Romantic relationships are not easy. In fact, they're downright difficult, because they are made up of two people with different histories and challenges. The challenges are compounded when you are dating someone with depression and getting your relationship to a good place can feel nearly impossible. But remember, just because it "feels" impossible doesn't mean that it is impossible. Every person has the potential to be in a successful, healthy, romantic relationship. But, if you're dating someone with depression, the road might have a few more bumps.
As someone who lives with depression, I would love for you to learn from my first-hand experience so your journey can be that much easier.
Your happiness cannot depend on the other person
It goes against everything modern-day society tries to tell you, but it is not the job of your significant other to make you happy. If your happiness depends on other people, you will never truly be happy. This is especially true if you're dating someone with depression.
Just because your partner is struggling does not mean that they want you to feel down, as well. In fact, most people who are struggling with depression feel worse when they think that their depression is making their loved ones suffer. It's vital that you practice self-care for your mental health. Lovingly set boundaries when you need to and make sure that you don't push yourself to a breaking point.
It's not about you, and you cannot fix it
Depression is a medical condition: it is not about you. If you are overly sensitive or tend to get offended quickly, you are going to need to change your thinking and get your feelings under control. You will destroy yourself if you blame yourself every time your partner begins to struggle.
It's hard to see someone you love suffering. They may be saying and feeling things that you might not understand, and you probably feel lost trying to figure out how to make it better. It's important to remember that some people, mainly men, become angry when they are depressed.
Tanisha M. Ranger, PsyD, licensed psychologist and owner of Insight to Action, LLC, told me via email, "do not take their illness personally. Your partner's depression isn't your fault, nor is it for you to fix. It's difficult and painful to watch someone you care about suffer, but the best thing you can do is to be with them/support them without pressuring them to 'just be better already.'"
Also, those of us living with depression don't expect you to fix it either. We know that isn't how it works, and we hate to see you disappointed when your efforts to pull us out of it don't get the job done.
Let them know you are there for them
As a licensed clinical marriage and family therapist, registered play therapist and certified emotionally focused couples therapist, Jessica Schroeder specializes in couples’ therapy. Her advice via email is to remember that "depression is very overwhelming and sometimes gets a tight grasp on us. The mindset needs to come from a place of understanding and togetherness. The most important and impactful thing you can do is to let your partner know you are there going through this together. Your partner needs to know he or she is not alone in this."
Let me be clear: we don't expect you to fix it for us, but we do want to know that you will be there for us. You don't have to know what to say or do, but your unconditional love and support is what counts. Let your partner know you are there for them and if they ask you for something reasonable do everything you can to make it happen.
Pay attention to the cues
When you are dating someone with depression, they probably aren't going to be able to tell you what they need all the time. Sometimes we know what could help and other times we don't. However, you can watch and learn the patterns of your loved one. If you are observant enough, you will be able to spot some patterns and cues that will help you know what's coming next. If you are aware of triggers that can start a downward spiral for your partner, do what you can to eliminate them. Notice when your partner starts to withdraw from you and their typical behaviors. This could include not caring about their physical health and appearance, not having the energy to do the activities they normally enjoy, and a desire to spend time alone.
While all relationships are hard, dating someone with depression can be even harder. That doesn't mean you need to avoid it or be scared of it. What it does mean is that you need to be aware. Make sure you know who you are and what you want out of your relationship. Your mental strength becomes even more important when your partner is struggling. If you aren't willing to go through the ups and downs of the relationship, then it's better to admit that in the beginning. The longer you stay the harder it will be for you both when the relationship ends.
When times get rough, remember the good times and all of the reasons that you love and care for the other person. They may not be able to tell you all the time how much they love and appreciate you and all you do to support them, but they do. When someone with depression sees that you are willing to stand by them through the bad times, their love and loyalty to you will increase that much more.
Every moment of your relationship might not feel like a romantic fairytale, but remember that no real-life relationship is like that. With hard work, loyalty, and selflessness, you can have a relationship built on something so much more than fairytales.