Mental health continues to be a sensitive topic, especially due to the pervasive belief that it is a “weakness” or a “personal failing.” Due to this, it is incredibly important to share your concerns in a way that your spouse can hear you. Keep reading for some strategies to make a difficult conversation a little easier.

What’s your mindset? If you view your partner’s symptoms (e.g., irritability, lack of interest or motivation, etc.) as character flaws, then you’re not in the right frame of mind to have a productive conversation. It’s important that you truly understand that invisible illnesses, like depression and anxiety, affect our well-being just as much as visible illnesses. Your partner needs to believe that you understand that mental health issues are just as real and debilitating as physical health problems.

Timing is everything. You know when it’s not a good time to talk? Immediately after a heated argument, seconds before your partner’s head hits the pillow, or right before you walk out the door. You know when it’s a good time to talk? Any time you and your partner are available and open to having a conversation. Say, “I want to talk about something that I am concerned about. I’m not mad at you. When is a good time for us to talk?”

Don’t assume. Do you notice the difference between “You don’t like my friends. That’s why you didn’t help me clean the house before they came over. You’re so selfish,” and “I noticed that you started to tidy up the living room, and then, you sat down on the couch and watched TV. This is some of the behavior that worries me.” Most people feel defensive when faced with assumptions and personal opinions. That’s why it’s important to stick to the facts: what do you see & hear, not what do you think.

What’s next? While you might feel relieved that you’ve identified the elephant in the room, your partner might feel defensive, insecure, or embarrassed. Give them some options. Say, “Do you want to think about it and we can talk later? Would you prefer to talk about it now? Whenever you’re ready, I want to help.” Give your spouse a hug and remind him/her that you love them.

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