Being in a relationship with someone who has depression can be very difficult. Whether you are the person suffering, or are the person who has to deal with the partner who has depression, it affects you both. Depression has a tendency to put a strain on relationships and marriages, since a depressed individual will likely exhibit symptoms such as pessimism, excessive sadness and fatigue, as well as feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. Depressed people feel as though they cannot be helped and that they are doomed in almost every aspect of their life (work, family, school, etc.). Counseling for depression
is often recommended for individuals and couples trying to cope with it alone or with each other.
Since understanding depression is the first step to overcoming it, I will first discuss the difference between actual depression and “normal” sadness, and then I will address the issue of how depression can affect your relationship, as well as explain what you can do if you find yourself in this situation (whether you are the partner of a depressed person or you are the depressed person yourself). Keep in mind that the sooner you act and receive proper counseling for your depression, the better the outcome will be for you, your partner, and your relationship.
Depression is more than just typical sadness. Everyone feels sad from time to time. We all experience feelings of hopelessness throughout our lives, especially when things aren’t going our way. We may complain a lot, look at things in a negative light, or even have emotional outbursts. However, it is important to distinguish between depression and normal feelings of sadness. Depression is all of the above feelings and more. In addition, depression is not usually short-lived. It tends to linger on, touching and negatively affecting every aspect of the depressed person’s life, until they become so overwhelmed with emotions and feelings of deep sadness and hopelessness. Depression is a psychological disorder and can be triggered by a wide array of life changes or events. It can last anywhere between several weeks to even several years. For some, depression is chronic, and even when they start to feel better, it may end up returning again at some point in their lives. As hopeless as depression can make you feel, it is important to tell yourself that it is treatable and that you are not a lost cause. When you’re depressed, it may be difficult to look at things this way, or to even believe that there is hope for you – but there is. I have beencounseling for more than 30 years in the San Diego area and have seen and treated many individuals suffering from depression. There is help available, so please do not hesitate to give me a call for a 15 minute consultation so that I can get to know you and your situation better. If you are suffering from depression I can provide the counseling you may need in order to help you get your life back on track!
Now we can talk about understanding the effects of depression & relationships. First of all, since the symptoms of depression are so overwhelming and often are accompanied by extreme fatigue and an overall lack of drive to complete even the smallest, most mundane tasks, you will find that depression not only affects you, but in turn, affects your partner and thus your overall relationship. The communication in your relationship will likely be the first to suffer, since a depressed person usually becomes reclusive and prefers to turn their feelings inward rather than discuss or express them with their partner. We all know how important good communication skills are, so when this component of your relationship begins to suffer, you should recognize it and take it as a warning sign that your relationship may be in trouble. Also, depending on the extent and severity of the depression, the depressed partner often becomes extremely negative and withdrawn. They may eat a lot more or a lot less than usual, and have a very disruptive sleeping pattern (either sleeping too much or too little). Naturally, both of these things affect mood, and often exacerbate the symptoms of depression, making life even more difficult for you and your partner. As you can imagine, this causes great frustration and concern in the non-depressed partner of the relationship. He/she will become increasingly worried about the depressed partner, and if the depression is allowed to go long enough before treatment is sought, feelings of resentment toward the depressed partner may also be present. This is a natural reaction to depression that we often see from loved ones who are concerned for the depressed person. But in a relationship situation, resentment and anger only makes the problem worse. It becomes very difficult to do things with your partner who is depressed, because he/she is no longer interested in the things you two used to enjoy doing together, including sex. A loss of interest in sex as well as other enjoyable activities is common among depressed persons, and undeniably puts strain on the relationship in more ways than one.
Over the years, I have been asked many times “What can I do if I have a depressed partner?” Here are a few tips on how to deal with being in a relationship where your partner is depressed:
- Don’t say “I understand”. If you have never been depressed yourself, then chances are you don’t understand. While saying this is almost reflexive, try saying things like “I don’t know exactly how you’re feeling, but if you talk to me, I can try to better understand and listen.
- If you’ve noticed that you and your partner rarely engage in sexual activity, try not to blame him/her. Instead, know that this is a part of the illness and probably has nothing to do with you personally. Don’t make it personal or about you. Your partner is going through something very difficult, and while it affects you, it is not necessarilyabout you or because of you.
- Don’t give up! As hard as being the partner of a depressed person is, try to focus and remember the good times and look forward to the time where you both can once again be happy together. Your partner needs you at this time and it is important that you be there for him/her in every way that you possibly can. Think of recovering from depression as recovering from a serious physical illness or surgery. Improvements will happen, but they will be slow and gradual. Take things day by day.
- Encourage your partner to seek professional help. I have been helping people with depression for over 30 years in the San Diego area, and would love to hear from you and your partner about the difficulties you are having. There are many effective treatments available for depression nowadays without going the medication route. So stay strong and stay positive and know that there is help available! Counseling can be individual, or incouples counseling form. Whatever you and your partner deem is best for your situation is what we will do!
- Remember to take care of yourself too! Don’t neglect yourself, your health, or your social life. Do things that you enjoy, treat yourself to a nice meal or a treat like a massage. While your partner may not want to join you if you choose to go for a night out with friends, it’s important that you force yourself to do these things occasionally too (without neglecting your partner, of course), or you will become terribly reclusive and miserable too!
What to do if YOU are the Depressed Partner:
- Learn about your illness. Go online and read about depression or go to the library and read books on the illness. Educating yourself about your illness is the first step to overcoming it!
- Try to be physically active at least once a day. While this can be challenging for someone with depression, physical exercise is important! It gets your heart rate up, your blood flowing, and lifts your spirits and mood overall by releasing endorphins (“happy” chemicals) in your brain. Even better, try doing this physical activity with your partner! Include him/her in your exercise. For instance, the two of you could go for a walk together. That is something simple, not too physically-exerting, and an enjoyable way for the both of you to spend some quality time together.
- Even when the depression is so overwhelming it feels like there is no light at the end of the tunnel, try to notice at least one happy moment each day. Write it down if you have to. It could be something as simple as your dog wagging his tail when he sees you, or a new flower sprouting up in your garden. Make that extra effort to look for and notice the positive things in life, however small they may seem.
- Tell yourself every day that this depression will pass and you will once again be happy. Remind yourself, as many times as it takes, that you will get through this and you will be happy again. Depression is a highly treatable mental illness.
- Don’t be afraid to seek out professional help. You could go alone, for individual depression counseling, or you could go with your partner for couples counseling. Whichever you choose, getting professional help for your depression symptoms can make you feel better by helping you understand your illness and by learning new ways to overcome it.
Copyright ©2012 Jan Rakoff. All Rights Reserved.