When your partner is depressed, it can feel like your world is falling apart. You may struggle to understand why the person you love is suddenly different, and you likely want to know what brought this drastic change on and how to fix it. During an episode of depression you may feel helpless, overwhelmed, and in pain. You might want to lean on your partner for support but know that they won’t be able to provide what you need.
The harmful effects of depression don’t stop with your partner. They affect every aspect of your partner’s life and, most importantly, you. Your partner may withdraw from you or feel like a burden. However, depression does not mean that your relationship is broken. Your relationship can improve. Here’s how.
5 Ways To Take Care Of Yourself
When you are dealing with a partner with depression, you first need to take care of yourself. Caring for someone who is struggling takes every ounce of your strength and you need to feel that you have enough resources before you can offer any to them.
1. Get Support – Depression is a lonely experience, even when you are not the one who’s depressed. It’s normal to frequently feel overwhelmed or helpless. It’s common for you to feel “secondhand” depression because you spend so much time around a person who is depressed. Gathering up your resources and rallying your support system is essential to feeling like you can get through this. This might mean scheduling weekly phone calls with someone you trust, seeing a therapist yourself, or joining a support group.
The harmful effects of depression don’t stop with your partner. They affect every aspect of your partner’s life and, most importantly, you.
2. Have Empathy For Yourself – Remember that you cannot “fix” your partner’s depression, and it is not your fault that they are struggling. During hard moments, remind yourself that it requires courage to face depression head on and to choose to love your partner during their struggle. Allow yourself to reflect on your incredible capacity for love and care.
3. Find Outlets – Engagement is the enemy of depression. You are less likely to feel the effects of your partner’s depression if you stay actively engaged in your life. Make plans that you can look forward to, celebrate accomplishments, and savor your connections. This is not to say that you should use activities to distance yourself from your partner, but you are allowed to be active and explore new possibilities even if your partner is not able to join you at that moment.
4. Focus On Love – When the going gets tough remind yourself of all the things that you love about your partner. If your partner feels up for it, this might be a conversation to have with them. Trade memories of good times back and forth or make a list of your top 10 favorite things about them. Recall an especially good memory and linger with it for an extended period of time, letting it really sink in. Deepening these thoughts will help counterbalance the weight of your shared experience of depression.
5. Embrace The New Normal – As difficult as it is to acknowledge, the relationship that you knew before your partner’s depression may be gone now, and a new relationship may have taken its place. This does not mean that you will always have to live with the effects of your partner’s depression, but the relationship can be forever changed by depression. This is not necessarily a bad thing! You can grow stronger and closer in your efforts to manage depression and help your partner cope. When recognizing the change in your relationship, it can be appropriate to grieve what you’ve lost but then remember to recognize what you’ve gained as a result of your struggle.
How to Take Care of Them
You love your partner and want them to feel better. Depression is a slippery slope, and sometimes your best intentions can actually make the situation worse. Here are some guidelines to consider when trying to help your partner through their depression.
1. Educate Yourself – Depression is a mental illness that can be triggered by life events, biological changes, and genetic predisposition. The symptoms of depression include sad mood, low energy, irritability, social isolation, trouble focusing or accomplishing goals, changes in eating and sleeping, and hopelessness. Doing research and learning about the effects of depression can help you feel more prepared to handle it. You may be better able to anticipate problems and triggers and feel less like your partner’s depression is something “personal."
2. Encourage Treatment – Talk therapy, medication, and support groups are all helpful in dealing with depression. Your partner can learn skills that will help them be more engaged and less isolated. Through therapy and other treatment they may find improvements in their mood and recognize that they are not alone in their struggle. Therapy can also teach your partner that they are not "broken" and help them towards greater self-acceptance.
Depression is a slippery slope, and sometimes your best intentions can actually make the situation worse.
3. Don’t Try To "Fix It" – Remember that depression isn’t necessarily logical. Telling your partner about all the great things in their life as examples of reasons to not be depressed will not help them (and will likely make them feel worse). People with depression often ruminate about how their depression makes no sense because there’s “nothing wrong” in their lives. That’s because depression is a biological illness; most people with depression have an internal predisposition to feeling depressed. Likewise, remember that depression is not your partner failing to “buck up and deal with things” nor can they “snap out of it” since they didn’t snap into it.
4. Be Honest – It’s important to tell your partner when you are feeling hopeful and when you aren’t. It may be challenging for them to hear you at times but they will come to appreciate that you are always forthright with how you feel and you don’t hide things from them. It’s okay to wait a day or two until your partner feels better to tell them that you are having a hard time or worried about a fight, but don’t put the conversation off indefinitely.
5. Offer Help (But Know That It Won’t Always Work) – Offer care and compassion whenever you feel able. If your partner asks, feel free to offer advice or give an alternative perspective to a problem. Keep in mind that your partner will not always be able to absorb your help, though. Sometimes depression feels especially dark and hard to escape from, so your partner may have trouble seeing the things that you are hopeful about. This is not a failing on their part, or yours. It is part of depression, and your partner will appreciate it if you keep offering help. Your persistence in the belief that they will persevere can inspire much-needed hope.