Are you feeling dragged down by your depressed partner?
When one or both people in a relationship are dealing with depression, it can cause the dynamic to shift significantly, and not in a good way.
Depression is a challenge to a relationship—like any illness— but it doesn’t mean the relationship is to blame and it doesn’t have to be a dealbreaker. You and your partner can face depression together, regardless of who has it and come out stronger.
First of all, realise that while depression is a stressor on the relationship, it’s just one of the hundreds that couples face—family drama, work issues, tight budgets, car repair—and the good news is there are a lot of ways to work through it and save your relationship.
Recognise the symptoms and don’t take them personally
Depression does a lot of things to people, but one of its main symptoms is the distortion of reality. Your lows feel much lower, which, makes it hard to enjoy basic human pleasures such as eating, sex, or going out for a walk in the sun. It’s also hard (or harder than usual) to do regular things, like getting out of bed and going to work.
If your partner seems to have lost interest in the basic routines of your life together, it might feel like he’s mad at you or even done with you. If he has depression, it’s the illness at work; you are not the source of his lethargy. And it’s especially hard not to take his symptoms personally because these changes seem to indicate trouble in the relationship directly.
Sometimes when people get hit with depression, they can put on a brave face to meet strangers or people they haven’t seen in a while, but when they’re at home, the symptoms such as sleeping many hours (or lack of sleep), anxiety, staying in bed all day, abusing alcohol and/or drugs, emerge immediately. These are symptoms that might make you feel like it’s your fault, but you need to remember that it’s not personal it’s the illness.
Unfortunately, mental illness still carries a stigma in many societies, including Australia—this is why people hide their depression.
Things you can do to help:
- Offer your support. The most important thing to do for your partner (or anyone in your life) during their depressive episodes is to be there for her and to offer your support. If she pushes you away or seems to be ignoring your presence, don’t take it to heart. Your mental health is just as valid, and no relationship can stay healthy through years of depression. More on that in a bit.
2. Formulate a treatment plan. The only way out of illness is through it. You and your partner can jointly work on a strategy to treat the depression. Seek out treatment for the illness, just like you’d heal a broken arm. A supportive relationship is a great benefit to someone dealing with depression, provided they’re willing to start getting the help they need, be it therapy, exercise, medication, or some combination of these.
- Go to couples therapy. You and your partner can go to therapy together. Couples therapy is becoming more and more popular in treating depression because it helps each of you understand exactly how the illness of depression is affecting your partner and your relationship. Or, you can drive him to his therapy appointment and get a coffee while you wait. Both ways will help.
4. Invest in self-care. If your partner is depressed for a long period, there’s a good chance it’s going to take its toll on you. The way to combat this is to make sure you’re taking good care of yourself. Even if your partner is not active, don’t let that stop you exercising, being social, eating well, and having quiet alone time to regroup. Practicing good self-care gives you more capacity to be there for your partner.
- Be compassionate. Let your partner have a bad day if they need to. If they start to make dinner and suddenly can’t handle the process and bail on it, try not to react with anger and instead focus on compassion. Their instinct was to help, but the depression derailed it. Again, it’s important to remember your partner is not intentionally trying to hurt or reject you. Bringing mindful compassion to these situations will be incredibly valuable.
What to do when your partner refuses to seek help
If, after talking it over and giving the idea some space and time, your depressed partner refuses to seek treatment and continues to “wallow” in their depression, you may have to decide whether to stay or go.
Maybe they won’t even admit they are acting differently. That’s okay—you cannot force your partner to take care of himself, and at a certain point you must put your wellbeing first. The relationship might come to an end, but better that than years of unhappiness for both of you.
Depression has no instant cure; it’s a disease of the brain, the most complicated organ in the human body. The drugs to treat it are difficult to get right at first (most people go through many different drugs and doses until they find something that works) and therapy takes time, but has been proven to be effective in most cases.
If your partner is committed to seeking treatment, good for them—and for you. Let them know how you are doing when you’re feeling sad too. Being able to care for each other through any sickness is a blessing. You’re not going through the hard times alone.
Do you need relationship help?
If you need relationship help, contact Clinton Power + Associates for a FREE 15-minute phone inquiry call to discuss your situation and find out how we can help. Call us now on (02) 8968 9323 or book your free phone inquiry online.
Since 2003, Clinton Power has helped thousands of couples and individuals as a counsellor and psychotherapist in private practice in Sydney and online in Australia. Clinton regularly comments in the media on issues of relationships and has appeared on Channel 7, The Sydney Morning Herald, and ABC Radio. Clinton’s eBook, 31 Days to Build a Better Relationship is available through his website or Amazon. Click here to take Clinton’s relationship checkup quiz to find out how well you know your partner.