How To Discuss Your Mental Illness With Your Partner
There's a painfully unnecessary stigma that comes with admitting to having a mental illness.
Some people mistakenly see you as falling short in comparison to everyone else. You're considered unstable, weak, feeble-minded and damaged. People may look at you differently or treat you like glass.
It may feel as if you're stamped with a label that says, "Don't say or do anything too harsh or offensive around me, or I may lose it. I may freak out. I may break."
The only thing is, that's not and never is the case.
Mental illness comes in all shapes and sizes and is what licensed psychologist Erika Martinez calls an "umbrella term."
"It covers different mental health disorders that can affect someone's emotions, thoughts and behaviors, and as a result can interfere with their social, academic and occupational functioning," Martinez tells Elite Daily.
Mental illness can range from a mild case of anxiety to being severely bipolar, and those diagnosed live with these disorders and go on with their everyday activities, despite the setback.
But sometimes, it's not personal acceptance that's the most difficult. Instead, it's explaining to others what you deal with and explaining to your friends — or people you're dating — that you're still the same person regardless.
So when and how does one approach their partner about their mental illness? Is there a right time? Is there a right plan of attack?
First and foremost, you want to feel comfortable with your partner before bringing this up.
Martinez believes "the depth of the relationship and the newness of the diagnosis" will play the biggest role when deciding when to bring up your mental illness to your partner.
It's important to find yourself at a point where you've both shared enough with each other that you don't feel as though they'd judge you for what you're about to tell them.
"It looks very different if you're telling a new partner versus someone that you've been with for awhile," Martinez said. "There's no 'best' way to bring it up, but I'd definitely recommend addressing the topic in a neutral moment when there is no lingering tension between you and your partner. Definitely don't drop that information in the midst of an argument."
Being vulnerable is certainly unnerving, but it's also a bit freeing and will lift this weighted private information from off your shoulders. But you shouldn't necessarily be too eager, as Martinez believes bringing up the subject "depends on the rate at which the relationship progresses"
When clients ask me this, I ask them, 'If the roles were reversed, when would you have become concerned and wanted to be told?' If you're nearing the timeframe you identified, then it would be a good time to broach the subject.
Be open, honest and know the right person will be understanding of your mental illness.
Just like any strong relationship — platonic or romantic — honesty is very important.
Martinez believes there's a point in a relationship where being open and truthful about this huge part of your life will only allow for your bond to grow stronger.
Healthy relationships are built on trust and authenticity. If a relationship is getting serious, it would be important to continue deepening that trust by sharing who you really are with your partner in many facets, including your mental health. Think about how difficult it would be to live in fear that the other partner might discover the secret; it's not worth it. Just be honest.
And when you do decide to broach this topic, be prepared to talk and try not to beat around the bush.
If you're feeling open enough to bring up the topic at all, odds are, your partner is going to want to know a little more. They may want to dig deeper (without prying), so being open to the questions they have (within reason) is important for them to fully understand what's going on with you and how it'll affect your relationship going forward.
But if you continue to feel hesitation about telling your partner about your mental illness because you genuinely think they'll react poorly (i.e. reacting with anger or even breaking up with you), that may be a sign that they may never be ready for this information.
"Someone that judges or breaks up with you over this probably has very different values surrounding mental health that would have eventually caused significant friction anyway," Martinez says.
No one should be able to use your mental health against you, and as Martinez says, there's no need to keep your mental illness in the dark.
You should feel comfortable in your own skin, and you should be able to be straightforward about what's affecting you. Once you've stepped past the nerves of telling someone about what you're going through, you'll feel a brand new wave of normalcy and acceptance over your life — and it'll feel damn good.