How to deal with a depressed partner?

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  • Question:

     

    Dee wrote...

     

    How to deal with a depressed partner?

     

    My boyfriend of about one year has been diagnosed with major depression. Looking back on our relationship, I'd say the signs have been there (on and off) for most of the time we dated, but he didn't have a major episode until this summer, right before we were planning to move in together (and on the heels of a major family drama). I understand that big decisions and life pressures can trigger depression and I am sure now that is what happened. At the time, I didn't understand what had happened or what was wrong. He told me then that he didn't know if he loved me and that something in our relationship had never felt quite right. In other words, he had serious doubts about his feelings.

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    Meanwhile his symptoms were classic (crying, lethargy, despair, physical illness) and to his credit, he did seek therapy and has kept that up all summer but it hasn't seemed to help much. After a few weeks apart, we reconnected and then began a 3-month cycle of back and forth that has become pretty unhealthy (I think).

     

    This is where my question comes in...although he has told me in the past that he isn't sure how he feels about me and can't seem to make a commitment to me, he also struggles terribly with letting me go and seems extremely attached to me emotionally. He now tells me regularly that he loves me deeply and wants a life together someday. We have talked about the fact that he may be too dependent on me, which makes us both feel bad. He can't make a commitment but he can't let me go. He finally decided to begin taking medication last week but we won't see any effects for several weeks I'd say.

     

    I guess my question is, how much of this wishy/washy cycle is related to his illness in your opinion? AND what is the healthy way to address it? I guess my own fears and insecurities come in strong here too...does he really love me? Is this just his illness talking? I don't want to be a doormat or a crutch. Once he's better and less needy, is he going to abandon ME? How can I cope with my own fears and his illness in a healthy way? I know he has depression but he also has a history of being wishy washy with me. He has swung pretty wide, from talk of deep love, marriage and family to serious doubts. He can be very critical of me when he is feeling bad...he will focus on any negative attribute about me or our relationship that he can find. I don't want to compromise myself but I do love him and so I also want to be supportive. If I could somehow miraculously know that he did really love me for the right reasons and want a life with me (which is what he says now) and that with treatment he could get better and we could have that kind of future, I'd stick it out with no qualms. I'm just scared of being used (my baggage). I guess I can't find the balance between taking care of myself and giving him the support and love he needs. It's worthwhile to mention that before he became depressed, we had a wonderful relationship with almost no conflict or drama. We are very compatible and were really quite happy at one point (at least I was). Anything you can tell me will help?

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    Answer:

     

    Dear Dee,

     

    You're in a tough situation, but you don't need me to tell you that. It's often difficult even for well trained doctors to tell how much of a person's behavior is due to depression and how much is due to their personality.

     

    If he's willing, it could be helpful to schedule an appointment with his therapist to talk about his going back and forth on his feelings for you and how you can best support him. It's possible that such a discussion would even help him sort out and understand his feelings. It's entirely possible that he's not even sure how he feels.

     

    Do yourself and your boyfriend both the favor of not marrying until and unless these questions are addressed. When he's being critical of you, stop him and ask him if he really means what he's saying. Marriage can be difficult enough when both people are well and feelings are clear. With problems such as you report, it's important to address them before making as big a commitment as marriage.

     

    Good luck,

     

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Published On: October 22, 2007