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3 Tips for Communicating in Your Relationship When You Live with a Mental Illness

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The process is relatively the same for everyone. You meet someone with positive qualities, you develop a friendship, and sometimes those feelings bloom into a romantic journey. Eventually, you and this significant individual label your relationship as “official.”

You care about this person tremendously. You do things to make sure they are happy, and in return, they do things to make sure you are happy. They have become so important to you. And if you are struggling with depression and/or anxiety, it can be difficult to communicate your concerns with them. For that matter, it can be difficult to talk about emotions in general.

Before you know it, friends and family are telling you they have never seen you this overwhelmed, and that something must be wrong. Before you know it, little things make you irritable. Little things make you angry. It is hard to control your emotions. You begin to lash out when least expected. You have given into the pressure from depression and anxiety to withhold genuine wants and needs. You have not articulated your needs to your partner in quite some time. You no longer participate in hobbies and activities you once found enjoyable.

Below you will find three easy recommendations to keep in mind and to practice in order to keep communication of wants and needs free and active in your current relationship.

1. Thoughts are not always facts: It is important to remember fears about what “might” happen in the future are not necessarily facts. If we avoid addressing issues, if we avoid communicating wants and needs, we never create an opportunity to challenge our fears. If we do not have an opportunity to challenge our fears, then we miss out on an opportunity to grow as an individual, and as a couple. I recommend having a discussion with your partner early in the relationship about the importance of free and active communication.

2. Emotions are a direct result of our thoughts: If you experience intensifying depression and anxiety within the relationship, it might be due to the way you’re thinking about the relationship, or the specific conflict or situation at hand. Pay attention to which thoughts increase fears. Thoughts such as “I will not be able to make it on my own,” or “I am nothing without my partner,” are examples of negative thoughts that only increase the pressure to avoid conflict. There have probably been moments in your life where you have done things independently, solved problems on your own and managed dilemmas through the support of family and friends. The definition of “difficult” is not the same as the definition of “impossible.” It is important that you remind yourself of this. By keeping this in mind, you are creating an opportunity for a more effective balance of communication in your relationship.

3. Behaviors are a response to our emotions: The way we think influences how we feel, and the way we feel influences what we do. In theory, the avoidance of conflict (choosing not to address fears or concerns) is a direct result of our emotions (fear, anxiety), which is a direct result of our thinking (“I can’t lose my partner, I can’t handle this”). If we can recognize our negative thoughts, identify the emotions and re-evaluate the truth to those thoughts, we can obtain more desirable emotions, and healthier behavioral responses.

My advice is to start a thought journal. Start to record each occurrence of negative thoughts and the emotions associated with conflict in your relationship. As your awareness increases of your negative thoughts, take the time to challenge them, modify them, remind yourself of moments when you were independently “OK.”

By following these recommendations, you will likely start to feel less overwhelmed, less pressured and be more equipped to address fears and concerns in your relationship, thus creating an increased opportunity to achieve wants and needs through active communication.

Brandon S. Ballantyne is a licensed professional counselor and has been practicing clinical counseling since 2007.

Originally published: July 15, 2016
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