What to Do When Your Partner is Depressed
Relationships with our partners can be complicated when both people are mentally and emotionally healthy. When one person becomes depressed, it can play havoc with the dynamics of a relationship, even one that was previously stable.
As the person on “the outside,” it may be hard to understand what your partner is going through, unless you’ve been depressed yourself. But being able to empathize with your partner’s internal struggle is not as important as learning how to balance helping your partner with staying emotionally healthy yourself.
First and foremost:
- Don’t take any of this personally. It really has nothing to do with you. Your partner’s depression is coloring his perceptions of everything, including you and your relationship. If you keep this in mind, you’re more likely to hold onto your own sanity.
- You have to keep your own needs in mind. It’s probably a good idea for you to get into short-term therapy to deal with the frustration and anger that you might feel in dealing with your partner’s depression.
In addition, here are some other things to keep in mind:
Recognize that any “out of the blue” decision to end the relationship is probably due to the depression. Your partner is either thinking that you’d be better off without her, or is just hopeless overall about the success of anything, including your relationship. Encourage her to put any major decisions on hold while she’s depressed.
If your partner is not resistant to the idea of seeing a doctor, but hasn’t gone ahead and made an appointment, then you should take the initiative. The lethargy that accompanies depression could keep your partner from moving forward on treatment.
Don’t cross the line between caretaking and enabling. Continually putting your partner’s needs before your own will not do either one of you any good.
Your partner may display jealousy for the first time in your relationship. Jealously comes from poor self image, and depression is destroying your partner’s self-image, even if it was always healthy before.
Figure out what your “line in the sand” is as far as ending the relationship. What would be the final straw? Talk it over with your therapist.
Recognize that your roles may shift due to your partner’s depression. If your partner has always been the caretaker, chances are those roles are completely reversed now. Realize that this could lead to a lot of resentment on your part. That’s perfectly understandable.
Don’t feel guilty. Don’t feel like a failure. Again, this has nothing to do with you.
Don’t be afraid to use the “s” word. Many people think that they’ll give someone with depression ideas if they ask if he’s contemplating suicide. It’s not true. Chances are, those thoughts are going through his head anyway. He’s either listening to them or he’s not. If he is talking about suicide, get him to a mental health professional right away.
Expect that your sex life and level of physical affection and intimacy will suffer. In most cases, sex drive is the first thing to go when depression hits.
I’ve been on both sides of a relationship that involves depression. It’s difficult for both partners. Please remember that depression can be “contagious,” in essence, and caretakers in particular are vulnerable to depression. Your mental health is important, too.
Deborah Gray wrote about depression as a Patient Expert for HealthCentral. She lived with undiagnosed clinical depression, both major episodes and dysthymia, from childhood through young adulthood. She was finally diagnosed at age 27, and since that time, her depression has been successfully managed with medication and psychotherapy.