Watching your other half go through depression can be a totally confusing, overwhelming experience.
You may feel helpless, and at a total loss for what to say or do. And while you can't "fix" the depression for your partner, you can remain a positive force in their life, simply by showing up and giving your unconditional, encouraging support. Here's how to keep your support and your relationship strong:
1. Let your partner know that you're there for them, no matter what
Depression can be an alienating, and sometimes very scary, experience.
It can cause a total disconnect between emotions and reality. The overwhelm of negativity often makes individuals with depression feel like there's no hope for their present or future.
Even worse, it can be hard to share that pain, because many people start to feel like all that sadness weighs as an emotional burden on their relationships.
Let your partner know that you're not going anywhere. Whether that means vocalizing your care directly, or performing indirect acts of love (e.g., driving them to therapy and waiting in the waiting room as they have their first session), let them know the depression doesn't affect the fact that you love them.
2. Get educated on their symptoms
Depression doesn't look the same for everyone. Some people, for example, appear "normal" but transform into an entirely different person during temporary depressive episodes; others may feel persistent pangs of hopelessness for days, or weeks, at a time.
No matter the severity or characteristics of your partner's depression, there may be moments when you feel slighted, rejected, or straight up offended by their actions. Gaining knowledge about what they're going through can help you to understand where they're coming from.
For example, one of the common symptoms of depression is loss of interest in pleasurable activities. Those who experience depression often find that the things that typically bring them joy (socializing, hobbies, and sex) seem dull and uninteresting.
Remembering that it's not you, it's the condition, can be a big relief in times when you might otherwise be totally confused.
Learn more about depression here.
3. Plan healthy, enjoyable activities – and encourage your partner to join
Studies have revealed the benefits of getting enough sleep, performing routine exercise, and maintaining a well-balanced diet in managing depression.
Of course, all that sounds simple, but when depression seeps in, your partner may not exactly be able to incentivize themselves to get out of bed, let alone cook a healthy meal. That's where you can step in as a force of positive action.
Invite your partner to engage in healthy activities you know they do love, such as going for a bike ride, taking a walk around the block, attending yoga class, or even just watering the plants. Or consider taking up a physical hobby that's new to both of you, like rock climbing or a dance class.
Don't be offended if, some days, your partner just isn't up to it. Yes, you should keep trying, but take care not to push too much if they're just not ready to join you.
4. If they're open to it, talk about how their depression makes you feel
Ignoring your partner's depression altogether, or pretending that it doesn't affect you, can isolate your loved one and actually pull you two apart.
Instead, try sharing how it makes you feel. Use non-judgmental statements like:
- "You matter to me, and it's hard to see you go through this. How can I help you find treatment, or be there to support you?"
However, your partner may not be in a place where they can be receptive to you sharing your feelings. In those cases (as well as in general!), consider connecting with a therapist. Look for someone who can help you navigate the stressors of caregiving, or general relationship issues.
5. Work together to come up with an action plan for especially bad days
Particularly when you're depressed, it's not always easy to say something like "Hey, can I share something really difficult with you?"
So when your partner is having a good day, sit down and talk about what you can do when they're really going through a rough patch.
That could look like:
- Giving them space and giving yourself full permission to accept that their mood has nothing to do with you
- Encouraging them to get out of the house, even if they have zero desire whatsoever at the time
- Using a safe word that indicates you should stop what you're doing to give them your full attention (especially your partner has trouble directly asking for help)
This can be especially helpful if you have no clue how to help, but are eager to do so. Sometimes, just asking can be the start to a productive, mutually beneficial conversation.
6. Encourage treatment – but do your best not to push a timeline
The decision to seek help for depression is not a light one, and if your partner is still on the fence about it, remain encouraging but also patient.
Here are some "do's" and "don'ts" to consider when broaching the topic of treatment:
- Pick the right time and place to talk about treatment options. Try sometime on the weekend when you both have downtime, and are able to relax and open up.
- Help them navigate finding a therapist: Finding a therapist can be a thoroughly exhausting, sometimes dispiriting, process – and even more so when depression is involved. Helping your partner navigate the process (e.g., deciding whether someone is a good fit; scheduling sessions into their calendar; figuring out what payment looks like) can be a huge relief in and of itself. Here's a step-by-step guide to helping your husband or boyfriend find a therapist.
- Bring up the conversation in front of other people. Finding a comfortable time and place to talk about this serious topic often does not include other people; you don’t want to come across like an intervention.
- Push a timeline, or make ultimatums. Doing so can make your partner feel pressured and rushed, and they may feel forced to settle on a treatment plan that's not totally right for them.
7. Consistently prioritize your own self-care, too!
Self care is one of the most important things that a person can do to stay healthy and strong for those around you.
Take care of yourself by:
- Stepping away for a moment if a conversation with your partner gets too emotionally difficult.
- Continuing to connect with friends, and attend your commitments or hobbies.
- Getting enough sleep and exercise, even on the days your partner isn't able to.
- Give yourself 10-30 totally free and unapologetic minutes a day to clear your mind and recharge, whether that's through meditation, prayer, breathing exercises, or journaling.
- Consider reaching out to a therapist, so you can handle whatever issues are on your plate while continuing to show up for your partner.
With the right treatment and support, your partner and your relationship can be healthy. And remember that, even if it doesn't always feel like it – and your partner isn't able to show it – if you continue to show up, listen compassionately, and make a conscious effort to understand, you are helping.