Have you ever confided in your significant other about something that’s bothering you, only to get into an argument because they tried getting involved in your problem, invalidated you, or didn’t show their support? This situation is really frustrating, but it feels even worse when you’re dealing with a mental health problem and not feeling valued by a loved one.
I found myself struggling to communicate with my boyfriend for months. My anxiety was out of control and depression started creeping in, but when I opened up about it, I would be met with comments like “You’re crying again?”, “What is it this time?”, “You were fine an hour ago.”, “Can you just try to be positive?”, or “I don’t understand why this is a big deal.” It caused some strain on our relationship and I ended up feeling even lonelier and misunderstood than I felt before.
It took many conversations before my boyfriend and I finally saw each other eye to eye. I love him and knew he was doing his best to help me, but it wasn’t until I was able to clearly articulate my needs that he was able to comfort me. It’s difficult to find the right words to say and it can even be a rocky topic to discuss, but I’m here to help you navigate these challenging conversations so you can feel safe to discuss mental health with your partner.
The problem: Your significant other doesn’t understand your mental health disorder.
What you can say: I have something called (insert disorder here, let’s use anxiety in this example). Anxiety affects everyone who has it differently, but for me, I go into overthinking spirals, get a big knot in my chest, cry, and get shakes. Anxiety isn’t always rational, but the problems are still real. I would appreciate it if we could research more about this together so you can get some insight into what I go through.
The problem: Your significant other doesn’t understand why you’re upset.
What you can say: I know you want to understand why I feel the way I do, but I can’t seem to express my feelings in a way that makes sense to you. I don’t need you to understand everything that’s going on. I just need you to understand that I’m not doing well and I want to feel supported.
The problem: Your significant other doesn’t think your problems are that bad or calls you dramatic.
What you can say: I feel hurt when what I’m saying isn’t valued. It’s okay that the things in our lives affect us differently, but I don’t feel heard when I’m told my problems aren’t that bad. To me, these issues are important and they’re affecting me. I don’t need to know what you think about my problems. I need to know that you love and care about me as I work through them.
The problem: Your significant other feels they can’t say or do anything to help you.
What you can say: I know you love me and are trying your best to help me. When I’m really struggling, I would like you to (insert phrases or actions that are most comforting to you here). Examples: I would like you to hug me until I stop crying. I would like you to say “I’m right here, take all the time you need.” I would like you to remind me that you love me, etc.
The problem: Your significant other keeps telling you how to feel or gives unsolicited advice.
What you can say: I know you don’t like seeing me in pain and want to help me fix my problems, but right now I don’t want advice and I don’t like being told how to feel in this situation. If I need your advice, which I do value, I’ll tell you clearly that I want it. Right now I just want you to listen and give me a hug.
Of course, you can adjust these phrases so they feel most natural to you. The key is that you use “I” statements and remind your partner just how much you love and appreciate them when expressing your struggles and needs. Be mindful that if your partner has been invalidating or misunderstanding you for a while, it may take a few tries before they’re able to adjust their patterns.
You deserve to feel loved and supported, especially if it’s your significant other we’re talking about. These conversations may be tough and bring out a lot of distressing emotions, but finding the support you need is so worth it. After I established all of these things with my boyfriend, our relationship drastically shifted to a much better place. I don’t expect him to solve my problems or even understand everything I’m going through, but I always know I can tell him whatever I’m going through and leave the conversation feeling loved and comforted.
You’re brave for going through all of the struggles you’re experiencing and you’re brave for establishing your needs in a relationship. You can do this.