Well, folks, I’m back again to talk even more about mental health. Why? Because October is Mental Health Awareness Month, and though it’s not always the flashiest of topics, it’s one of the most crucial ones.
We’ve talked about feeling isolated, we’ve talked about anxiety and feeling depressed, we’ve even talked about how to normalize your mental health journey. If you’ve tackled these topics and are now feeling ready to open the floodgates in your relationship, we’re here to talk about that too. A lot of what’s been talked about in previous posts can be applied here, and really to any situation where you want to open up about how you’re feeling or ask how someone else is feeling. However, when it comes to your romantic relationships, sometimes it just feels extra hard, and that’s okay!
You might be in a long term relationship, or you might be in a relationship that’s just blossoming, and regardless of timing, opening the lines of communication is always important. Of course, I’m no expert here, but as someone constantly working on this in my own life, here’s what works for me.
If You Want to Talk About Your Mental Health
It doesn’t matter how fluent you are in discussing your own emotions, it’s always hard to tell the people you love that you’re struggling. There’s no one way to go about this, but considering the following steps before getting into it can help you organize your thoughts and feelings.
Trying to dive right in and talk to your partner right away about your mental health can feel really overwhelming, and it can sometimes be really helpful to take some time and reflect on the specifics of how you’ve been feeling. When your emotions feel all over the place it can be hard to put things into words, so try and describe what’s going on to yourself first. Often, when I feel myself slipping into the deep end, I ask myself super honestly, “what are you feeling right now, and is there a reason why?” and I take some time to sit with that first before bringing it up. Of course, this isn’t necessary and sometimes ripping off the band-aid is what works, but checking in with yourself is usually productive and can allow you to be more specific about what you’re going through.
This is easier said than done, but it doesn’t have to be the big dramatic reveal you’re probably building up in your head. If you’re feeling unsure of yourself, you can write it out beforehand or even send a text, but if it feels right, next time you’re asked how you’re doing just answer honestly. It might come as a bit of a shock to your partner, as we typically expect the answer “good” to the question “how are you?” but it’s crucial to be honest in order to make this line of communication feel normal. Even if you don’t know why you’re feeling the way you do, or it doesn’t make sense, try to express what’s going on as best you can!
Ask For What You Need
This is something that can take years to realize the importance of, so the sooner you can, the better! I can’t emphasize this enough, everyone needs different things to support their mental health, and the typical response is for the other person to offer the support they would want for themselves, which isn’t always what you actually want and need. Yes, it feels great when someone knows exactly what to do, but that’s often not the reality. Learning to ask for the support you need is a huge part of learning to talk about your mental health more openly.
If You Want to Talk About Their Mental Health
There are so many resources on how to talk about your mental health, but there are far less on how to talk about somebody else’s. When you’re in a close relationship of any kind, especially a romantic one, you usually know when something’s up, but it can sometimes feel impossible to ask about in the ‘right’ way. Just like it’s important to reflect on your own emotions and behavior, taking some time to observe and reflect on what you’ve noticed about your partner’s behavior can be enormously helpful in being able to have a more productive talk.
If you’re noticing that your partner isn’t acting like their usual selves, take some time to observe their behavior. This sounds creepy and clinical but I swear it’s not. It’s as easy as just making a mental note of what exactly feels off to you about the way they’re acting. Sometimes it can seem obvious like they’ve stopped doing a hobby you know they love, or they’ve become hostile or irritable without any explanation why. Sometimes though, it feels harder to nail down, and it might be something as small as they aren’t smiling as much as they used to, or they’re much quieter than what you’re used to.
Before you ask what’s up, it can be super beneficial to think about the changes in their behavior and what might be going on behind the scenes. Without deciding anything for them, consider what recent events or changes in their life might be causing extra pressure or anxiety, or if anything specific might have happened to trigger a change in mood. There might be nothing you can think of, and that’s okay, often there’s no obvious external clue to a downward shift in someone’s mental health. If there is something that feels relevant though, it’s useful to keep this in mind when you do bring up the subject.
Actually getting to the asking part can sometimes feel like walking on eggshells, and it’s easy to feel like you might say the wrong thing. Remember that there’s really no right or wrong way to approach this as long as you come at it from a place of care. When the timing feels appropriate (ie. don’t ask as they’re about to hop on an important meeting) you can start with something as simple as “I just wanted to check in, have you been feeling okay lately?” If it seems like they might need an extra push, using a concrete example can do the trick and you can reference one of the changes you observed above and ask something like, “I noticed you stopped going for runs like you usually do on Tuesdays and seem a lot quieter than usual, is everything okay?”
This is the big one. It’s easy to have your own ideas about why your SO might be feeling the way they are, and it’s okay to ask, but don’t let yourself put words in their mouth. After you’ve asked them to open up, giving time and space for them to do so is the most important step of all – it’s the end goal, right? If things have been building up for them for a long time, some things may not make sense, or they might seem to be talking about many different things at once, but just let them say whatever they need to and go from there. They likely just want to feel heard, so jumping in with advice right away isn’t always necessary. Listen and support them as best you can, and then ask what they need or want or how you can continue to support them moving forward.
Talking about the tough stuff isn’t always easy, in fact, it usually never is, but in doing this we learn about each other in ways we otherwise never would, and that’s what we call a healthy, grown-up relationship!