Talking Tourettes with Someone You Love

Talking Tourettes with Your Loved One

I’ve talked before about why individuals with Tourettes often hide their tics from their friends and partners in relationships. I got an email recently, however, that got me thinking. The individual who sent this email basically asked, “My significant other won’t talk about his tics. What do I say?”

It’s a great question. It’s one thing to talk about tics with random strangers you may never see again, or people you see only in the workplace. It’s a whole other challenge to talk tics with people who you value above others and desire to be close to.

So what do you say when someone you love won’t talk about his or her tics?

To be honest, I can’t tell you exactly what to say. Each relationship is different, and different people will react in different ways. I thought, however, what I would do was give you a brief insight into how my tic discussions go with people I’m close to. It might seem a bit odd that talking Tourettes still makes me nervous, as I write about it often in this blog. But each time the subject is brought up or needs to be addressed, the butterflies flit around my stomach, and sometimes I feel suddenly lightheaded.

It’s not impossible though.

In the Beginning

I’d known my husband for five years by the time we started dating. We’d not only gone to church together, but we were part of the same small group, and we saw each other in groups settings at least four times a week, sometimes more. While we weren’t best buds, we weren’t strangers. And yet, Stephen didn’t know about my Tourettes. It wasn’t something I was comfortable talking about yet.

One night, we were instant messaging, talking about random things, when he typed, “Tell me something.”

“Tell you what?” I typed back.


What had gone from a silly discussion about a friend’s ridiculous shirt had suddenly become a window, an opportunity in which I could tell him anything. As we were on the fast-track to developing a very close relationship, a voice in the back of my mind said, “You’re going to have to tell him sometime. He’ll see it eventually.”

I can’t tell you how hard it was to type that response. I prayed. I cried. I considered turning off the browser and coming up with some excuse later. But by God’s grace, I finally gathered the courage to type back,

“Have you ever heard of Tourette Syndrome?”

“Yes,” was his response.

“Well, I have it.”

It took him a moment to type up a reply, during which there was more praying and crying on my end. A part of me wished I hadn’t typed it. What if he thought I was making it up to get attention? What if he thought it was a mental disorder instead of a neurological one? What if, what if, what if…? And then his reply came.

“Wow. Thank you for telling me that. I appreciate that you trust me enough to tell me something so personal.”

If I hadn’t been in love yet, I was head over heels by then.

Why It was Special

It might seem like the point of this story is to share how brave I was in sharing my Tourettes with a young man I was falling in love with. Not so. It was special because it was done in my time. I wasn’t coerced into sharing. I wasn’t pushed or prodded. It was my choice, and because I had the chance to tell him on my time, I felt more comfortable talking about it.

My husband is the first man I ever dated. If we’d started talking closely even a few years before, I wouldn’t have felt comfortable telling him because I wasn’t comfortable in my own skin. Before then, I really, REALLY hated my tics. They embarrassed me. They set me apart, and not in a good way. They drew negative attention, and for years, I didn’t even want to admit to myself that I had them.

I guess my point here is that I wasn’t pushed into telling him. As I’ve said before, many people with Tourettes are uncomfortable with their own Tourettes or tic disorders. If I don’t want to admit to myself that I’m different, why on earth would I tell it to someone else? Even if the tics are obvious, it can be very hard to essentially say, “My brain isn’t wired like everyone else’s.”

Believe me when I tell you that an individual with Tourettes might value your friendship partly because you treat him like everyone else. To him, not talking about it means you value who he is , tics or no tics. You’re not labeling him like so many other people do. You’re someone he can feel normal around, and that’s a HUGE compliment!

Once the Can of Worms is Opened….

Okay, so my husband knows I have Tourettes. What has it changed? Honestly? Very little. I do the tics, and that’s about the end of it. Because my tics are often tied to my anxiety (higher anxiety means more tics), sometimes I’ll mention that I’m feeling “ticcy,” and I need to go for a walk or do some exercise. But aside from that, we really don’t talk about it.

Because there’s really not much to talk about. Tics are a basic part of my life. I live with them, and I often ignore them. Talking about them much would be rather unproductive. Even my mom will bring them up sometimes, but only to help me discover what’s stressing me out. “I’ve noticed your tics are higher today. Are you stressed about something?”

And that’s it. If I want to talk about the tics themselves, that’s up to me. And I do from time to time, but on my time and my turf. And because my family respects those boundaries, it makes me feel more comfortable to share when I really want to.

So Should You Bring Up His or Her Tics?

If you’re in a relationship with someone, and you want to ask about his or her tics, I can’t give you a fast and hard answer to that question. Like I said, everyone is different. It’s important for you to know, however, that once tics are diagnosed, there’s not a whole lot more to say about them. Unless the tics are self-harming (and most of them aren’t), there’s not much to talk about.

I just want to stress that interpreting a “tic silence” as mistrust can be a mistake that stresses both of you out. I know it feels like a big mystery, but there’s not much to tell. Whether or not you have that conversation will depend on the dynamics of your relationship, and you know that better than me. If you do bring it up, I can only caution you to be gentle, and to keep it simple. By not making a big deal out of it, you’re reassuring your friend that you love him or her no matter what.

And isn’t that what we all want?

Do you have experience talking about Tourettes with a loved one? What about questions? I’d love to hear! Please share you comments in the Comment Box below, or email me.  If you’d like to learn more and get free information on topics like this and my writing, please subscribe to my newsletter. As always, thanks for reading!

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  • E.A. Rowan on July 29, 2015 at 7:36 pm said:

    I’ve never had the problem of having to ‘come out’ with my TS as it is so vocal, aggressive and obvious. Nevertheless I am always happy to answer genuine questions about it, either to help someone understand or to help a friend/ partner/ family member to help you.
    However I do have the problem of random or new people always wanting to talk about it. I think one reason why my partner and I have lasted 10 years so far is due to the fact that he knows when to just see it as either part of the conversation or just ignore it. If it is funny laugh, if the person is clearly in pain or suffering offer a shoulder. Many people like to just push and push, wanting you to tic and be funny when you just want to get on with your day.
    Even though my Tourettes is so obvious I still find it hard to talk about to people, either through being too proud to admit to strangers I am anxious or in pain or worry that they will not believe me/ be aggressive towards me /make fun.
    So I think not talking about it can be a bit of a coping mechanism; having a moment of peace at home and having to not worry.

    The time will come when people want to talk about their disabilities or problems, it is different for each person. Don’t force the conversation, but also sometimes a little push helps; if you are genuinely interested I cannot see it as a problem. Gauging the situation is best, if something funny happens I always find it better that my partner laughs and if I am finding it hard, I know he will be there… after a ‘day of it’ we both know the silence will help.

  • Stephen Tourell on May 19, 2017 at 6:35 am said:

    i have recently started dating someone who has TS. He told me of the condition early on and I am proud and happy to report that it has had no effect on the amount I love and respect him. It seems that it is set off by stress and anxiety and sometimes I feel it is set off by my actions that might irritate or anger him.In some instances have led to some more angry outbursts directed towards me. Is this related to TS or is it something entirely different.

    • on June 25, 2017 at 5:06 am said:

      Hi there, Stephen. You’re right on the money when you notice that anxiety and stress can make tics worse, because people (including myself) have reported this over and over again. As to the angry outbursts, it’s hard to say without a medical professional (which I am not) giving the opinion. There are a number of people with tics who also struggle with rage disorders, and though the correlation isn’t clear, it is a possibility. Or it could be something else completely. I’m not a doctor, so I can’t diagnose him, obviously, but maybe it’s something to read up on. Sorry I can’t be more help!

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