8 things you MUST know to understand your partner’s depression
How do you understand your partner’s depression?
Going through depression is hard enough without the guilt that comes with the possibility that your relationship is falling apart.
Combined with the fact that serious depression is difficult to understand without having experienced it yourself, it can lead to a perfect storm of relationship-damaging behavior, both from the person going through it and their partner going through it trying to help just doesn’t seem like the right thing to do or say.
So what do you do when your partner feels like they are in a spiral?
1. Recognize the signs of depression in the first place and consider whether you or your loved one might be experiencing it.
The classic signs of depression are:
- The persistently sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
- Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness
- Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
- Decreased energy, tiredness, being “slowed down”.
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions
- Difficulty sleeping, waking up early in the morning or oversleeping
- appetite and/or weight changes
- thoughts of death or suicide; suicide attempts
- restlessness, irritability
- Persistent physical symptoms
You may not say outright that something is wrong, since most people don’t want to admit it’s happening—even to themselves.
2. Don’t be accusatory and look at your own attitude first.
Understand that depression is not a choice, a moral failure, or a personal insult to you.
Let that sink in for a second.
Repeat after me: Depression is not a choice.
It’s not a ploy to get attention or something they “do”. It is an untreated, serious disease that affects every area of a person’s life. Our culture tends to treat it like a moral failure – as if if those affected just “pull themselves together” everything would be solved. This is wrong thinking and contributes to the epidemic of quiet despair in our society.
Because of this, there is a huge aspect of personal pride to contend with. It’s usually extremely difficult for sufferers to even admit there’s a problem, so don’t try to force it.
It’s not just “the blues”, it can come without warning and it’s brutal. trust. If it happens that you think it’s “no big deal,” then be prepared to keep quiet or you’ll get a lesson in how miserable you can make your lover. Take it seriously and avoid being snotty at all costs.
3. Don’t try to cheer her up or persuade her.
If reasoning was an antidepressant, no one would be depressed.
Don’t offer reasons why they shouldn’t be depressed. Your brilliant solutions will only serve to further depress her and separate her from your relationship.
If you don’t get what they’re going through or why, it’s better to just offer your care and support than to try to “fix it.”
If they had the presence of mind to explain it to you, your partner WISHES it to be as simple as implementing whatever solution you can think of. They also don’t want to brainstorm about “ideas to fix it”.
In order for your relationship with them to have any chance at all, you have to leave the therapy to the actual therapists.
The more you poke around trying to save them or fix what they’re going through, the more likely they’ll get angry at you, become more withdrawn, and feel even more alone and misunderstood. You will push her away if you do what is dangerous for her and your relationship.
4. Help, help and help some more.
Subtly suggest seeing someone with the intention of getting them professional help if they don’t already have it.
By subtle, I mean saying something like, “I’ve noticed you seem very down lately. Maybe we should go see someone. I found this really good recommendation.”
Using “we” makes it non-accusatory and puts your foot in the door—on the way to getting her approval. That little twist of “you” to “we” saves them face, and that’s what they need right now. By saying “we” you are NOT implying that you are going to couples therapy or even remotely suggesting it.
The idea is to help them save face. Going to counseling with them will backfire because if they are indeed clinically depressed, your relationship with them will need to take a back seat for the moment to help them regain their health. Couples therapy for your partner’s depression will usually go badly. Don’t do it right away.
Next, do the work to get them there if they’re at least semi-receptive. Never say, “You need therapy!”. Remember that the goal is to get them help that will make it easier for them to climb out of the pit.
You can’t do the hard part for them, but you can put in some legwork that actually makes a difference.
There are times in a relationship when it’s time to pull yourself together and be the strong one. A seriously depressed partner is one of those moments. Accept that before that you can do more of the hard work and help them out. Even if they can’t show you their appreciation right now, your efforts usually don’t go unnoticed. They’re watching you out of the corner of their eyes.
5. Don’t patronize them.
They’re depressed, they haven’t lost half their IQ.
Don’t ask them questions like, “Are you sure you want to do X, Y, or Z?” Just go with the flow, help, and accept that there will be good days and bad days. They don’t “mope” so don’t joke about it, even if your intentions are good.
The depressive thought lies. Your partner’s depression causes them to dig into the coals all by themselves. Any additional insult from you in the form of pitiful behavior or jokes will only make them feel worse and worse.
6. Don’t share the private details of your partner’s depression with your friends or family.
The experience of clinical depression is extremely private and your partner’s business. Because there’s such a huge stigma surrounding depression, the last thing they want right now is to have to tell people, “No, they’re not crazy.”
While you could understand that your relationship could be going through your partner’s depression, you owe it to your partner to let them talk about their illness if and when they want to.
Carefully try to get professional help for your partner’s depression, but don’t mistake that you are getting them professional help by telling everyone you know in hopes someone has a magic wand. They don’t.
Depressed people often hide from everyone what is really going on with them, so even if you suspect something is wrong, tearing off that mask will only cause the depressive even more shame for a condition they would like to control, but can not.
If you need support because the runaway is bothering you too, talk to a professional or someone who is remote from the situation and who can be expected to retain your full trust. There is a good support forum at Depression Fallout for people dealing with a partner’s depression that I also highly recommend.
7. Enjoy the good times.
When things are good or her mood is up, enjoy it to the fullest.
It’s so easy to slide down with them and it’s vital that you resist the urge. That’s why you should get what you can get while it’s good. Don’t ask questions or ask why they aren’t like that all the time. Remember, it’s not a choice, but there can still be good times. Appreciate them when they appear.
Which leads to my next point…
8. Take care of your own emotional health.
Moods in relationships are contagious. It’s really easy to slip into the pit with them. It’s easy to get resentful when you feel like you’re doing everything.
Your partner’s depression can make you feel like you’re in a one-sided relationship.
In a way, so do you, because depression tends to creep in and take over. The best thing you can do is maintain your autonomy when it comes to engaging in activities that you enjoy and that are designed to keep you healthy.