Can it be challenging to keep your relationship strong when you are depressed?
I know because I have been there…
I have struggled with depression for my whole life. 55 years. For a long time, I didn’t have a name for why I always felt so hopeless and full of despair. I just lived with it.
And then I got married. And he had to live with it too. It was not fun. And we ended up divorcing.
Fortunately, since then I have learned a few things because now I have a new boyfriend and I don’t want to history to repeat itself.
Keeping your relationship strong when you are depressed can be very difficult but I am here to tell you that relationships don’t have to self-destruct because of it.
What can you do?
#1 – Pay attention.
Those of us who live with depression can usually tell when it hits. Simple tasks that just the day before were easy to do become difficult. Sleep is elusive. We are short tempered and crabby. Each of us manifests depression differently but usually we know when we are experiencing it.
Keeping in touch with your depression and sharing its presence with your partner is very important. Don’t just expect your partner to guess that you are depressed. They might not recognize the signs and might not respond to your new mood and that could lead to some big problems between the two of you.
Before my diagnoses, I didn’t tell my husband when I felt depressed because I often didn’t recognize it. I was just crabby and mean and not fun to be around. And I expected him to fight through all of that and make an effort to make me feel better. Of course, he couldn’t. He thought I was just being mean and crabby and he wanted nothing to do with me. If only I had told him what was going on, if I had recognized what was going on, perhaps he would have had some sympathy and given me what I needed.
So, when depression hits, be clear about it. You and your partner have a bit of a battle ahead. Together.
#2 – Communicate.
Even the most sympathetic of partners doesn’t really understand what depression is like unless they suffer from it themselves. Because of this, it’s important to try to teach them what depression looks like for you.
When we first talked about my depression, my message for my new boyfriend was 1) you haven’t caused this and 2) you can’t fix it and 3) I can’t just suck it up and feel better. For me, it was essential that he knew these three things to be true.
Next, I explained to him what my depression looked like. That when I was depressed I felt like I had a gorilla on my back. Moving around, getting things done, communicating effectively, all required such a herculean effort that I could barely manage. When I was depressed I was exhausted, easily angered, prone to long bouts of crying. Going to work, seeing his family, taking care of myself, all filled me with such an overwhelming sense of dread that I couldn’t bear it.
So, when you ARE NOT depressed, take some time and share your experience with your partner. The better understanding they have of your depression the more likely you can keep your relationship strong when you are depressed.
#3 – Plan ahead.
A key part of dealing with depression for me, and for my boyfriend, is that I was able to, when I wasn’t depressed, make a plan for what I needed when I was depressed. I knew from experience what I needed to get through my depression. Sharing it with my partner was key.
For me, when I get depressed I need four things: to get outside, to sleep, Pad Thai and sex. I knew that those things would not cure my depression but that they made living with it easier.
So, when I WAS NOT depressed, my boyfriend and I made a plan for what to do when I was. We would let me sleep in, go for a hike, get Pad Thai, have sex and send me back to sleep. We would do that, or some variation of that, to stay connected while I was depressed and help me get through it.
What we also agreed was that he wouldn’t try to fix it. Many people want to fix things. You can’t fix depression. Accepting that was a great way for my boyfriend to manage when I was depressed because he wasn’t constantly frustrated, searching for ways to help me.
#4 – Support your partner.
So, you have talked to your partner about your depression and made a plan for what you need when you are in it. Both of those things are great. Proactive. Good for you.
Sometimes, however, those things just don’t work and you are both miserable. You are short tempered and difficult and not fun to be with.
At times like that, let your partner go. Let them go about their day, guilt free. The last thing in the world you want to do is tether someone you love to your depression.
Encourage your partner to go do something they love instead of hang around being miserable with you. If you let them do this they will come home refreshed and better able to support you. And they might even bring you some Pad Thai.
#5 – Agree to get help.
One of the hardest things for someone who loves someone with depression is their sense of helplessness. They know that there is nothing that they can do to help their partner get out of this dark place. And that sense of helplessness can tear relationships apart.
What can you do? You can agree to seek help dealing with your depression. That help can be what you want it to be: medication, yoga, therapy. Whatever works for you.
It is important, to keep your relationship strong when you are depressed, to know that the depression isn’t something that will be ignored but that needs to be addressed head on. That it is something that you can both learn to deal with and take on together. As a couple.
Get some help. Both for you and for the one you love.
It can be extremely difficult to keep a relationship strong when you are depressed.
Depression can have a devastating effect on relationships. It doesn’t have to be a death knell, however. Some relationships can actually thrive when couples tackle depression together.
Share with your partner what your depression looks like, allow them to fully understand it and share with you the tools you have in place to manage it. Give them the freedom to escape from it for a bit if necessary. But be in it together.
Because if together you can manage depression then there is nothing else that you can’t take on. Together.
You can do this!
Do you want to keep your relationship strong when you are depressed?
I know it’s really, really hard. Let me help!
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s get started!
I am a NYC based Certified Life Coach and mental health advocate. My writing has been published on The Huffington Post, Prevention, Psych Central, Pop Sugar, MSN and The Good Man Project, among others. I work with all kinds of people to help them go from depressed and overwhelmed to confident and happy in their relationships and in their world.