My husband, Evan, and I recently celebrated our two year anniversary.
And being the INFP that I am, I’ve been reflecting on things I’ve learned through our relationship. Things about myself and about helping relationships function better. A big thing that had a bit of learning curve for us was navigating my mental health, my wonky brain days/seasons, together.
Evan’s brain is very non-wonky, if you will. He could probably count on his fingers the number of times he’s been worried about something. He’s very unfamiliar with anxiety, especially anxiety that is not situational (for example, being anxious about a surgery would be situational while my anxiety can also appear for seemingly no reason, just because I haven’t been eating well or exercising or for really no reason I can name). I’ll have days, and they used to be more common, where I simply feel off. Like, my mental wheels are in a rut or a mental gear is stuck. Him, no so much.
When we were first dating and I would have visits from anxiety, he would get frustrated because he didn’t understand how I could be so fixated on a worry that to him seemed irrational or not worthy of time. He would get impatient I wasn’t choosing to just get over it. Out of his mouth would come those cliches anyone with a wonky brain is just about tired of hearing. Things about trust and facing your fears and blah blah fucking blah. He would come up with a simple solution as if I hadn’t been working for years on overcoming my own shit.
Since he was someone I cared deeply about, this was hard to hear. Part of me tried really hard to take to heart what he was saying and try to glean some wisdom from it. A bigger part of me felt, in a way, betrayed, that I had let him see this part of me and he had trampled carelessly all over my delicate self. I felt defensive he was oversimplifying my struggle, even if he did make a good point on a rare occasion. And I felt super angry that he was acting like I wasn’t trying, that he was ignoring how far I’d come before he was even in the picture. As if all I needed this whole time was for him to come and enlighten me.
I’m not saying all this to throw him under the bus. Quite the opposite, in fact. I’m insanely proud of him, of myself, of us for that progress that’s been made, for now being at such a radically different and more healthy place in living with my wonky brain.
It was a rocky climb with clumsy climbers, but we got there. And from that climb we’ve learned some things that might help you too.
IF YOU’RE THE WONKY PARTNER
Remember your partner isn’t working within the same frame of reference as you.
If you’re partner hasn’t experience much wonky brain and you want them to understand you better, you’re going to need to get creative with metaphors and analogies and descriptions. Think about what things your partner has experienced and work from there. For example, maybe your partner has never been depressed, but they have experienced the heaviness of grief before. You could try explaining, depression is kind of like that feeling of grief but without loss. There are times when I can’t focus on anything. Evan isn’t unfamiliar with distraction, but telling him it feel like my brain is flitting dramatically from one side of the room to the next, out of my control, is more descriptive than, “I can’t focus.”
Reflect on what you need and communicate that.
Wouldn’t it be nice if our partners could read our minds and just know what we need? Unfortunately that’s impossible and unfair to expect, just like it’s impossible and unfair for someone to expect a prayer to carry your anxiety away on angel wings. One thing I eventually realized was not only would I have to spell out what I need when it came to my wonky brain, I would also myself have to know what I needed from Evan. It’s easy to pick apart how someone tries to meet your needs, but until you can put it into words, you really can’t blame them for failing. Take time to imagine a hypothetical scenario where your partner reacted in the ideal way to one of your not-so-pretty wonky brain conversations. Working through that can be enlightening and help you understand the kind of responses you need. Of course, this can take trial and error in practice. You might think you need one thing until your partner does it. There will almost certainly be reevaluation and it takes practice, but if you work at it, I really think it can become more second nature to know what you need from your loved one. Sometimes I just need a hug. Other times I need an opinion. In some situations I just need Evan to listen.
Let your partner in, but don’t expect them to save you.
I already had pretty reasonable expectations about the fact Evan couldn’t save me from my wonky brain. If anything, I had lower than realistic expectations and had to learn to be open to him having something to offer. I owe this to have already been on a journey of resiliency before we began our relationship and knew relying on myself was an option. But I think it is common to think a relationship is going to save you or fix you or chase every grey sky away. It won’t. Your partner can be an immensely valuable resource and support that you should absolutely let in, but if you’re expecting them to be the hero, that’s unhealthy and that story will have a bitter end.
Your partner is going to make mistakes. They might not show up in the way or at the time you need. They love you and want you to feel better. It’s scary to see someone they love hurting. It makes them feel out of control. So sometimes they might speak or act hastily in an attempt to make it all better. In that process, they might say things so stupid or cliche you’ll be too shocked to speak. Remember where they’re coming from even if your face feels hot. Have grace.*
*As long as they are trying and progress is being made. If your partner isn’t trying, continually disregards what you communicate, etc., they either don’t truly care about you or aren’t ready to be in a relationship.
IF YOU’RE THE NOT-SO-WONKY PARTNER
Listen to your partner as if they are the expert on their own brain (which they are).
It can be tempting to assume you know the answers after what seems to you like a sufficient analysis of the situation. It can feel unnatural to hold your tongue, especially because you love the person and don’t want to seem them stuck in a wonky web. But, trust me, your partner has lived with their brain for far longer than you have. They are the only person with first hand experience of their wonkiness. By all means, do research and educate yourself with outside sources, but if your partner says they feel a certain way or have tried something and it hasn’t worked, please give them the benefit of the doubt. I think there are exceptions, of course, even for myself, when I’ve needed to hear something I didn’t want to hear or be challenged in a way I was closed off to. But these are rare. Err on the side of caution when it comes to arguing with your partner about their own brain. Listen first. Listen for a long time. Listen longer than you think you need to. With open ears and an open heart.
Do what your partner says they need, even if you’re a little skeptical.
If your partner says they need your shoulder to cry on and does not need your two cents, please keep your pennies in your pockets. The first go-to solution should be the solution your partner provides. I think you’ll be surprised on the progress a wonky mind can make when it is empowered by a partner brain that believes and trusts in them to make good choices in their mental health journey.
Sure, it is possible, your partner is delusional or misguided in what they think they need, but if your partner is honestly trying to overcome/function with their wonkiness, they will see this when it’s not working (eventually). If your partner isn’t honestly trying, they might not be ready for a relationship right now. Tough love might be needed. Then again, they might not be ready for or receptive to that tough love. This is something pretty situational. The two of you are experts on your relationship, so I think if you’re both listening well, you’ll be able to navigate it.
Don’t be afraid to offer your insight, but made sure you’ve listened first (and read the room, please).
Even a non-wonky partner can have value and wisdom to add in a wonky situation, provided they’ve truly been listening and learning. It might seem like I don’t mean this on account of everything else I’ve said, but if you’ve put in time and have read the room, don’t be afraid to share an observation you’ve made about what seems to work or not work, or a trend you’ve noticed in the wonkiness, or an idea you think might be worth trying. If it’s said with humility and at a good time, you could really make a positive difference in your partner’s life. Now that Evan’s put in his time getting to know my wonky brain, he can make startlingly accurate summations of what’s going on and can be eerily good at saying exactly what I need to hear (he’s blindly confident, so he’s also said a lot of dumb stuff, but that happens a lot less now that we’ve been working together so long).
Trust your partner.
Trust that your partner is strong and resilient and is trying. Reflect on the progress they’ve made and the things they’ve tried. Encourage them by giving them credit for what they’ve accomplished and how far they’ve come. Let them know you trust they aren’t being complacent, even when progress is slow. One of the most meaningful things to me–it gets me emotional–is just knowing and hearing that Evan trusts me when I say I’m trying.
Your partner is going to make mistakes. They might lash out when they feel hurt. They might shut you out when they feel vulnerable. It’s scary as fuck to let someone else see you melt down or have a panic attack over something you know the other person might see as small or to not hide how sad you are when it feels like you’ve been sad for too long. Even if you know you’re loved. And because your wonky brain partner loves you, it’s somehow less scary and even more scary all at the same time. Give them a break. They’ll get braver with time.
What experience have you had, if any, with wonkiness in a relationship? What tips do you have? Share them, please! I’d love to get my hands on some more wisdom.
To keep up with when I publish a new post, follow me…
Via email (to the right or down below)
On Instagram: @alissaswonkybrain
On Twitter: @wonkybraingal
luh u bunches