Meet the Expert
Gigi Engle is a certified sex coach, educator, and writer living in Chicago.
Anxiety is a tough subject. And talking about your anxiety can often provoke anxiety, making it harder to talk about—you wind up in a circle of anxiously not sharing but wanting to. But it’s Mental Health Awareness Month, and we need to make our partners aware.
While it may seem simpler to just hold in your feelings and muscle through, you have to keep in mind that forgoing the opportunity to open up can lead to larger relationship issues. If your anxiety is preventing you from sleeping, attending a social function, finishing a project, or being the partner you want to be, you have to be transparent. If you aren’t, your partner won’t know what is holding you back or how to assist you. This can lead to resentment in any relationship; just think about how you’d feel if your partner were doing the same with no explanation.
Here is why you need to talk to your partner about your anxiety, and how to go about it in a way that produces good results (and even more love).
Come From a Place of Radical Honesty
Even in long-term relationships, talking about things that make you feel vulnerable is difficult. Mental health is an especially loaded topic. There is still so much stigma around having any sort of mental health issue that the idea of broaching it with your partner is enough to actually set off a panic attack.
But, when you love someone, you have to love all of them. If someone loves you less or leaves you over your issues with anxiety, well, that isn’t the person for you. Therefore, you have to come from a place of complete, radical honesty when it comes to your anxiety. Open up and allow yourself to share the anxious feelings you have—you can only be offered help if you tell the whole truth. Trust your partner to be receptive and loving. That’s the kind of person you deserve to be with.
Don’t Apologize for Your Anxiety, Explain It
When opening up about anxiety, do not apologize for it. This is not something you need to feel ashamed about nor should you praise your partner for handling it. You have anxiety; it’s a mental health issue and doesn’t deserve an “I’m sorry I feel this way” or “I’m sorry I can’t handle x thing.”
Explain your anxiety. Tell them how you feel in certain situations or expound on the physical and mental attributes your body takes on when you’re feeling particularly anxious. It can be hard to get to a place where they get it, and it can be very frustrating to have feelings someone else doesn’t seem to get at all. But don't give up.
Do research on these types of disorders and on steps you can take to manage the symptoms. Invite your partner in on the exploration into this process—they’re in a relationship with you, not your anxiety. You both have to do things to manage your mental health. If you’re constantly apologizing for something outside of your control, how can you hope to have a healthy, functioning relationship?
Pinpoint Specific Triggers
Your partner won’t always know what makes you anxious. Often with generalized anxiety, there is no telling when one might suddenly feel overcome with anxious feelings. But, for many of us anxious folks, anxiety comes with a host of triggers, whether it be waking up alone, leaving a deadline unfinished, or even something seemingly simple like a psychological thriller movie. Your spouse is not a mind reader. It might seem obvious to you, but to your partner, they are in the dark. If something is a trigger for you, it is your responsibility to share that information.
There may also be aggravators your partner should be aware of. For instance, alcohol; if you find that the morning after drinking often leads to intense anxiety, your partner should be aware of these side effects in order to help you with it.
If you are unsure of your triggers and aggravators, make a list. Stick everything in a Google spreadsheet. You can even label things that make you most anxious, moderately anxious, or slightly anxious. Always run personal exercises like this by your therapist so you’re both on the same page.
Expect Empathy, and Then Accept It
If you’re anxious to bring this up with your partner, don’t be. If you have a person in your life who you love, who wants to be with you, and who accepts you, you should expect empathy. You should expect love and compassion. You should expect them to want to help in any way they can.
For someone who has mostly suffered in silence with a mental health issue, the acceptance of kindness and love can be hard. It’s so much easier to apologize for being a mess and then bottle it all up inside. If you don’t share your feelings, accept love, and work to help manage those pervasive feelings—the anxiety will ultimately become larger than life.
Love yourself enough to take in the love your partner offers. Love yourself enough to know what you deserve from a romantic partner. Love your partner enough to help them understand enough to help you.
Be Willing to Bring in Outside Resources
When it comes to mental health, it isn't fair to open up to your partner and then expect them to become your therapist. Remember, they are here to support you, but they didn’t sign up to be a psychologist. This person loves you, but they aren’t necessarily equipped with the knowledge or resources to help you heal to the fullest extent.
Perhaps talking to your partner and sharing is a good first step, but be willing to explore outside options as well. Therapy can be massively helpful. If you’re already in therapy, take your partner with you; it can help them to help you.
Your partner is on your team. Allow them the chance to get on board, but don’t set unrealistic expectations about what they can manage. They are there as a support mechanism, not a crutch. It takes two to make a relationship work, in a myriad of ways. Your anxiety is just one of them.