Depression and Relationships: When Love Is Not Enough
We are a romantic and idealized society. We believe in the powers of love to save anything and everybody. But is this really true? There are many instances in life where love is not enough. In fact, in some cases, it clouds over reality for us to see what truly is. When it comes to relationships, love is essential. Love provides the reason to keep going when all else fails. But there has to be other things in place as well such as mutual responsibility and commitment. Relationships can be great when all is going well. But what happens when there is a bump in the road? Or more like what happens when there is a huge boulder in the road as when one partner suffers from depression?
I began this series on relationships and depression with my previous post entitled, “Is Your Partner Depressed or Just Not That Into You?” I wanted to address some of the questions and themes I see repeatedly from members on My Depression Connection, who come to us for help and guidance about relationships with a depressed partner. As with anything, there are no right or wrong answers, just many shades of gray. You know your partner best and also what is right for you. We can give suggestions and advice but ultimately you are the person who must live with your decisions. So it is best to take the time to reflect upon all facets of the situation including your own well being.
Here are some more thoughts to help you along with this process:
You cannot change anybody but yourself :
This is such a true adage yet there are so many people who completely ignore this wisdom and go about trying to morph their loved one into their ideal vision of a mate. Not going to happen. You are not your partner’s mama or papa. You are not their savior. You are not their therapist. You are supposed to be their equal partner. Yes, we can help, support, and love our significant other. But we can’t change them. They have to change themselves. Your loved one is responsible for their personal growth. Once you start assuming responsibility for changing your partner, then you enable all sorts of irresponsible behaviors. Why should they do anything to help themselves when you are doing it for them? Stop focusing on trying to change your partner and focus on changing you and how you respond.
It can seem very alluring to choose a mate based upon how lost or needy they seem. You are going to be that special someone to change their life. No. Your specialness is not derived from how much you think you are needed. What is going to happen is you will become resentful that the person you are “saving” isn’t exactly thankful for your help. They in turn, will become resentful that you have tried to change them. Entering a relationship to save or change someone is a recipe for disaster and heart break.
When your partner tells you what they want or do not want… listen.
Sometimes your girlfriend, boyfriend, or spouse may tell you things that you don’t want to hear. These hard to hear things may include:
• Needing a break from the relationship or space.
• Wanting to see other people.
• Telling you that they have fallen out of love with you or that how they feel for you has changed.
• Wanting to end the relationship.
If your partner is saying these things, it might have taken them a long time to muster up the courage to do so. If any of these things are said during an argument or in anger then you may have just cause to wonder if they are true. And sometimes it may be a passive ploy to test your resolve to stay in the relationship. But generally if someone says they wish to end a relationship, many times they do mean it. Something is not working and they are letting you know. It may be easy to dismiss such things as “Well this is just the depression talking” and this can give you false hope. If they have said it, that is how they are feeling right now. Will it change? Anything is possible but I wouldn’t count on it.
"But I love him (or her)!"
I am sure you do. But love is not a one way street. In order for the relationship to work and grow, some things need to be present and they are:
• You both want to be in the relationship. If your partner is telling you that they wish to end things then there isn’t much you can do to dissuade them of their feelings. You cannot force someone to love you or be there if they don’t want to be.
• There needs to be respect from both partners for each other. This mutual respect means not playing the blame game. It also means that there is no psychological or physical abuse going on.
• Both partners need to be responsible for their own life. You cannot be held responsible for your loved one’s depression. Nor can you be responsible for your partner’s happiness. If one partner is responsible for everything in the relationship, then it isn’t going to work out.
Treatment for depression may not save your relationship:
One of the variations on the relationship/depression question is: “If my partner starts taking antidepressants and getting therapy, will they fall back in love with me?” It can definitely make things better for the both of you if your partner is getting the help they need. But this is no guarantee whatsoever that things will be all hunky dory in your relationship. In fact, the process of therapy may allow your partner to process unresolved feelings that they had previously been afraid to explore. Your partner’s growth may include leaving the relationship. It may be hard for you to envision such an outcome but it does happen.
It may be extremely painful to leave a relationship where you genuinely love your partner. But in some situations this is what your partner may want in order for them to move on with their life. Yes, depression can sometimes cloud over reason and even loving feelings. Yet there are some circumstances when not even love may be enough to save the relationship. Prolonged waiting and clinging onto the past may actually hinder your partner’s growth as well as your own. There comes a time when you must listen to what your partner is communicating and not just what you want to hear. As difficult and as painful as that may be, living in reality is far better than living in a delusion.
Whatever you are currently going through in your relationship, remember that you are not alone. There are many people who are enduring the same struggles. Please do share your experiences here as you can help someone else who feels all alone in this. Your words can provide solace to someone who is suffering.
Here are some additional resources about depression and relationships:
• To the Partners of Depressed Men