Helpful Ways to Explain Depression and Anxiety to Your Partner

From your RAFT Counseling Team

There’s a reason why marriage ceremonies include the phrase, “In sickness and in health.” Some of the moments we feel most loved are when we’re at our lowest. We get sick and our loved ones carry hot soup from the kitchen to our bedside. They rub our backs and let us cry it out when we don’t quite hit our goals.

Mental illness, however, doesn’t have as many obvious signs that we feel unwell or that something went wrong. That doesn’t mean our partners are excused from their responsibility to love and support us through hard times. It just means support might look different.

After all, if you’ve dealt with anxiety and depression your whole life, you probably already have your own coping skills. Maybe all you need from them is a little grace and patience. Whatever you’re looking for from them, here’s how you can talk about it.

Write Out Your Feelings and Expectations

The world has come a long way in how we talk and think about mental health. However, some people still hold stigmas toward the names we use: “anxiety disorder,” “major depressive disorder,” “bipolar disorder,” etc. They may still have preconceived beliefs about conditions they never sat down and fully researched.

Because of this, it may help to ask yourself a few things before opening a conversation with your partner:

  • How much do they already know about depression and anxiety? 
  • What kind of reaction are you hoping to get?
  • When do you want them to support you, and when do you want them to just listen and connect?
  • What are your most common triggers that invite bad days?
  • Does your partner do anything (perhaps unknowingly) that triggers symptoms? 
  • How private do you want the details of your condition and treatment to be? 
  • How involved do you want your partner to be in treatment?
  • Do you want any more friends and family knowing?

Keep the Focus on Your Experience 

While it’s great that you want to teach your partner about these conditions, remember they affect everyone differently. For your partner to best support you, it’s important they know your specific relationship with anxiety and depression and how it affects you uniquely.

For example, suddenly going quiet in a crowded room could be a sign that one person’s anxiety is worked up. For another person, it could mean they’re finally comfortable enough to sit back and listen for the first time today. How can your partner learn to recognize the signs that you’re hitting your limit?

Remind Them that Bad Days Don’t Equal a Bad Relationship

Your Mental health is independent of your relationship with them. Partners can take it personally when we shut down unexpectedly or allow ourselves to unmask around them and show how low we’re actually feeling. It’s important to remind them not every mood swing or bad day is because of something going on in the relationship. 

That means when it is, it’s important to be open and honest about how you’re feeling. Direct communication about your symptoms and your feelings about the relationship helps partners clarify how and when to support us best.

Celebrate the New Level of Intimacy 

While depression and anxiety can be heavy topics, having someone sit in them with us can build profound trust. Opening up will only make you closer, not threaten the fun times you have outside of hard conversations like this.

Make It an Ongoing Conversation.

Depression and anxiety don’t go away overnight, so neither should your conversations. As your partner learns more about you and your conditions, they may guess at ways to make it better. Celebrate the things that work, course-correct the things that don’t.

Working with a therapist—whether as an individual or a couple—is a great way to prioritize your health while finding the best tools for your partner to support you.

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