Relationships are already complex, and loving someone with depression can make them that much harder.
The first step for dealing with a partner who may be experiencing depression is to recognize what it might manifest as… Depression can affect sleep and energy levels, appetite, and mood. You may find your significant other sleeping too much or eating too much or too little. Your partner may appear distracted – like they aren’t fully present and aren’t listening. They may want to be alone more often and don’t seem to derive pleasure from activities they once really enjoyed. They can become irritable when asked to participate in things, and they can start to be more tearful and overly sensitive. They may even say outright that they are down and depressed. At the extreme end, they may express thoughts of harm or that life is too difficult and there must be more.
Additionally, the intimacy in your relationship could be waning or even completely absent – like they don’t have the energy for quality time with you, which could hurt your self-esteem if you aren’t aware of their condition. The fact is that it’s not about you, but instead, that they are having a relationship with their depression – their mood is driving how they show up in the relationship. And it can be scary not knowing if your relationship will survive the low periods of their depression.
How to Respond to a New Depression Diagnosis
So, let’s say they’ve gone to a professional and they’ve just received their diagnosis, it is good to respond with openness and empathy. Most mental challenges are predetermined by genetics and can be exacerbated by life’s stressors. Visualize yourself from their perspective and educate yourself with therapist-recommended reading materials so you become more educated on the topic.
Ask if you can have a session alone with their therapist in order to learn productive ways to not accommodate the depression, when to intervene, and when to let them work through their own strategies. Depression treatment is a lot about doing the opposite action – meaning when you want to stay in bed all day, you need to get up and do the daily routine activities instead. That said, you shouldn’t need to be responsible for them doing their things – you’re not their therapist or parent – but you don’t want to enable maladaptive behaviors either. The therapist can help you plan ways to encourage better habits and activities, such as going for a hike, making meals together, or going out for a date night.
Do I Change Routines to Accommodate My Depressed Partner?
You may wonder if you should keep the same household rules and expectations in place. It’s best to try to keep to similar activities, schedules, and expectations as much as possible. If your partner doesn’t want to go out for dinner or partake in an activity, avoid blaming it on their depression – or assigning depression as the reason behind their decisions – because that creates a shame loop. Help them feel encouraged to make decisions by not making those assignments. They will need to feel empowered to successfully slay their bouts of depression and not labeling their choices will help.
There can also be added complications with suffering work (or family) obligations that can compound all of this even more. Encouraging your partner to educate themselves on short-term disability leave and protocols their employer may offer is a good idea. If they are able to take a leave from work, advocate for your partner to be active in therapy, read books, and stick to routines to maximize their leave.
Should I Therapize My Partner?
When your partner is explaining their feelings, ask if they just want to just vent right now or if they want your help with ideas/thoughts/input/tips. Sometimes, they just need you to listen without offering suggestions. Also, be sure to notice and verbalize any positive changes. Recognize their successes because they may not notice their own improvements, so it’s helpful if you can detect and highlight those good moments openly. But otherwise, no, don’t try to therapize your partner – leave that to the professional. 😉
What About Depression Meds & Suicidal Thoughts?
If an SSRI is prescribed, they usually come with common side effects including decreased libido and sexual performance, changes in sleep, appetite, and potential weight fluctuations. Some of these side effects will lessen over time but it’s important to discuss new ways to be intimate and work with a therapist who specializes in sexual intimacy. You’ll need to be vulnerable enough to be open and get creative in this regard.
If your partner is suicidal, consult with a therapist or prescriber if it is necessary for you to provide a safer environment by removing pills and hiding sharp objects, etc. But it is also important to know that you as the supportive partner are ultimately not responsible for their safety. You have to be able to live your life, go out to work, etc. so, if a concern arises, it is best to call 911 for a safety check if you feel concerned.
Overcoming Depression Long-Term – Together
Depression is a serious medical concern, but it is also very manageable and treatable. Sometimes, bouts of depression can be overcome with talk therapy or a combination of other therapy modalities. Occasionally, a doctor may prescribe medications to be taken either short-term or ongoing to complement the other efforts. Both therapy and medication have been proven highly effective at helping to lift people out from under the cloud of depression and get them feeling hopeful and optimistic once again.
While it is absolutely possible to sustain the good-mood levels most of the time, there can also be occasional bumps in the road. This is not unusual – we all experience things that cause grief and can “depress” our moods from time to time. It is just important to remember that there is an ebb and flow with all human emotions, and with proper treatment when needed and continual open communications, there will be far more bright days than cloudy ones!
If you would like to inquire about depression therapy for yourself, your partner, or the both of you as a couple, please give me a call at (602) 329-0483 to schedule your free consultation!