your first chat. If they ask questions, do everything you can to not get defensive. But do your best to tie up some loose ends before that chat ends.
A Few More Basics to Keep in Mind
- Settle into a place of acceptance that this current situation is real
- Accept that this will require deep collaboration to navigate
- Recognize that depression and anxiety are common and nothing to be ashamed about
- Identify that both conditions are very treatable and there’s no reason to assume otherwise
- Understand that both depression and anxiety create scenarios in which the partner can feel neglected or scapegoated
- Set up plans for those moments when the inevitable misunderstandings arise
Some Guidance Can Be Invaluable
There are obvious advantages to starting this process in the setting of couples therapy. Firstly, it’s the epitome of face-to-face, dedicated time. Also, you have an unbiased mental health professional on hand to facilitate the discussion and clarify details. If you or your partner is struggling with anxiety or depression, I invite you to contact me today.