Will and RJ,
I’ve been in a relationship with my boyfriend for well over a year now. Recently I’ve been having days where I feel depressed and self conscious about my body. I believe that this is a side effect of one of the medications I am taking, but my doctor assures me that it isn’t. I want to talk to my boyfriend about how I’ve been feeling, but I am worried that me being unhappy might be perceived as me not being happy in my relationship. I’m sure he’ll be supportive, I just want to bring it up in a way that doesn’t completely surprise him or make him question how happy he makes me.
How did you guys open up to each other about your own mental health struggles? How did it affect your relationship?
Hi there! Sorry to hear that you’ve been having some trouble.
So I think it’s great, first of all, that your first instinct is to want to talk about this with your boyfriend. Often times, that’s half the battle. It’s not just that we’re afraid of being judged or being a burden. It’s also the fact that pain is an incredibly isolating experience. Pain often times convinces us that we’re alone, be it physical, mental, or emotional. So again, I think it’s great that your first instinct is to open up about it, rather than feel like you have to deal with it alone.
As for your issue, let me say first that everyone has their moments when they feel depressed and self-conscious about their body. I don’t care if you’re the average person walking down the street or a supermodel: everyone has their days and their moments when they’re not feeling themselves. Hell, as I was typing the first sentence of this paragraph, I ended up typing “my body” instead of “their body”. Talk about a Freudian slip. That is not to try and downplay your issue. Just because an issue is common doesn’t mean it’s not serious or not worth discussing. And one piece of advice I always give to people when they go through those moments is to lean on people who support them. It sounds like you want your boyfriend to be that person, which again is great, because it has the potential to bring you closer together. As a matter of fact, I guarantee you that he probably has very similar moments from time to time. It doesn’t have to be medication that’s to blame. It could just be a day when you’re bloated, you haven’t gotten much sleep, you catch yourself in bad lighting, there are a myriad of things that can send someone down that path.
One of the best ways to help conversations like this happen is to create a mutual understanding with your partner that honesty and openness have to come first. One of the reasons why Will and I regularly have conversations like this is because we’ve worked hard to cultivate a foundation of trust and honesty between us. It was a little challenging at first, since we weren’t really used to doing that with anyone in our lives. But as we kept opening up, it got easier and easier. Nowadays, we can share stuff like that without any sort of reservation. So it sounds like, for you guys, this is the perfect opportunity to start building that rapport. And while I don’t know your boyfriend at all, if you’re able to explain your situation to him the same way you did in your email, then I think it should be fairly clear that your issue isn’t with him or the relationship, and that you’re trying to open up to him and lean on him for support. Granted it can feel awkward sometimes trying to get those conversations started. Again, if you’re not used to conversations like this, it can be challenging to know where to start. But honestly, all it takes is just approaching them whenever you get a quiet moment together and saying something like “can I talk to you about something?” Before you get into it, you can even make sure to emphasize “look, I want you to understand that my issue isn’t with you at all and that I’m perfectly happy with our relationship right now. I just need some help figuring out some personal stuff.”
Something else to keep in mind, too, is to try to make sure that this policy of honesty and openness goes both ways. So as much as you want to have him be a source of support, you should also try and do the same for him. Not that I’m assuming that you wouldn’t, but when you’re figuring this sort of stuff out, sometimes you need to make it clear that they can talk to you at any time. They don’t always realize that, so it’s helpful to make that clear. You can even try and make it a point to periodically check in with him. Ask him how he’s doing, how he’s been feeling lately, if there’s anything in particular that’s been on his mind. Again, if this sort of stuff becomes habit for you two, then it makes communication so much easier. And make no mistake, communication is key in a healthy relationship, especially when it comes to talking about each person’s needs.
One last thing I can offer, which is actually a tool that I learned from Will. It can be easy for us to emphasize the stuff that we don’t like about ourselves, which is why it’s really important to also recognize what we do like about ourselves. It’s important to be able to readily rattle off at least a handful of things you like about your own appearance. That way, when you are having a self-conscious moment, you can remind yourself of those three or four things that are working for you, and try to shift your focus towards them. That’s also something your partner can help you with if you’re having trouble, because surely they have a few favorite things about your appearance.
Best of luck to both of you guys moving forward!
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