Supporting your Depressed Partner
Supporting your Depressed Partner: Having a partner to share your life with can be a very rewarding and life changing experience. There may be times in most relationships however, when someone’s viewpoint and way of life may not match their loved one. When you add a mental health struggle to this scenario, this could drive wedge between even the most loving and stable partnerships. Depression is often a significant culprit of conflict in partnerships. Whether you describe yourself as a motivated and determined person, or you just lack the knowledge to support your partner, living with a depressed person may bring not only confusion and insecurity, but also the frustration of feeling helpless watching them have difficulties completing even the simplest tasks, such as getting out bed to start the day. Here are some ways to support your depressed partner in times of distress.
When supporting your partner who is struggling with depression, it is important to be well-informed about what she is going through. Ask your partner what having depression feels like to them. Read books on depression, and share the information you find with your loved one. A way to better connect with your partner may be to read books together, or to learn more about their individual experience and struggles to identify matches between literature and your partner’s reality. For example, you could find out how often they struggle with feelings of sadness, what their symptoms look like (i.e. fatigue, crying spells, lack of interest in activities…), and when, or if, there are moments the symptoms are lesser vs greater for them. Knowledge is power when it comes to supporting your partner with their depression.
If your partner is in individual therapy, offer the support to attend one of their sessions if they are open to it. Let them know you would also be willing to do some couples counseling. Their depression is a joint issue. Showing your partner that you want to learn about what they are going through not only helps them feel more secure and loved in the relationship, but helps you keep yourself accountable by identifying ways to help them during their darkest times. It also helps you and of course helps you understand the ways in which you carry your own emotional baggage.
Remember that some days your partner may have a good day, where you feel your connection at its peak, their happiness matches the excitement of when you first started dating, and you share an amazing moment or day to add to future memories. Then as quickly as their energy spiked, they might have a bad day, or even a bad moment, that makes you question where it all went wrong. Depression doesn’t always rear its head for a specific reason, especially when your partner suffers from chronic depression. By understanding and supporting them at their lowest points, and sharing your happiness during their highs, you are giving your partner the space they need to feel supported in a judgment-free partnership. The next time your partner is having a bad day and feeling vulnerable, share with them that you are patient and willing to listen if they need a shoulder to cry on, someone to vent to, or even just a hug. It is also important to ask them what support they need, for example sometimes you want help with a problem, and other times you need someone to listen (and not every time will be the same). Knowing what your partner needs is paramount to be a supportive partner.
Remember that your depressed partner does not want to let you down. They do not want you to think less of them. They do not want you to think they are disrespectful for not cleaning the dishes after dinner because they were too tired, or for not finishing a project they were working on because they couldn’t keep their eyes open long enough. Be mindful during these times to support your partner by sharing encouraging thoughts, letting them know you are there for support, and by using positive reinforcement, instead of calling them “lazy”, “unmotivated”, or “inconsiderate”. Positive reinforcement goes a long way to help your support your partner with their depression.
While it is very critical to show your depressed partner support, you also need to identify where support ends and enabling begins. Everyone could use a pep talk now and then, but a depressed person may struggle to take on any new projects, or motivation from someone who may not understand what they are going through. Depression can be a leech that latches onto their victim’s brain. It is a little voice inside their head that tells them they are not good enough, not strong enough, and not willing to push themselves. When they are motivated by someone who does have this leech, they may begin to feel resentful, envious, and discouraged. Use the newfound knowledge in your research, ask other people you know that may be struggling with depression, and use this information to set limits on when your partner may need encouragement (such as getting up to make it to their doctor’s appointment), and when its okay to let them take a step back from responsibilities (When they did the dishes but need to rest before taking on the laundry). By showing them that there is a give and take, it could motivate your partner to identify when they really need to push themselves, and not feel as ashamed if they can’t take on all their normal responsibilities.
Develop Realistic Expectations
Along with setting boundaries, supporting your depressed partner means having realistic expectations. As mentioned previously, your partner may not be able to take on all their responsibilities as seamlessly as before, which may lead you to feeling resentful for having to pick up the slack. Your partner may be feeling embarrassed and ashamed that they are unable to be an equal partner in your relationship, so identifying ways that your partner can give back, even while feeling depressed, may help both of you feel loved and appreciated. If you continue to struggle to maintain the responsibilities, or having to support your partner emotionally, make sure you check in with yourself and get the support that you need. This support can come from a close friend, a therapist, or even someone to help you clean the house or watch the kids so you both can take a night off and spend time together. When you are able to practice self-care, you can have more patience when your partner is not able to run on full batteries.
Taking these first steps will help build your relationship with your loved one struggling from depression, or any other mental health difficulty. By supporting your depressed partner, you are giving them the strength to empower themselves to continue to seek the help they need, knowing they have your love and patience to help empower them to do so.