HOW TO HANDLE BEING IN A RELATIONSHIP WITH SOMEONE WHO HAS DEPRESSION
By Lorin Harrott
There are literally millions of people suffering from depression. It is a difficult and debilitating condition for a variety of reasons. And for the person suffering, just getting through the day can be a daunting chore. But what about the partners of those who are depressed? How do you handle being in a relationship with someone who has depression?
A lot gets written about depression. Because there are so many people who are afflicted with it, there are a lot of resources for those suffering on how to cope. There is less available for the partners of those that are depressed. Handling a relationship with someone who is dealing with depression can be very challenging. The condition changes the dynamic of the relationship a great deal. There are, however, a few key things that partners of those depressed should keep in mind.
Do You Know For Sure The Person You Love Really Has Depression?
Depression is tricky. There are a variety of symptoms and they can look different for everyone. There can even be different symptoms of depression in men than there are in women. Often the person suffering doesn’t even realize that they are depressed. They may know there is something wrong but not be able to explain what it is.
Frequently people will mistake sadness for depression. The two are very different. Because people confuse the two they can often neglect getting help until things are really bad, or seek treatment (often medical) when it isn’t necessary.
Sadness is a common emotion that we have all felt at one point or another. It is usually in reaction to something. We are sad when something happens like the passing of a loved one or a break-up. We feel this way for a period of time and eventually begin to adjust as our emotions balance out again.
Although it can be, depression doesn’t have to be triggered by a particular event. It is a state of abnormal and overwhelming sadness that can occur when everything is just fine. This is one of the reasons it is so often overlooked and so confusing. If nothing seems wrong it can be very hard for someone to admit to feeling so sad.
Even though depression can have a big effect on your relationship, self-diagnosing, or diagnosis by a partner, isn’t a good idea. There are, however, some common indicators that you should make note of. These are things that should push you to have a conversation with your partner about speaking with a professional. Some of the key indicators of potential depression are:
- Lack of interest in things normally enjoyed.
- Changes in sleep patterns, often sleeping too much.
- Lack of emotion or extreme emotion.
- Avoidance of social interaction.
- Feelings of guilt or worthlessness.
- Talking about death, suicide, or how people would be better off without them.
These are just a few, but they are significant. If you notice these behaviors in your partner or anyone you love, encourage them to seek the help of a professional counselor for a diagnosis and treatment.
Communication In A Relationship With A Depressed Partner
If your husband or wife has been diagnosed with depression it can be hard to know how to talk to them and what to do. Do you stay somber and try to continually empathize with their feelings, or do you try to keep everything light and upbeat? Which will approach will help or make things worse?
The truth is that there is no perfect approach. Each person, relationship, and circumstance is different. What does tend to be true for all is that you can’t push too hard. How and what a person suffering from depression chooses to talk about and reveal, and with whom, will vary, and often they don’t want to talk much because they don’t know how to explain their feelings.
They, however, love you for a reason (just as you love them), so doing your best to maintain what was normal while things were good is the right strategy. Trying to be overly positive and falsely cheerful won’t help. But then neither will tip-toeing around them and trying to hide your own happiness. Just because your partner is depressed does not mean you need to be.
The best approach, in general, is to be supportive, empathetic and encouraging. Eventually, they may want to talk about how they feel and, although it may not make sense to you, being there to listen and offer your love will help. You will also need to be open and alright with the possibility they may not choose to talk to you.
How Do You Love Someone With Depression?
Communicating is one thing, but how do you maintain the love in your relationship with someone who is depressed? Loving a depressed partner can be really difficult and keeping that love alive requires patience.
Depression affects a number of things in a person. Their outlook on life, their sex drive, the way they interact with you and approach your relationship can all change. These changes can mean that the relationship you started is no longer the one you have at the moment, and that can be very painful. It’s even possible that you will experience the total absence of emotional and sexual intimacy. This, unfortunately for some, can cause such problems that the partner of the depressed spouse may consider leaving.
Figuring out how you, as a partner, will deal with these changes is a very personal decision. But it doesn’t have to be a decision that ends things.
Remember that depression isn’t a choice. Your partner’s condition isn’t something they want and chances are they would do nearly anything to feel happy and have the relationship you once shared back. This works to your advantage.
Encourage seeking help. This help can be for both of you. You will most likely have to be the one pushing for the help and this is okay. Your commitment to your love and relationship and the desire for things to get better will be positive in your partner’s recovery – even if it doesn’t feel that way initially.
If your partner is seeing a counselor consider going with them (as the counselor sees fit). Depression is treatable and the treatment can be more successful more quickly with your understanding and support. And understanding what your partner is going through can help you put things in perspective for them and for yourself.
As you are going through this try not to give up on the emotional and physical intimacy you want. It may take a slower or different approach, but these things are important for you, for them, and for your relationship. Small gestures like holding hands, sitting close and gentle touching can help to reinforce your connection to each other while the bigger intimacy pieces are missing.
If Your Partner Is Depressed, Take Care Of Yourself
One of the biggest dangers to the partner of a person with depression is the risk of also becoming depressed. It is not a certainty, but the occurrence of depression in the wives or husbands of someone suffering from depression is higher.
Just because you are in a relationship with someone suffering from depression does not mean your life needs to be put on hold. Enjoying your normal activities and hobbies are important components of your own happiness. And your emotional well-being is important when it comes to helping your partner.
Scheduling time with friends or just taking some time to do things that are just for you can help. These things can give you an outlet for your own emotions and help give you perspective. You may even consider talking to a counselor on your own. These are also opportunities to model for your partner what they can and need to do to change their state.
Living in a relationship with someone who is suffering from depression can be very challenging. Without the right help and support, both you and your partner can end up in a bad place that will make keeping your relationship alive even more difficult. If you suspect your partner may be depressed don’t wait for things to hit rock bottom before getting help. The sooner things are addressed the sooner you are both feeling happy again. And don’t try to handle being in a relationship with someone with depression all on your own. Use your support system and the people in your life who love you. Remember, recovery is very possible, for your partner and your relationship.