If you suffer with anxiety, you know all too well how it can affect every area of your life. Whether you’re newly diagnosed or you’ve been wrestling it for years, anxiety affects the way you feel about even everyday things, and can make life extra stressful.
If you’re in a relationship, knowing how to talk about your anxiety within it can be a real challenge. On the one hand, you don’t want to make a big deal out of it or bother your partner. On the other hand, it’s something you live with every day, which means that if someone is going to be with you long term, they need to be aware of it.
How soon you tell your partner about your anxiety is up to you. The first few dates might be a bit soon, but certainly if it looks like the relationship is going to last for some time, it’s better if they know. Trying to hide it will only make you feel worse.
When the time comes to talk to your partner about your anxiety, you’ll likely find yourself wondering how to do it. What do you say? How can you explain it to them? If you look it up online, you’ll find plenty of tips for supporting an anxious partner – but what about some help for the anxious partner who needs to have a difficult conversation? If you’re ready to talk to your partner about your anxiety, here are some hints and tips to help you.
Pick the right time
Discussing your anxiety for the first time in the midst of a busy day or even worse, an argument, doesn’t set the best tone. Make life easier for yourself by picking a time when you’re both relaxed and have an uninterrupted window in which to just sit and talk.
Pick a place that you feel comfortable in, and where you can have plenty of privacy. You want your discussion to be relaxed and unhurried.
Have some resources to hand
Offering your partner some resources to read or look at can be really helpful. Have a look on the internet. Are there any blogs, social media posts, podcasts or even cartoons about anxiety that you find really relatable? Show them to your partner to help you explain, and help them understand.
There are lots of mental health charities out there and many of them offer web pages or leaflets that explain anxiety, so why not look those up too?
Write down what you want to say
When you’re feeling anxious it’s easy to forget what you wanted to say, or find that the words just aren’t coming out like you wanted them to. Help yourself through it by writing out what you want to say beforehand. That way you won’t forget any key points or get lost for words.
You can even write it as a letter and give it to your partner to read if that’s easier.
Make it relatable
One of the hardest things for people who don’t have anxiety is understanding how it feels. They might say well meaning but unhelpful things like “everyone gets nervous sometimes” or “don’t worry so much.”
If you can find a way of explaining that they can relate to, the conversation will be much easier. You might describe it like being on the freeway at night with no idea where to go, or being alone in a creepy house. Or you might explain that it’s part of you, like a shadow that you can’t just cut off. If you’re lost for words, look around online and see how other anxiety warriors have described their experiences.
Ask for the support you need
When your partner finds out about your anxiety, they’ll want to help and support you (or if they don’t, you might want to rethink if they really deserve your commitment). Setting out clear guidelines for what helps – and what doesn’t – is beneficial for both of you.
Everyone handles their anxiety differently. Talk to your partner about what they can say or do to help, whether that’s giving you space when you need it or cracking a joke when you get anxious. Everyone has different needs – let your partner know yours.
Be ready to answer any questions
Your partner will need space to think about what you’ve shared and ask any questions that come to mind, so make sure you give them that. Ask them if there’s anything they want to know, or anything you could explain better. Be prepared to answer any questions in the future, too.
Be honest when they ask you questions – if you don’t have an answer, tell them that. Remember that this is new to them, so try to be patient if some of their questions don’t make sense to you.
Anxiety is a challenge, but it doesn’t have to damage your relationship. With mutual love and respect you can navigate it together and build a strong, nurturing relationship in which your anxiety is acknowledged and cared about, without it putting a blight on your life together.