One of the questions we get here a lot on My Depression Connection has to do with depression and romantic relationships. Members will write in that their girlfriend, boyfriend, fiancée, or spouse is suffering from depression and that this person has dramatically changed. The question asker will report that it almost seems that their depressed loved one has "fallen out of love" with them due to the symptoms of the depression. This lead up will conclude with the question, "If he (or she) gets treatment for depression will he (or she) fall back in love with me?" Other follow up questions might be, "Should I wait for this person?" or "Can this relationship be saved?"
And the answer is: "It depends."
There are so many factors involved with relationships that it is impossible to offer any black and white answers to such questions. It really does depend upon your unique set of circumstances. A situation where two people have been dating for three months is very different from being married for twenty years and having three children. A circumstance where one spouse is consistently abusive is very different from a situation where two partners are loving and respectful to each other but may be drifting apart. There is also a big difference when the depressed partner acknowledges that they need help vs. the partner who refuses to take any sort of responsibility for themselves or for the relationship.
So where does that leave the person who wants to know what to do about their relationship with a depressed partner? In this introductory post, I am going to try to offer up some ways to analyze your situation to determine how to proceed in a relationship which seems uncertain. I am going to start off with a short list of life circumstances which may trigger an episode of depression in some people.
It is important to understand that although depression may sometimes have a biological cause, stress and life events can definitely push one over the edge into a full blown depressive episode.
Possible Triggers for Your Mate's Depression:
• A Loss of Some Kind. The death of a parent, sibling, friend, or child can be extremely difficult to cope with. Losing a job or being out of work can also trigger feelings of grief and/or depression.
• Transitions. Transitions are hard for anybody and these can include graduations, getting a new job, moving, getting married, or having a baby.
• Conflict in a Relationship . Is your loved one having interpersonal problems at work? With parents or in-laws? With the kids? And of course you need to be honest in your appraisal of whether or not your mate is having problems with you and your relationship. It is possible that unresolved or chronic problems within your relationship could trigger a depressive episode.
This may be a hard pill to swallow but it is possible that one of the reasons why your boyfriend, girlfriend, or spouse is depressed is because your relationship simply is not working out. He or she may not know how to end it as they don't wish to hurt you. Yet when your partner is depressed it may be very difficult to get clarity on this. They may be confused. They may view the depression as an anchor which will take you both down. They may have unmet needs in the relationship but may be too afraid to tell you. They may not wish to have a relationship with anyone at this point. Or they may want a relationship, but just not with you. The possibilities are too numerous to mention.
This is why open and honest communication is critical. And likewise you have to be open to receiving and really hearing what your partner has to say even if it hurts. If your partner feels that they cannot be open with their feelings and especially with such emotions as anger, they may retreat further. But this is not to say that you have to sit there and take blame or abuse, which leads me to my next point and that is...
Depression does not give an excuse to abuse .
Put downs, insults, yelling, calling you names, shoving, hitting, threats, publicly humiliating you are not symptoms of depression. They are signs of abuse. Any sort of physical or psychological abuse is a warning that this person is out of control. I don't care if his or her mama or daddy did these things to them or if they say you "provoked" them in some way or if they say they are depressed. There is never any good excuse for abuse. It is simply unacceptable. Sure, we can understand some of the reasons why this person may be acting out but the behavior must stop. If your partner is abusive to you, the odds are very likely that he or she will continue with this behavioral pattern. One sure way of ending the abuse is to leave the relationship. This is easier said than done of course, and only you can decide how you will live your life. Here are some resources to help you with this:
You are NOT to blame for your partner's depression.
There is that old expression, "It takes two" which is absolutely true when it comes to relationships. When your loved one is depressed it may be easy for them to lash out in anger or even blame you for their mood. But it simply is not accurate. Although your relationship and interactions may be a trigger, it is not the cause for depression. The cause may be in how your partner interprets and reacts to life's circumstances. They may not know how to communicate feelings effectively. They may not have learned what a healthy relationship looks like. They may fear asking for what they want.
Blame is a judgment call inferring that someone is at fault and should feel guilty. There is another saying that when you point your finger in blame, three fingers point back at you. If your partner is blaming you, they are going for the martyr act where they assume no responsibility for themselves or the relationship. Don't fall for it. The blame game never helps such a situation. It only causes old wounds to fester and resentments to build.
Relationships are never easy but when you add depression to the mix, it can become even more complex. When the person you love pulls away or even threatens to leave, you may wonder if this is depression or a real wish to end the relationship. It can be a very confusing and painful time to try to decode your depressed partner's behavior and also take care of your own well being. There is much more to be said about this topic and I am going to be covering more points in subsequent posts.
If you are currently having relationship problems and wondering if they are due to your partner's depression, please do share your stories here. We all have something to learn from one another. Sharing your experience here may help someone else who is going through the same thing. Many thanks to those of you who participate in our community discussions here on My Depression Connection .