- Severe Depression and Relationships: How to Redirect Self-Doubt and Criticism
- Depression in Relationships: When to Say Goodbye
- SHOW A UNITED FRONT
- Relationships and depression
- Andrew: Loving someone with depression
- Depression is never a choice.
- It’s okay to feel frustrated or angry.
- Depression is a withdrawal, but not from you.
- You’re grieving too.
- When nothing is as powerful as something.
- People with depression are strong.
- What they’re doing makes sense.
- Being positive probably won’t work.
- So if positive is out, what then?
- Try not to let the negative talk go on and on and on and on and …
- If you’re struggling for words, let those be the words.
- Ask them what you do that doesn’t help. And listen.
- Don’t ask them what they’re depressed about.
- Try to initiate the things they used to love, that depression has stolen.
- Another reason to initiate.
- They are not broken.
- Like this article?
- A psychologist’s advice on dealing with depression in relationships
- On caring for a partner who has depression:
- On caring for yourself when you have depression:
- Maintaining some kind of perspective
- When it impacts your sex life
- Feeling like a burden
- Ask for help
- If you or someone else is in an emergency situation, please call 000 immediately.
- If you or anyone you know needs help:
- Lifeline on 13 11 14
- Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800
- MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978
- Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467
- Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36
- SANE 1800 187 263
- Depression and Breakups: A Difficult Relationship
- My relationship is making me sad
- Feeling Depressed Because Your Relationship is Not Meeting Your Needs?
- 5 Tips for Dating Someone Who Struggles With Depression
Severe Depression and Relationships: How to Redirect Self-Doubt and Criticism
Major depression is a very serious disorder that can have devastating consequences if not properly treated. But all of the negativity and pressure that one with depression perceives is not a reflection of who they truly are. Treatment for depression is about caring for the whole person and guiding them back to a clearer perspective of who they really are and of the opportunities they have before them, including their relationship.
It’s important to make space for the experience of depression—for acceptance and for healing. Simply resenting and pushing against the disorder day after day with perpetuate the symptoms and increase self-doubt and criticism. Committing to residential treatment may be one of the best opportunities for someone with major depression, as they can put recovery first while setting aside common triggers that heighten stress and cast further shadows on the lens of depression. In this setting, clinicians can help clients to find the best medications and dosages to minimize depression symptoms. Plus, experts know how to cultivate a balance between making compassionate space for the depression experience and also directing focus to the empowering moments and positive situations that are accessible for a client—especially the challenges that they are able to overcome despite the depression.
A critical benefit of caring outside perspective, such as that of a counselor or therapist, is that it can help someone with major depressive disorder to see the filter of depression for what it is: a distortion, not an honest representation of what’s really going on around them or an honest representation of their own self-worth. When a therapist helps a client to step back and see the disorder for what it is and how it operates on their mind, thoughts, and emotions, they can begin to take some of the power away from that depression filter. The more someone can remember that it is the disorder weighing down their view and experience of the world, the more they can be aware of alternative perspectives and have hope for a future of recovery.
Along with comprehensive treatment for the individual, couples therapy can help ground partners with tools and coping strategies to manage the presence of pessimism, doubt, and criticism. Spending regular time in therapy together can also serve to refresh partners’ perspective and to maintain an awareness that the filter of depression is a challenge they face, not an actual reflection of either of the partners’ value. With the support of therapy, a couple can identify needs of both partners and develop strategies for balancing and fulfilling those needs. A therapist can help them to create reasonable expectations and actionable steps, especially when criticism or other conflict arises. Both partners can feel more secure, knowing that they are not alone and that they have accessible tools for managing the sometimes overwhelming effects of depression.
Someone with depression—indeed, all of us need to feel secure within ourselves and in the context of a relationship. The keys to a confident connection are open communication and a productive balance between space and togetherness. A relationship is always evolving, as are we as individuals, as is depression. Honest communication and respect for expanding interdependence will support all of the dynamic elements at work. Long-term support must come not just from within the relationship when a partner has severe depression, but also from outside to ensure the best outcomes for individual and relationship recovery.
Depression in Relationships: When to Say Goodbye
Sometimes, your partner may threaten to commit suicide if you leave them. This is a serious situation, one that requires immediate attention, but the right kind of attention. The threat of suicide during the breakup should not compel you to stay in the relationship.
You cannot be the one who makes your partner decide whether or not they want to live or die. That is up to them. Attempting to “save” your partner by staying with them can only make the relationship more dysfunctional and could ultimately result in you resenting them.
Seek couple’s counseling
If your partner is well enough to participate, consider getting couple’s counseling so you can address your relationship issues before throwing in the towel. A therapist may be able to provide perspective that neither of you can manage on your own.
You may find that, despite depression, the relationship is worth saving. Counseling can provide the tools you need to heal and move forward as a couple. If counseling fails, at least you can walk away knowing you gave it your best shot.
Finally, if you’ve tried everything and your relationship seems hopeless, or worse — toxic — it may really be time to walk away. Try to make your partner understand that you still care. Wish them the best, but say that you need to make a clean break for your own sake.
Say goodbye and leave without regrets, or excessive drama. Remind your partner to continue with his or her treatment. If you’ve made the effort to improve your relationship, and see to your partner’s health, but things still aren’t working out, you can walk away without guilt. You deserve a chance at happiness, too.
If you think someone is at immediate risk of self-harm or hurting another person:
- Call 911 or your local emergency number.
- Stay with the person until help arrives.
- Remove any guns, knives, medications, or other things that may cause harm.
- Listen, but don’t judge, argue, threaten, or yell.
If you think someone is considering suicide, get help from a crisis or suicide prevention hotline. Try the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.
Sources: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
SHOW A UNITED FRONT
Healthy relationships are partnerships – in the truest sense of the word. When one person in the partnership is struggling, the other is there to unquestionably offer support.
“When you’re in a relationship, your depression is not just your problem, it’s both of yours. It’s amazing when you think about it – you’ve got someone to support you!”
We should also note that in some relationships, both partners struggle with poor mental health. If we both go through a bad patch simultaneously, it is extra important that we get outside support. That way we are better equipped to be there for each other.
Sadly, not all relationships are partnerships. If we struggle with depression, and our partner is unwilling to try and understand how things are for us or offer support, we need to question whether this is a healthy relationship for us to be in.
“He doesn’t understand what it is like. He calls it a made up illness. Says you just have to get on with it, don’t be silly there is nothing wrong with you”.
“I’m recently single and one of the reasons is that I felt my ex treated my MH as a ‘problem’ that needed to be ‘fixed’ before we could have a good relationship…”
“don’t let anyone manipulate you by saying that your illness is stopping them from living their life properly or is a burden. That’s negativity you don’t need.”
Of course – negotiating the challenges of mental health in a relationship is difficult, so our partner might not get everything right from the off.
However if they are accepting of the situation, and willing to invest their time and love and support towards shared goals (our mutual wellbeing and the wellbeing of your relationship) we are in a strong position.
“I think accepting that this is part of who the person you are with is important, and making them feel valued and support while they are going through it is crucial, rather than making them feel like all good things are on hold til they get better”
“It has taken a long time for him to get to this level though because it is a lot of information to take in, and he’s still learning new ways to help me every day”
If we’re in a relationship – be it romantic, or otherwise – where we both value, support and care for the other, we’re very lucky. We have someone to stand alongside as you face the challenges (and joys!) life throws our way.
We’re in it together, and you wouldn’t have it any other way.
Relationships and depression
Depression affects one in five people in the UK and is an illness that, thankfully, people are beginning to understand better as awareness grows. Less understood, however, are the ways in which depression can affect relationships and how your relationships can help you manage depression.
How relationships can affect depression
Strong and healthy relationships have the potential to help us cope with the symptoms of depression – and, in some circumstances, can be a big influence on whether a person becomes depressed.
They give us a support network – people to talk to and loved ones we can rely on when things are difficult. They can help us to maintain perspective and just generally feel less alone. ONS figures on what matters most to our wellbeing show that relationships with friends and family are joint-top of the list (89%).
Conversely, evidence suggests that people in troubled relationships are three times as likely to experience depression as those who aren’t. Unhappy or unsupportive relationships are a risk factor for depression. Some studies have found that over 60% of those with depression consider relationship problems to be the main cause of their illness.
How depression can affect relationships
Depression can make it difficult to maintain supportive and fulfilling relationships.
If your partner is suffering from depression, they may be so overwhelmed by their symptoms that finding the energy to communicate feels impossible.
As a partner or family member, it can be easy to find this really draining and upsetting. You might become exhausted with the effort of feeling you need to support your partner and also keeping up with running the house or looking after the rest of the family.
And in turn, the person with depression may begin to feel like a burden – as though they’re simply getting in the way and making the lives of those around them worse. They may be aware of the effects their depression is having on their relationships, but feel powerless to do anything about it. This can make them feel guilty, and lower their self-esteem even more.
This film by the World Health Organisation looks at how depression can interact with relationships:
How can counselling help?
We see a lot of couples affected by depression. While Relate counselling is not a treatment by itself, it can really help to work with someone who understands how depression can impact on a relationship.
They can help you begin to unpick what’s happening so you can get a better grip of the situation and how you might begin to address it. The idea is to help you feel like everything isn’t hopeless – that, actually, there are ways of managing what’s happening.
Here are some of the specific techniques we use.
- Open communication. This is something we encourage in any form of counselling, but it can be particularly important when it comes to depression. The kind of pressure that mental health issues can place on a relationship can be eased by talking openly and honestly about what each person is finding difficult. The counsellor will enable this process, making sure that each partner is able to speak and be heard.
- Externalising. This means detaching the condition from the person so you’re able to see the depression as the problem, not the person suffering from it. This could even mean giving it a name or referring to it in the third person. The idea is to help the person with depression see it as a separate entity, rather than being part of their personality.
- Breaking down the details. This means identifying the exact nature of the depression so we can see if there are any triggers and get a better idea of its severity. Lots of people come into counselling feeling like depression affects them all the time, but when you look at things in more detail, they begin to realise there are times when it’s not such an issue, or that there are times when it’s particularly bad. Acknowledging what might be contributing to the depression and whether there are any specific sources of stress can be really useful.
- Making a timeline together. This is where we look at positive and negative events throughout the relationship. This helps to pinpoint when the depression first intruded itself into the relationship and looks at what else was happening around that time. Depression can often be linked to a loss of some kind (death or separation from a loved one, loss of identity, loss of job/status, loss of health/mobility, loss of purpose). Doing a timeline can also give each partner a better idea of how the other is feeling. We often find that some events feel more or less significant to one partner than the other.
Is depression affecting your relationship?
If you think you might benefit from couples counselling for people affected by depression, then please get in touch.
You can also speak to a Relate counsellor by telephone, webcam or you can Message a Counsellor.
You can also get information on mental health from: Mind, Rethink, Time to Change and SANE.
Andrew: Loving someone with depression
Depression is devastating. When someone is experiencing depression, their entire life is blown apart. It can be a massive struggle just to make it through each day. But they aren’t the only ones who struggle.
Often forgotten are the loved ones of a person with depression. No-one tells them how to cope. They don’t know what to do. I would like to try and offer some advice to those people.
Knowing somebody you love is struggling with depression leaves you feeling incredibly helpless. You feel if you could say the right thing, or do something special, that maybe you will be able to help them to get better. But you don’t know what to say or what to do.
You try a gentle approach, you try a firm approach. You give them space, you try to get them to open up. You suggest things that can help. You buy them presents. You say encouraging things, you get frustrated and argue. Yet nothing you do seems to make any difference.
From my experience, the big mistake that people often make is that they treat depression as a mood, as if saying or doing the right thing will lift the depression. What you must remember is that depression isn’t a mood – it’s a very debilitating illness.
If somebody had a broken leg, you wouldn’t tell them to go for a run. You would be patient, you would understand that it will take time, patience and rehabilitation. When the leg heals and you can walk again, it still can take weeks for it to regain full strength. It may never be as strong again. Depending on how bad the break was, it may alter how you walk, what exercise you can do, even how you stand. It may never be the same again.
That is EXACTLY what depression is like.
Just because you can’t see an injury doesn’t mean that it isn’t debilitating. After my worst bout of depression, it took months before I felt I could do my job properly. Even now, two years on, I’m not the same as I was.
I don’t do overtime. I don’t work nightshifts. I don’t get left on my own for too long. There are countless other little things as well. This is because my depression completely changed my entire outlook on life, and it changed who I was as a person.
When loved ones are battling depression, when they are in that darkness, human nature is to try and ‘fix’ them. For a lot of people, this approach won’t work. Whilst there are things you can do, like giving the day a routine, and trying to find activities to keep the person’s mind active, you are not going to be able to make someone ‘snap out of it’, it’s just impossible.
Try and imagine that depression is like being in a dark tunnel. The person with depression can’t see a thing, because everything is surrounded by darkness. Every sound is amplified, every fear is magnified. All they want to do is get out of the tunnel, but they can’t see where to go, they don’t know what to do. Your natural reaction is to lead them out of this dark tunnel, back to the light.
This is the WRONG approach.
You may think it makes sense, but for the person with depression, nothing makes sense. That’s the nature of the illness. They can’t be led out of the tunnel, because the fear is too great, the darkness is too dark. Trying to drag them out of this tunnel is more likely to make them curl up and hide than do any good.
What you need to do is be there for them. If they talk, just listen. Don’t talk, don’t give them opinions. Just really listen. When I was at my worst, everybody I tried to talk to would give me an opinion on how I could ‘make things better’. The thing was, I wasn’t asking for an opinion. I just wanted to relay how I felt, and for the person to listen, give me a hug and reassure me that however long it took, they would stay in the darkness with me until I found my own way out.
Yet nobody listened. They talked, and they advised, and they suggested, and they tried to help, but they didn’t LISTEN. That, more than anything, is what you need to do. Sit with them, let them talk. However upsetting or shocking what they say is, don’t give advice, just listen.
When they finish, hug them, tell them you love them, and that however long it takes, you will be there until they find the strength to get better. You will never be able to lead someone out of the dark tunnel, all you can do is stay in the tunnel with them until they feel strong enough to lead themselves out.
Yes, it’s hard. In many ways, hearing my loved ones tell me about their darkness was worse than living in my own. Yes, it’s often thankless. And yes, at times, you will feel rejected. But don’t give up on them. Support them, love them, and be there for them until they find the strength to get better.
And most of all, when they talk, listen.
We asked our supporters for more advice on how to support a partner who has depression.
Read the tips
Depression builds walls around people and between people. When someone you love has been dragged inside those walls, there can be a distance between you both that feels relentless. You miss them, but they’re right there beside you, except that they’re kind of not. Not in the way you both want to be anyway.
The symptoms of depression exist on a spectrum. All of them are normal human experiences, but in depression they’re intensified. Not everyone who has depression will have a formal diagnosis, so knowing what to watch out for can help to make sense of the changes you might notice.
Depression looks like a withdrawal. It feels that way too. It’s a withdrawal from everything that is enriching and life-giving. Depression sucks the life out of life. That’s how it feels. When depression bites, everything becomes hard. Life starts to hurt. Those who are bitten stop looking forward to things. They stop engaging and they stop enjoying things, even the things they used to love. They can feel hard to reach, and sometimes they can be angry or appear as though they don’t care. That isn’t because they want to withdraw from you or push you away, they don’t, although it can feel that way.
Here are some ways to fight for them, beside them and for the times the fight has to be theirs, behind them:
Depression is never a choice.
If people with depression could be happy, they would be. Depression leaves people feeling as though they’ve been scooped out with a spoon. It’s a hijacking of everything that feels good. The hopelessness, emptiness and loneliness is relentless. If they knew how to be any other way, they would be.
It’s okay to feel frustrated or angry.
The helplessness of loving someone with depression can be frustrating, exhausting and lonely. It’s okay to feel angry at times, or as though you want to throw your hands in the air and walk away. You’re human and when you love someone with depression, there will be times that you’ll be in the arena too, fighting the battle. Remember that you’re fighting a common enemy and it’s depression, not the person beside you. Try to see through the symptoms to the person you know, because they’re in there.
Depression is a withdrawal, but not from you.
When you love someone with depression it can feel as though you’ve lost them for a while. The person you’ve always known and loved is still there, but they’ve withdrawn into themselves, away from the pain and hopelessness of it all, not away from you. It just feels like the safest place to be, but it doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t have you right there with them if they knew how to do that.
You’re grieving too.
Depression steals people. If the depression has been around for long enough, you might feel a sense of grief. If you need to get angry, sad, or fall to your knees some days, that’s okay. You’re fighting a battle too. It’s okay to pull back to recharge now and then. Be kind to yourself and do something that replenishes you. Reach out to someone, but don’t lean on the person with depression. People with depression already see themselves as a burden, and anything that inflames that might cause them to withdraw even more.
When nothing is as powerful as something.
People with depression won’t always have the words and will feel the burden of being with you when they don’t know what to say or do. Let them know that you love that version of them too – the one that has nothing to say, or plenty to say but no will to say it. Let them know that you’re there for them even if they don’t want to talk. Silence with someone can be lovely when you’re depleted. ‘You don’t have to be anyone different to who you are. You don’t need to change or pretend or put on a happy face. I love you and I’m here for you.’
People with depression are strong.
People with depression are some of the strongest people I’ve met. They have to be. The pain and hopelessness of depression is immense and to keep existing day after day under the weight of that takes an almighty fight, fuelled by almighty strength and courage.
What they’re doing makes sense.
We all have needs we can’t give up. They’re the big ones and they’re an inescapable part of being human – love, validation, respect, visibility, safety, influence, connection, appreciation, purpose. You know the ones. When one of these needs isn’t met, the temptation can be to push it down – to ‘depress’ it – to where it’s out of awareness and can’t cause trouble. But of course, any symptom whether physical or emotional will always cause trouble when it’s ignored. It takes the strength of a warrior to keep pushing things down, and getting on with life. Eventually, when people have been strong for too long the armour will crack. Depression hurts, but it makes sense. It’s a creative, adaptive withdrawal from a world that feels painful to be in.
Being positive probably won’t work.
Reframing things positively is generally done with loving intent, but most likely it just won’t work. The messages that are sent with love will likely be received as ‘nobody understands’. For someone who is being caned by depression, there is no positive. Research has found that people who are already unhappy don’t want to be talked into the glossy view of life, they just want understanding. The view of reality is shaped by a lifetime of experience and sometimes, the way people see the world is exactly the way the world is for them. Trying to push against this can work against what you’re trying to do and intensify the loneliness and desperation of it all. Reframing things in a positive way is important, but it can’t be forced.
So if positive is out, what then?
You don’t have to fix anything or change anything. If there was a way to do that, they would have done it themselves by now. Instead, acknowledge their pain, ‘I know this is really hard for you,’ and validate what they’re going through ‘I know you’re hurting. That’s understandable given what you’re going through’, or ‘I know you’re fighting a tough battle right now.’ Be the one who can be with them without having to change them. This will probably explode your own feelings of helplessness, but reworking things towards a positive angle will ease your helplessness, not theirs. That helplessness you’re feeling is the bit you’re doing together. So is the pain and the confusion of that. That’s what makes your love unconditional and your support something extraordinary.
Try not to let the negative talk go on and on and on and on and …
It’s really important to hear people from where they are, but if the discussion of a negative thought goes on and on and on and starts to feel circular, it’s not good for anyone. It’s called rumination and it can make it harder to move through depression. Talk about it with them for sure, but try to persuade the conversation in a different direction after a while if you can.
If you’re struggling for words, let those be the words.
There’s no need to gloss it up. The truth is that it’s hard to know what to say because there’s nothing that can take away the pain. Don’t worry about saying the ‘right’ thing, there is no right thing. Instead say the ‘real’ thing with love and an open heart. Share what you’re feeling, because chances are that they’re feeling it too. Common ground will shrink the distance between you. You might not be depressed, but chances are you’ll be feeling a lot of the things they’re feeling – sadness, confusion, frustration, helplessness, and the greatest wish that you knew how to make it better. ‘I wish that you weren’t in so much pain and I wish I knew how to soften things for you, but I don’t know how to do that. What I will do is be here for you for as long as it takes.’
Ask them what you do that doesn’t help. And listen.
Depression can be different for everyone. You can’t be expected to know how to respond. Ask what they need from you and whether there’s something they need you to do differently. Be open to the response and don’t take it personally.
Don’t ask them what they’re depressed about.
When people are sad they generally have an idea of why. Depression doesn’t always work like that. Sometimes people will be aware of what has triggered their depression, but sometimes it won’t be obvious. On paper, people with depression can look as though they have everything to be happy about – they can even believe that themselves – but depression doesn’t play by any rules.
Try to initiate the things they used to love, that depression has stolen.
At a time when people need connection the most, depression forces distance. Do everything you can not to let it. Connection and positive feelings strengthen the brain against depression, and exercise can cause the same changes in the brain as antidepressants. The problem is that the very nature of depression will hold people back from doing any of these. Don’t wait for them to feel like doing things. They won’t. Their depression won’t let them. Depression is there to nurture withdrawal, remember. It does this by stealing motivation, and creating exhaustion. Be tender, gentle and loving and reintroduce them to life, connection, and positive feelings. You’re likely to get resistance, and a lot of it. Know that this isn’t personal and do what you can do anyway.
Another reason to initiate.
Thoughts, feelings and behaviours are intimately connected. They tend to follow each other, so someone with depression will think depressed thoughts (‘Nothing makes a difference’; ‘I’m useless’), feel depressed feelings (pain, hopelessness, exhaustion) and this will drive depressed behaviour (withdrawal and a depressed mood). A change in one will eventually lead to the other but the change is unlikely come from the person with depression. Out of the three, thoughts and feelings are the toughest to change. They’re tenacious. This is why things like, ‘get over it’ or ‘it’s not that bad’ or ‘just try to be a bit positive, hey?’ won’t work. The best way is through their behavior, but you’ll have to be stronger than their depression. Initiate walks, dinners, holidays – anything that has the potential to create positive feelings. Take their hand and lead them there gently.
They are not broken.
There is nothing abnormal about the symptoms of depression. They’re a very normal part of human experience, but with an intensity that’s relentless. We’ve all felt sad, disconnected, the need to withdraw, hopeless, helpless, exhausted, and as though the fun has faded for a while These are all common experiences, even if only fleetingly at times and from the kinder end of the spectrum. What makes these very human experiences lead to a diagnosis of depression is a question of degree. People with depression experience the same we all experience, but at a different intensity, duration, or cluster of symptoms.
Depression rarely takes hold of just one person. When depression settles into someone, helplessness, fear and sadness bleed through the walls it builds around that person and into the lives of those who love them. It’s exhausting for everyone. There is always a way through depression but it takes an almighty fight. You won’t always have it in you to fight alongside them and you won’t always know what to do but that’s okay – you don’t have to do any of that to fight for them. Few things are as powerful as human connection and anything you can do to nurture that will help to put back what depression strips away.
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A psychologist’s advice on dealing with depression in relationships
Depression is not incompatible with finding love (or someone to spend the night with) but it does present certain challenges.
Having depression has been likened to a waterboarding of the soul, so it can be understandably hard on said soul and its mate. Over the last few months we’ve repeatedly had requests to talk these issues through, like this one from The Hook Up inbox:
☏ “From personal experience when the mind is depressed you tend to want to isolate yourself, and can feel like a burden to others, which scares you that you’ll ‘ruin’ the relationship. I was wondering if you could have a discussion about this and any tips for those who 1) live with depression and how to manage it when you are with a partner and 2) on the other side of things, how to help a significant other when they are depressed.”
Clinical psychologist Gemma Cribb joined us in The Hook Up studio to offer her expertise to listeners. You can listen to the full chat or read on for her advice:
On caring for a partner who has depression:
Looking after your own mental health
As RuPaul Charles famously and repeatedly says, ‘If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?’ First and foremost, Gemma says you have to look after yourself. Using the analogy of oxygen masks on a plane — and how you have to put your own on first, before helpings other — she says that in relationships we can take on responsibility for the other person’s happiness but actually “no one can make you happy, except you.”
Jordan called in to talk about how, after looking after his partner who struggled with depression, he eventually realised that he was struggling with it as well. So, he asked Gemma, can being with someone with depression exacerbate your own symptoms or depressive tendencies? “You bet,” she says. “It’s really common, actually. There’s this saying in the industry that depression can be contagious — not in the traditional way, of course — but sometimes when you’re with somebody who doesn’t want to do anything and is always feeling low and down, and speaking about negative things, it can be hard to keep up your own healthy self-care.”
Beyondblue estimates that in any one year, around 1 million Australian adults have depression. The current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) lists symptoms like ‘depressed mood’, ‘decreased interested’ and ‘fatigue’ for Major Depressive Disorder and Depressive Episodes. At its root, depression is a temporary inability to feel pleasure.
We heard from Kate who has previously had depressive episodes and not understood what was happening to her. After seeking help and finding a new partner, Kate says honesty and her partner’s willingness to listen and learn were key. “I would say, for anybody that’s dating somebody with depression, what was really nice for me was to know that he actually wanted to learn about it,” she says. “He reads about it and he dealt with it amazingly well, just by being there.”
Knowing when to end the relationship
At times it can be better, for both parties, to no longer be together. Caller Hannah spoke about her experience dating someone who had depression, someone who she really liked and who really liked her. They could both sense his decline throughout their time together and he ended up breaking up with her. Now she’s finding it hard to let go and struggling to accept feelings of having let the disease beat them. But as Gemma reiterated, when you’re dealing with this disease, “if the person with depression can’t beat it, then it is actually better to take a break from the relationship, if that is what he has chosen.”
“You’re relatively powerless in that situation and it’s not healthy for you to be the only one trying to keep you guys together.”
For those couples who do stay together, though, there are basic things that will help you both. Gemma says encouraging your partner with things like exercise, getting enough sleep, and reducing the intake of drugs and alcohol can help a lot. And then there’s rumination, or rather the ideal lack thereof. Psychology Today describes rumination as, “repetitively going over a thought or a problem without completion.” This can include sitting and stewing on things from the past or problems of the present. So, Gemma recommends, “keeping nice and active, and trying to encourage positive future conversation and problem solving.”
On caring for yourself when you have depression:
Maintaining some kind of perspective
When dealing with the disease yourself, it helps to remember that you are not your depression. “It’s about the depressed person making a choice, which means they have to view it as something that they could have control over, even if they don’t feel like they do,” says Gemma. She did acknowledge that some people do have a genetic vulnerability and things like serious medical illness and drug use can lead to depression but did also reiterate that by getting help, prioritising yourself and taking it one small step at a time you can get through.
Gemma also says to avoid viewing depression as an identity or something that will be a part of your lives forever. “It’s something that you’re going through,” she says, “like a really long flu or something like that. You really need to see it as something that is beatable and just a temporary part of your life.”
When it impacts your sex life
Martha got in touch to talk about her treatment for depression, which she called “a life saver” and to share how she’s been finding it since. “I finally felt like I could have my emotions under control and actually learn to like myself as a person and finally live the life I wanted to.” Martha has been dating someone for a year but she’s found that her antidepressants have seriously impacted her libido. “It’s really uncomfortable because I want to share that part of my life with him but I just have no sex drive.”
For Martha, and for anyone experiencing similar issues, Gemma recommends going back to your GP or psychologist, to talk through the side effects and run through alternative options. Also, you can always find information online and talk it through with your partner, so you both understand that you’re not alone. And then, if you both wanted to, you could talk to a sex therapist to work on ways to get everyone off.
Feeling like a burden
Fran, who was one of the first people who got in touch asking for us to discuss this topic, called in to talk about how she’s been dealing with depression in a relatively new relationship. “It’s hard because I feel like I don’t know how to help myself,” she says.
“So, how can I tell someone else how to help me? I feel sometimes like a burden to him, and that I’m down a lot of the time. No one wants to hang around with a sad, depressed, low self-esteem person. And I get a bit scared that my partner will get sick of me, of having to constantly reassure me and keep supporting me, and it might be a bit too much and take a toll on him and our relationship.”
“It is important for you both to get support and to go outside the relationship to do so,” says Gemma.
Whilst Gemma agrees that both partners need to support one another, she advises Fran to lead by example and encourage her partner to still do things for himself and “get some energy and some optimism externally”, so that they both still feel connected to life outside of depression.
Gemma says to go on, business as usual, to a certain extent: “If you can kind of fake it till you make it a little bit.” With all of her clients that are going through depression, Gemma encourages them to go out and spend time with friends. She says they’ll rarely want to but afterwards will often come back and report that it was better than they imagined. “Keeping in mind that depression is the disease that makes you feel like you can’t be bothered,” she says. “If you see that as the depression and not really a truth, it’ll help you get out there.”
Ask for help
Even people whose life’s work is to study the brain can admit to how little we actually know about depression. But we certainly do know enough to recognise that treatment needs to be a combination of medical and psychological help, coupled with the support of those around you. Managing depression doesn’t begin and end with diagnosis and it is going to be an ongoing process. Treatment and support can’t happen if no one knows what’s going on, though, so be sure and reach out to your loved ones or even your soon-to-be-loved-ones.
If you or someone else is in an emergency situation, please call 000 immediately.
If you or anyone you know needs help:
Lifeline on 13 11 14
Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800
MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978
Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467
Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36
SANE 1800 187 263
Adapted from When Depression Hurts Your Relationship: How To Regain Intimacy and Reconnect with Your Partner When You’re Depressed. Copyright 2014 Shannon Kolakowski.
If your relationship is struggling, depression may be the culprit. A resounding body of research has shown how closely depression is related to relationships in a cyclical fashion: depression affects the quality of your relationships, and the features of your relationship can affect your level of depression(1, 2, 3). In other words, being depressed can cause you to pay less attention to your partner, be less involved, be more irritable or have trouble enjoying time together–all of which can cause your relationship to falter. On the other hand, relationship problems such as high conflict, lack of communication, withdrawal, and difficulty resolving problems, can all lead to depression.
Psychologist and researchers also point to the key fact that building a strong and loving relationship can fortify you and your partner against the withering affects of depression(4). But in order to know what you’re fighting against, you must be able to identify when and how depression is interfering. And the warning signs of depression in a relationship aren’t always clear cut and obvious. Here’s a list of what to look for:
Your sex life has diminished or is non-existent.
A staggering number–75% of people who are depressed–report a lack of sex drive(5). While it’s normal to have an ebb and flow of sexual desire within a relationship and within an individual, a long-term lack of sexual connection in your relationship may signal that depression is present. Lack of sex drive can manifest from a variety of causes related to depression: hidden resentment, shame about sex, poor body image, feeling exhausted, taking medications, performance anxiety, and so on. By addressing these problems, couples can use their sexual connection to reignite their passion and strengthen their relationship.
You feel hopeless about your relationship.
A sense of hopelessness is one of the central predictors of depression and suicidal thoughts(6). Feeling hopeless about your future together doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doomed. Instead, cognitive distortion that so often comes with depression may be manipulating your thoughts into believing the future looks hopeless and that things will never get better(7). While everyone feels overwhelmed about the future at times, this pervasive sense of hopelessness is a signal that depression is skewing your perception.
Emotions feel like the enemy.
Most of us have a hard time dealing with negative emotions, but people who are depressed have particular trouble in this area. They tend to become overwhelmed by the intensity of their emotions and therefore shut them down when strong emotions arise. With depression, you may react to strong emotions by becoming ruminative (thinking about the same problems over and over), denying or ignoring your emotions, or by becoming overly self-critical.
This means that in a relationship when conflict arises–as it always does in a relationship– you’re less equipped to deal with problems that elicit strong emotions. You may withdraw from you partner altogether, or you may push the issue and explode. Both of these forms of handling conflict (or avoiding conflict) are detrimental to your relationship. Moreover, you have trouble having empathy for your partner(8) and hence have less motivation to see things from your partner’s perspective.
You’re tempted to act out.
Men, in particular, who are depressed are more likely to express their depression outwardly. If you’re a depressed man, you’re more likely to act out your depression through drinking alcohol, becoming aggressive, having affairs, or shutting out your loved ones and withdrawing(9). In addition, men have more somatic symptoms–backaches, headaches, and low sex drive. Men also have a more difficult time identifying their own depression, and are less likely to get help for it because they may not even recognize their behaviors indicate an underlying depression.
Anxiety is affecting you.
Anxiety and depression are highly comorbid, meaning the two disorders are often seen together, often in the form of mixed anxiety and depression(10). The problems that come with mixed anxiety and depression–sleep trouble, concentration difficulties, low energy, high irritability and worry, expecting the worst, and being constantly on guard, can also present a challenge to your relationship. When you encounter the everyday relationship problems that arise, you often perceive that there’s grave threat to your relationship. It feels like the relationship is doomed to failure. This perceived threat can trigger heightened anxiety and excessive reassurance seeking–which can place your relationship under even more stress. This false alarm of danger to your relationship can be stressful for both of you, and leaves you with constant feelings of uncertainty.
With all of these challenges, it might seem like the odds are stacked against a relationship where depression is involved. But many of these issues can be resolved once you’re aware of them and can implement effective coping strategies. It’s only when the issues are hidden and ignored that irreparable damage may occur.
3. Whisman, M. A. 2001. The association between depression and marital dissatisfaction. In Marital and family processes in depression: A scientific foundation for clinical practice, edited by S. R. H. Beach (Ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.?
4. Proulx, C.M., C. Buehler, and H. Helms. 2009. Moderators of the link between marital hostility and change in spouses’ depressive symptoms. Journal of Family Psychology 23: 540-550.
5. Beck, J.G. 1995. Hypoactive sexual desire disorder: An overview. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 63: 919-927.
7. Beck, A. T., A. J Rush, B. F Shaw, and G. Emory. 1979. Cognitive Therapy of Depression. New York: Guilford Press.
10. Rapaport, M.H. 2001. “Prevalence, Recognition, and Treatment of Comorbid Depression and Anxiety.” Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 62 Suppl. 24: 6-10.
Depression and Breakups: A Difficult Relationship
Ending relationships can cause feelings of sadness, low self-esteem, and loneliness. And if you’ve been through a breakup or divorce, you know these feelings all too well. Each person heals in different ways and in their own time.
Some people may experience depression following the end of a relationship. However, it may not be clear if the feelings are sadness or clinical depression.
Sadness, insomnia, or loss of interest in activities are all common emotions after ending a relationship, according to Healthline. However, if you experience more than half of the symptoms below for more than two weeks, you could be diagnosed with depression:
- Feeling sad, empty, or hopeless for most of the day nearly every day.
- Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed.
- Weight loss and loss of appetite, or increase of appetite and weight gain.
- Sleeping either too little or too much.
- An increase in movements like pacing or hand wringing, or having significantly slower speech and movement.
- Feeling as if you have no energy for most of the day.
- Feeling worthless.
- Difficulty concentrating or making decisions.
- Thoughts about death, also called suicidal ideation.
The Science of Depression & Breakups
Our brain chemistry contributes to how we respond to breakups and why they are so tough to overcome, according to a study in the Journal of Neurophysiology. The study found that love is a “goal-oriented motivational state rather than a specific emotion.” In other words, relationships, romantic ones in particular, invoke an instinct necessary for human survival.
The study alsofound that the feelings toward a former partner following a breakup trigger the same part of the brain that’s activated when someone has a drug craving. Your feelings about another person following romantic rejection, the study suggests, are a specific form of addiction. Enjoyable time spent with another person acts like a reward system to the brain. Emotionally positive social interactions cause people to crave and anticipate similar experiences. When a major source of happiness is removed from someone’s life, they often struggle to see how they will replace that person and those moments.
After a breakup, your brain may simply be reminding you that social relationships are important. It’s why face-to-face interactions in a group setting or with a friend, “helps to alleviate depression and prevent relapse,” according to Psych Central.
Biological factors, including decreased levels of dopamine and serotonin, can help explain sadness after breakups. But symptoms are not meant to be long-term.
Psychology Today suggests overcoming this biological hurdle by telling yourself positive affirmations, like:
- My distress is a result of brain chemistry and I’m not crazy. Just temporarily off balance.
- My anxieties and insecurities don’t necessarily reflect what’s really going on.
- It’s okay for me to feel sad that this relationship has ended. As I grieve, I am moving toward healing.
- I am a growing, changing person and can learn from this experience.
If symptoms persist or worsen long after the end of a relationship, ask for professional help. Untreated depression can lead to several health problems. Just a few of the complications of untreated depression are the use of drugs and alcohol to mask emotions, joint pain, headaches, panic attacks, problems at school, and suicidal thoughts.
Healing After a Breakup
Following a breakup, there are many ways to get back on track.
First, some simple steps toward feeling better about yourself and staying mentally refreshed include tracking sleep, enhancing your diet, exercising, or pursuing a hobby. There are many ways to surround yourself with things that bring you joy, with the key being to find something that works for you.
If you are diagnosed with clinical depression, your doctor may recommend psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of the two. In fact, when both forms of therapy are used together, patients could potentially experience better results.
If your doctor prescribes medication, there are a number of different medications he or she could choose. The GeneSight® test can use your unique genetic information to help your doctor get a better understanding of which medications may be more likely to work and which may require dose adjustments, may be less likely to work, or may have an increased risk of side effects. Using the GeneSight test report, your doctor can personalize your treatment plan, finding a more genetically-optimal medication while avoiding medicines that may cause side effects.
It’s hard when romantic relationships end. Depression can complicate things. Be sure to talk to your doctor as soon as possible if you think you may have depression.
My relationship is making me sad
When we start out in a relationship, we might have lots of ideas about what it’s going to be like and how it’s going to make us feel.
We might imagine it’s going to give us a sense of fulfilment and make us feel happy and safe. We might imagine it taking an important place at the centre of our life. The promise of a relationship can be a big part of what makes it such a joyful thing.
Very few of us imagine that our relationship might one day become a source of sadness. Feeling this way can be a truly isolating and upsetting experience. It can feel like your relationship is providing the opposite of what it’s supposed to: becoming a burden instead of a support.
Why do I feel like this?
When we talk about a relationship making us sad, what we’re often describing is a sadness at the loss of this idea. We may be missing what we thought the relationship was going to be – and want to get back to a place where this idea seems possible again.
How do couples get to this point? It often happens over a long period of time and is rarely down to a single cause. You and your partner may have struggled with certain incompatibilities after the honeymoon phase of your relationship. Changes in your life, such as having children, one of you getting a new job or moving house, may have put pressure on you as a couple. Or perhaps you and your partner lost that ‘spark’ somewhere along the way – perhaps, over time, you’ve simply stopped feeling excited to be together.
Sadness is often the last in a long chain of different negative emotions. What often comes first is anger: arguments about the relationship as you struggle to reconcile differences or take out frustrations on one another. Following this may be a growing sense of distance, as the fighting causes you and your partner to drift apart.
As counsellors, if we hear someone describe their relationship as making them ‘sad’, we know they may be in real need of help. Feeling ‘sad’, as opposed to ‘angry’, ‘resentful’ or even just ‘unsure’, suggests they may be at the tail end of a long period of conflict, and may even be near the point where they simply feel like giving up.
How do we get back from here?
The simplest answer is: by addressing the ‘elephant in the room’ and admitting to one another that your relationship is in trouble.
That may sound scary, but being honest with one another will be crucial if you’re to understand the issues you’re facing and how you might be able to address these together.
One thing to remember is: if you feel sad about your relationship, there’s a good chance that your partner does too. They may find it a relief to begin to talk about things, even if taking these first steps feels uncertain, scary or strange. It can also be worth casting your mind into the future: how would you feel if you and your partner continued as you are for another year? Or another two?
For couples who have been in conflict for a long period of time, we would usually recommend trying some form of counselling. If you’ve been distant for a long time, counselling can be an essential tool if you’re going to find a way to get the conversation fired up again. It can be like getting a jump start – a way to break through the inertia and finally start moving again.
If you’d prefer to try this without counselling, you may like to think about how you’re going to have this conversation. One useful technique is to try to create an environment where talking is going to be easier. You may like to go out for dinner or a drink. Putting yourselves in neutral territory can help you to leave behind the energy of the home, where you may be in regular conflict, or simply not talking at all. If you’d like other tips on having difficult conversations, take a look at our section on communication.
Addressing the problem is the first step in what may be a long journey back towards working as a couple. The problems that caused you to drift apart in the first place will vary depending on your relationship, but learning to communicate openly and get back to working together as a team is going to be crucial regardless of how you got to this point.
The emotions you face along the way may be challenging – often, couples who finally begin talking again may find that feeling ‘sad’ is soon replaced by feeling angry or confused, but this is sometimes a necessary part of embracing change. And rebuilding a relationship that hasn’t been working for some time takes serious work – one conversation is very rarely enough. But the benefits of doing so may very well make that journey worthwhile.
How Relate can help you
If you feel unable to work through the problems in your relationship, you might like to consider counselling. This can be a really useful way of untangling any negative communication patterns you’ve got into and can help you think about ways forward so you’re able to start working together more effectively again.
If you’d like to book an appointment, you can find a Relate counsellor near you, you might also like to try our free Live Chat service, which gives you the chance to have an initial session with a counsellor online.
Feeling Depressed Because Your Relationship is Not Meeting Your Needs?
Most of us want to be in a relationship. For women in particular, the quality of their relationships is closely related to their emotional well-being. Having a close relationship with your partner can help you feel confident, inspired, and energized enough to reach your goals. A strong relationship can also help you face life’s biggest challenges and regain emotional balance.
Research even shows that a loving relationship can help provide a sense of well-being during physical distress and pain.
While a supportive relationship can protect you from becoming depressed when you are faced with stress, the opposite can also be true. A relationship that does not meet your needs and is laden with conflict and turmoil can increase stress and wreak havoc in your life.
Relationship Signs That Could Lead to Depression:
1. Is your partner also your friend?
The basis for a good relationship is companionship and close alliance between partners. Friendship, emotional intimacy, shared interests, and the ability to have fun together makes both partners feel happy and connected to each other. If you are not able to talk, laugh, and spend time with your partner because of long working hours or different interests, the loss of friendship can lead to isolation and eventually depression.
2. Can you turn to your partner when in need?
When you are distressed, is your partner the first one you turn to? If you are able to depend on your partner, when you are vulnerable and weak you will feel more secure and be able to regain your strength faster. If your partner lacks empathy, caring, and compassion, you may feel you do not have the support you need. Feeling alone with your difficult emotions may cause sadness and depression.
3. Does your partner do his share at home?
A partner that thinks of you and your well-being will help with childcare, house work, and/or allow you to take some time for yourself. If you are stuck juggling your profession, childcare, and household chores without help, you will eventually feel depleted, angry and alone in the relationship. Being overburdened and neglected can make you depressed.
4. Are you able fully open up and be yourself in the relationship?
In a healthy, loving relationship you should feel accepted and free to be yourself, with all your strengths and weaknesses. If you feel pressured to lose weight, look younger, or be someone you are not in order to be accepted, you may be in a relationship that is not meeting your needs. This could eventually lead to resentment and depression.
5. Do you feel good about yourself in the relationship?
In an intimate relationship, you should feel safe, appreciated, and loved. If you feel inadequate, sad, unworthy, or fearful, there may be a problem. This may happen if your partner feels superior and puts you down, insults you, or treats you with contempt. Also, being criticized or ridiculed will make you doubt yourself and, eventually, cause you to sink into despair. This type of humiliation and contempt is a form of emotional abuse.
6. Do you have equal power?
If you feel powerless in a relationship, chances are high you will end up unhappy. If your partner holds all the power and dominates decisions about finances, friendships, and activities, you may feel isolated and helpless. Bossy and controlling partners will also make you feel irritated, angry, and, eventually, depressed.
7. Are you able to acknowledge and resolve conflict?
Couples that recognize their disagreements and pay attention to one another’s feelings resolve their conflicts faster. The ability to validate and support each other’s feelings, even when you disagree, leads to quicker emotional recovery if feelings get hurt. On the contrary, avoidance of conflict can lead to a very unhappy relationship, and possibly to a break-up or divorce. Thinking that your partner ignores you and avoids talking to you when you are upset could leave you feeling dismissed and powerless.
8. Are you abused in the relationship?
There are numerous different types of mistreatment, including emotional abuse, a critical and controlling attitude, name calling, and physical violence. These things are never part of a loving and respectful relationship. A hurtful, degrading attitude will make anyone feel unsafe and depressed.
The first step in resolving an unhealthy relationship is to recognize and acknowledge that it is not meeting your needs and that you deserve to be treated with respect and love. If you are in a relationship that does not feel right, you may need a therapist to help you find a way to get what you need, or, potentially, to leave your partner if the situation cannot be improved.
If you are having trouble with your relationship and think you may be depressed, you may benefit from seeing a therapist.
Call (281)267-1742 for a FREE 10-minute consultation.
Dr. Irena Milentijevic is a licensed psychologist who specializes in helping mothers and those hoping to be mothers overcome stress, loss, and depression. Her offices are located in Houston and the Woodlands, Texas. Visit her website: www.DrIrena.com to get her free report, “Moms and Mom Wannabes: 10 Ways to Overcome Depression and Reclaim Your Sanity”.
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5 Tips for Dating Someone Who Struggles With Depression
Dating someone with depression can be hard. It’s painful to watch someone you care about suffer and not be able to help them. It can be bewildering to listen to the person you admire and value most talk about themselves with extreme negativity, and in a way that doesn’t at all align with how you see them. Their false but strong belief that they have accomplished nothing or that they have little to live for can leave you feeling helpless, and confused as to how to respond. These all-or-nothing, black-and-white thought patterns often illustrate depressed thinking. Depression has a loud and convincing voice that dominates the minds of those who suffer from it. There’s little room for reason, which makes it hard for partners to know how to be helpful.
No one is perfect, so sometimes the person you want to be with happens to have this illness. You already know there is much more to the person than their depression or you probably wouldn’t want to be with them. You will never be able to cure your partner’s depression, so it doesn’t serve you to try to fix it or change it. It can be difficult to resist arguing about how they view themselves and their lives. But when they’re in a dark space, they’re unable to see things from your perspective. Trying to show your partner how wrong they are, and that they’re actually incredible, comes from your love for them and your desire to help. Unfortunately, it’s a waste of your energy when they’re deep in depression, and actually leads to disconnection and distance. This way of attempting to help can easily lead to arguments because your partner is unable to agree or see your efforts as helpful.
Instead of fighting depression this way, devote yourself to learning how to live with depression. This means accepting your partner as they are. It means letting them have negative, painful beliefs, even when you really want them to see things differently. You can stop trying to treat their depression and instead offer empathy, care, and love. This is more likely to foster closeness and connection because you’re no longer trying to change their minds.
By learning and practicing new relational skills, you can foster connection and closeness with your partner, even when they are struggling. You can learn how to support your partner and how to be supported. You can even learn how to get your needs met, even if you can’t imagine how someone who is depressed could meet your needs when they’re working so hard just to be OK themselves.
The following actions will help you date someone with depression.
1. Create or maintain balance.
In relationships, we must continually assess whether we should meet the needs of our partners, our own needs, or the needs of the relationship. When we balance this well, we tend to feel fulfilled. However, when one partner is suffering an illness, it’s easy to lose that balance because we want to help our partner feel better. We put their needs first and forget about ourselves. This is absolutely necessary and appropriate for a while. But when our partner has an illness that doesn’t go away for long periods of time, we have to learn how to balance taking care of ourselves while still being supportive to our partners. Otherwise, the relationship can become threatened. When you ignore your needs, they don’t go away; they only become greater over time. If you put yourself aside for long enough, you will end up feeling lonely and resentful. To begin creating more balance in your relationship, you must acknowledge that you have needs and at least some of them must be met. Start to notice how much you’re choosing to meet your partner’s needs instead of your own. Think about when it might be OK to put yourself first, and make conscious choices to promote more balance in your relationship.
2. Learn how to support your partner in their suffering.
One relational need is to care for our partners and to feel good about that care. When the care you offer your partner is rarely helpful or well received, you eventually feel drained and shut down. You may need to redefine what being helpful to your partner means, and change the way you offer care. You can’t “fix” the depression any more than I can fix my partner’s Crohn’s disease. When you offer care in hopes of helping to treat (or fix) your partner’s illness, you will become frustrated. However, you can offer care in the form of support: Being empathic, sympathetic, compassionate, and accepting are all ways to be supportive of your partner without trying to change how they feel. This kind of care or help may be received more positively than the things you’ve tried in the past.
Remind your partner that you care for them even when they’re feeling at their worst. Be curious about what your partner is feeling, wanting, and needing. It may be as simple as giving them a hug or holding them. Don’t assume you already know. When we offer this kind of care, we join our partner in their suffering. To do this, you will have to learn to be OK with the discomfort that comes with seeing a problem and not trying to fix it. When your partner expresses appreciation for your support, you will feel better about yourself in the relationship. Talk to your partner about what they find supportive.
3. Focus on the positive.
When things are difficult, it is helpful to remind yourself of the many reasons you care about your partner, rather than focusing solely on how they are when they don’t feel well. Intentionally focusing on your partner’s positive attributes is one way to support yourself in your relationship.
4. Be compassionate.
Remember that your partner has an illness. It isn’t their fault that they can’t just shake it off. Practice being compassionate by thinking about how hard it is to live with an illness. Remember how much strength it takes to feel sick and in pain, and still go on.
5. Communicate with your partner using new language.
You and your partner can learn new a language to help you communicate in a way that makes you feel heard and validated, while promoting closeness. Closeness may seem out of the question when your partner isn’t feeling well, but you can learn ways to connect. You can begin to practice new communication skills, which will help your partner learn them too. Following is an example of language you and your partner can use for a conversation, even when your partner is depressed. (Keep in mind that there are many ways a conversation can go; this is just one example of a conversation between partners who have practiced new communication skills.)
- Partner A: Honey, you’ve been in bed all day. How do you feel?
- Partner B (the depression sufferer): I don’t feel well. I just can’t get out of bed.
- Partner A: I feel so sad seeing you in so much pain. How is it for you to hear me say that?
- Partner B: When I hear that, I feel sad that I’m causing you pain, and I understand that it’s awful to watch me suffering. I would feel sad too. I also feel loved and cared for, because if you didn’t care, you wouldn’t feel sad. How is it to hear me say that?
- Partner A: I feel understood and validated because you understand how hard it is to see you suffer, and you know how much I care about you. Also, it’s helpful that I can share that and know you won’t be upset with me for feeling what I feel. Also, I want you to know it’s not you that’s causing me pain. It’s that I love you and it’s hard to see the depression causing you so much pain. How is it to hear me say that?
- Partner B: I feel sad that the depression is causing me so much pain too. I hate the depression! How is that for you to hear me say?
- Partner A: Well, I feel good because I hate it too! If I could get rid of it for you I would, but I know I can’t. I’m here to support you through it. How is that for you to hear me say?
- Partner B: I feel accepted, depression and all, and that you are here to support me. I feel supported. I’m glad we both hate this depression!
Notice how both partners communicated how they felt and accepted the other’s experience without becoming defensive. They supported each other by checking in after communicating how they felt. They clarified what they weren’t sure had been received accurately, and worked together to make their way to a place of connection. It’s in the moments that they both express their hatred for depression that connection can happen. It’s also in the moments when both partners feel safe in being able to feel what they feel, without having to defend it. These are relational skills that are worth practicing!
Keep in mind that if you want to have a healthy, fulfilling relationship, you and your partner both need to work on things. You both need to learn to be supported, to offer support, to experience connection when it seems unlikely, to use new language, and to meet each other’s needs as well your own needs.
Relationships are complicated, and people come with illnesses, quirks, past traumas, and struggles. When we turn toward our partners, our relationships, and ourselves, we learn to create closeness and work through relational challenges. At times this is scary and difficult. But learning how to connect in our differences with others, and learning to connect in our pain and our partner’s pain, is important because these elements exist in all relationships.