How to tell your partner you need help
We explore how to navigate the conversation, and help you integrate your therapeutic life into your dating life
I need some professional help, but what will my partner think? Will they think it’s their fault? Or that I’m being overdramatic? Will they think it’s unnecessary?’ These are some of the questions that went through my mind before deciding to start therapy sessions earlier this year.
Admitting to yourself that you need help is a huge step in looking after your mental health. But, often one of the most daunting steps in getting the support that you need is telling other people – especially the important people in your life – that you’re struggling.
As much as you should feel proud of yourself for trying to access help (whether it’s counselling, mentoring, coaching, or something else), you may still feel worried to say it aloud to the person closest to you.
Why is it hard to ask for help?
In a romantic context, people can fear that ‘having issues’ will make them seem less attractive. But, according to counsellor Bernadette Padfield, there could also be other fears that make you feel reluctant to tell your loved one that you want to access professional help, including:
- They’ll feel inadequate or hurt because you can’t discuss your issues with them.
- They’ll feel they are responsible for you seeking help.
- They could share this information with others you don’t want to tell.
Part of my reluctance to tell my boyfriend I wanted to access therapy was that it suddenly felt very serious and final. I’d been thinking about getting support for a while but, once I said the words out loud to him, I knew there would be a sense of accountability for me to book the sessions and to attend. And that in itself was scary.
Why should I ask for help?
Undeniably, the strongest intimate connections are built on a foundation of honesty, mutual support, and trust. As part of this, it’s natural to want to discuss important aspects of your life – including your mental health. If you’re reluctant to talk about this with your loved one, ask yourself why.
Perhaps you’re dealing with a painful or difficult issue and you’re not comfortable sharing that information with anyone yet. “Whether or not you tell your partner is entirely your decision,” says Bernadette. “But, it may be worth exploring this with a therapist.”
Despite any worries you have about telling your partner you need help, there is a lot that you could gain from talking to them. Bernadette says it’s important to think about how you could benefit from opening up. “Ask yourself ‘What is motivating me to tell them?’, then list some of the things you could gain by telling them.”
- They may acknowledge my unhappiness.
- They may be supportive/empathetic.
- They may respect my courage.
- They may listen.
- They may offer practical help.
Remember, if you’re dating someone seriously and you want the relationship to progress, you need to have hard conversations sometimes – including letting them know when you’re struggling.
How do I start the conversation?
If you’re concerned about telling your partner that you want to seek help for your mental health, then remember, you don’t have to do anything until you are ready. Don’t put yourself under any pressure, as this could prevent you from accessing the support you need.
But, when you do feel ready, create a comfortable environment to have that conversation in – at a quiet time, without distractions, when you’re both feeling relaxed.
Prepare what you’d like to say
You may be feeling nervous or emotional, so having a few points in mind can help you to structure the conversation. Unless your problems are very serious, a short explanation about how you’re feeling and the type of support you want to get will be fine.
It’s perfectly normal to get upset and to feel vulnerable. Just take your time, and ask them to be patient as you open up.
“It’s perfectly normal to get upset and to feel vulnerable”
Say as much or as little as you want to
If your partner wants more information, they can ask, and you can answer to whatever degree you feel comfortable. If this is the first time you’ve discussed mental health with your partner, it could open a new world of conversation between you. They may decide to share details about their own mental health experiences.
If your issues are deeper, a longer discussion may need to happen, but you don’t need to go into this right away if you don’t want to. You might feel more comfortable disclosing this with therapeutic assistance, such as in a couple’s therapy session.
Ask for what you need
Perhaps you need practical support. Could they help you search for a suitable counsellor online? Could they take you to an appointment with your GP, or your first therapy session?
Asking for help is a big step, and you should do it on your own terms. But, when you’re ready, talking to your partner could not only help you to access the support you need, but it could also help you to unlock a whole new level of connection within your relationship.
Do I have to tell my partner?
You deserve to get the help you need, but it’s important that you feel secure and safe in having the conversation. Here, Bernadette lists some reasons you may not want to tell your partner that you’re considering professional help:
- You don’t feel safe.
- They may react violently.
- They may make it difficult for you to access help.
- They may make life difficult at home.
- They may try to humiliate you.
“All of these are acceptable reasons for not telling them. However, from a therapist’s perspective, they all appear to identify issues within the relationship.”
If there are problems within your relationship, a therapist may have some useful advice, or you could explore scheduling a couple’s counselling session to help you improve communication with your partner.
To connect with a counsellor like Bernadette to discuss your own mental health, or to access couple counselling, visit counselling-directory.org.uk