“My partner can’t find out about this.”
Whenever we hear these words, it’s easy to assume that the person has been unfaithful or that they are on the verge of bankruptcy. But often they are about burnout and mental health struggles.
When we attempt to repress our feelings to “protect” our partner that way, it’s usually because we are scared to admit to ourselves that we need help.
This contributes to a bigger problem: our loved ones will sense that something is wrong, and it will only add another layer of friction to our lives.
You may be asking yourself: Do I have a choice in the matter?
Typically, when I encourage my clients to voice their concerns with their partners, I get one of the following responses: “She’ll panic and freak out,” “He’ll try to help but will only make things worse,” “He’ll make me quit my job,” “She’s used to our lifestyle,” or “I’ll feel guilty about making him worry.”
The bottom line is that the person doesn’t want to take on any additional problems, no matter how dire their current situation is.
But our partners already know that something is wrong.
Burnout and stress are at all-time highs across professions, and they manifest in ways that are noticeable to our spouses — i.e., sleep disruption, low libido, alcohol misuse, or a lack of interest in shared activities. Our actions, behaviors, and what we say (or do not say) all influence our relationships.
When we remain focused on our struggles and stressors, it can blind us to the fact that we’re acting out in other ways. Even though many of us can muster up the strength to act professionally at work, there is no emotional energy left to be caring or even make polite small talk at home.
In fact, your partner may have already brought this to your attention but failed to get a constructive response from you.
Feeling overwhelmed or trapped, it’s easy to convince ourselves that it’s not a good time to discuss mental health because our relationships are already strained. The opposite is true.
Your spouse’s latest attitude — whether nagging, inconsiderate, or impatient — may not inspire trust, but it’s most likely in response to your silence. Their behavior may be just a reaction to your stress, a changed relationship dynamic, or the cloud of ambiguity that is creeping into your conversations. The failed attempts to reach you could have led them to the point of desperation.
In saying this, my intention isn’t to make you feel guilty. Instead, I want to encourage you to see that your partner is not your enemy but a person who worries about you and needs your cooperation.
Protecting your spouse could harm your marriage.
It’s completely understandable to want to protect your partner and to be nervous about appearing weak, but it may not be worth it in the long run. With time, repressing your feelings can lead them to seek attention and understanding outside of your marriage, and you can only hope that they’ll find a good group of friends to confide in.
The hard truth is that growing apart and being unable to communicate with an irritable spouse are common reasons for divorce.
Opening up to them will help you break the ice, get the understanding you need, resolve conflicts, and rebuild intimacy. On a deeper level, it will allow you to look at each other through kinder eyes.
Your partner doesn’t expect (or want) you to be invincible.
You married your partner for a reason, and when you’re struggling, you need to be able to trust in the foundation you’ve built. It’s important to do this not only for your marriage but also for yourself, because you need all the help you can get to recover from burnout.
Sharing your feelings will take some of the pressure off your shoulders and help you realize that your difficulties can be resolved.
What can you say when it’s hard to find the “right” words?
When burnout leaves you overwhelmed, cynical, and in a state of despair, it can be hard to trust in your feelings and judgment. Intense emotions make it difficult to make any decisions, let alone come up with a plan to approach your partner in a tense situation.
Rest assured that you don’t need to have the right words. All you need to say is: “Honey, I’ve been acting strange lately because I’m burned out and it’s hard on me. I’m not sure yet what to do, but I wanted to share that with you. Thank you for all the patience and support you’ve given me. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner.”
Maybe it’ll lead to the conversation you both need to have, or to a quiet cuddle and a warmer household atmosphere. In any case, opening up will be the start of positive changes — ones that you need to work through burnout and move forward.