This is an interesting read (from Lifehacker.com) on being with someone with depression. Many of my clients come to me on this very mater where I work with them on coping mechanisms so that life is manageable with their depressed partner. Many times the depressed partner doesn’t accept that they are depressed and won’t seek help so the next best solution is for their partner to come and see me for therapy. Interestingly this can be a catalyst for the depression sufferer to seek help and they then come to me. – Mark Jones
Being in a romantic relationship when one (or both) of you suffer from depression is a massive challenge. Depression can make your partner seem distant. They may feel like they’re a burden or close themselves off. None of that means your relationship is the problem. You two can tackle this together. Here’s how.
As I’ve discussed before, I struggled with depression for years. That didn’t stop me from trying to have relationships, but it affected each one differently. It’s important to keep in mind that how depression manifests will vary not only from person to person, but relationship to relationship. We can give you some tips and suggestions, but only you and your partner can decide your boundaries, your compromises, and what you can handle.
It’s also important in this phase not to force treatment on your partner. You can assist and support, but you can’t coerce your partner to do anything. If they refuse to get help, then you’re welcome to reassess whether or not you can remain supportive or stay in the relationship, but they need to decide for themselves how and when to get help.
Give Your Partner Space to Have Bad Days
Here’s the thing about getting treatment for depression: it’s messy. Like, “teaching a cat to fingerpaint” messy. You can have all the plans and journals and goals in place and adhere to them perfectly. Still, when you’re suffering from depression, some days you’re going to wake up, feel hopeless, berate yourself for feeling hopeless, cite the fact that you still feel hopeless after all your hard work as proof that it is hopeless, curl up into a ball, and stay there until you fall asleep. These things happen.
Of course, if you’re dating someone who’s dealing with depression, you don’t see that internal dialogue. All you see is someone who’s sitting on the couch, spending all day in bed, or not answering your texts. It’s tempting at that point to push them to get “back on track”, or get frustrated that they’re “relapsing.” That’s fine in general, but it’s also important to recognize that bad days are going to happen. A single bad day doesn’t mean the end of the world. In fact,
Your spouse needs your love, support, and concern. But these important qualities can’t reverse depression any more than they can control blood sugar, ease arthritis pain, or clear out clogged arteries. Just as you wouldn’t rely on love alone to cure a medical condition—or withdraw love because it didn’t—don’t expect that your feelings or attention will be able to alter your spouse’s off-kilter brain chemistry. Use your love to get help and to remind your partner of his or her intrinsic worth during this challenging time.
Speaking from personal experience both as a depression sufferer and as someone who’s played the supportive role for a significant other, this is as critical as it is difficult. The nature of depression is that it overrides the normal, expected function of your emotions. Happy things don’t make you happy, exciting things don’t make you excited. That’s the problem. However, having someone there to accept you when you feel bad (or feel nothing), without condemning you for something you both expected to happen, can mean the difference between recovery and slipping back into old habits.
Identify What You Each Can Handle and Stick To It
Supporting a significant other through a hard time is always going to be stressful. There’s no getting around that. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth it, but it can be a danger to your own well-being. You can’t help your partner if you’re too overwhelmed to function. It’s romantic to think we’ll “do whatever it takes” to help the people we love, but that mindset can bring your own mental health crashing down around you. When you’re helping your partner, be sure to give yourself some clear boundaries on what you can and cannot offer.
That doesn’t just mean having an idea of how much you can take before you break up (although it can). More constructively, you should identify what you need to be happy, healthy, and able to continue supporting both yourself and your partner. This might include carving out time for your own hobbies, making time to be alone, or socializing with other people. As non-profit mental health organization Help Guide suggests, this also includes refusing to be your partner’s therapist:
Set boundaries. Of course you want to help, but you can only do so much. Your own health will suffer if you let your life be controlled by your loved one’s depression. You can’t be a caretaker round the clock without paying a psychological price. To avoid burnout and resentment, set clear limits on what you are willing and able to do. You are not your loved one’s therapist, so don’t take on that responsibility.
You can help remind your partner to take medicine or write in a journal, but that doesn’t make it your responsibility. You can encourage them to go to therapy, but they also need to be able to take themselves at some point. This isn’t something you need to enforce because you want to be callous or cruel, but rather because if you’re on the hook for their entire recovery, you’ll burn out and then you’ll both be miserable. You can be a loving partner, but if you’re not supporting each other equally (or at least something approaching equal), it can breed resentment.
This also includes letting your partner know when you’reunhappy. When your partner is depressed, it’s very easy to be afraid to mention when something’s on your mind. Emotions are already volatile, but if you’re afraid that telling your partner “You let me down” or bringing up something that makes you angry or sad will trigger a depressed episode, you might be more likely to bottle up your own issues. While it might help to let some smaller things go, you also need to be able to speak up when you’re unhappy about a continued pattern.