How to cope with a partner's depression

By: May 23, 2011

Tips to help support your partner without hurting yourself.

Whether it is clinical or situational, having a relationship with a loved one who is depressed is frustrating, difficult and can leave you feeling alone in the world. Does this characterize you? It is challenging enough when your loved one is your sibling, parent or distant relative. Making a lifelong commitment to someone who is depressed to whom you have promised to love in sickness and in health is a much different scenario.

Although the focus is generally speaking on your partner, there are things you can do that will ease things between you both and ultimately allow you to not lose yourself in the process of caring for him or her.

  • Arguing solves nothing
  • Don’t force him or her to be a social butterfly
  • Don’t internalize or personalize
  • No excuse for abuse
  • Take care of yourself

Arguing Solves Nothing

Difficult as it has to be living with someone who is depressed, perhaps even manic or bipolar, arguing really gets neither of you anywhere. As your mother probably told you on more than one occasion, “honey, pick your battles.” If something is exceedingly important to be right about: issues to do with safety, health, raising the kids, money, arguing is not the way to get this point across. When you find yourself tempted to argue, stop! Think of another more logical, less emotional means of articulating this. It takes practice; believe me. But you will find your partner responding more positively to you. He or she no more wants to be yelled at than he or she wants to yell at you. Everything else? Let it go! Don’t sweat the small stuff, it “ain’t” worth it!


Don’t Force Him or Her to Be a Social Butterfly

Although you may not be depressed, you can certainly understand not wanting to socialize when you have a cold, the flu, or a stomach bug. You aren’t yourself when you feel under-the-weather and neither is your partner when he or she is in a depressive state. Celebrate the days when he or she wants to socialize and find alternative forms of happiness when he or she isn’t in the mood. This doesn’t mean you have to suffer in silence. Although you may want to stay home sometimes during those moments your spouse wants to hibernate, you shouldn’t have to hibernate along with him or her all the time. Get out, have fun and don’t suffer. Go visit friends, family, catch a movie and be good to yourself.


Don’t Internalize or Personalize

Certainly on an intellectual level you get this, but in the heat of the moment, when you both are in the thick of his or her depression, it is easier said than done. One thing that is important to understand is that this isn’t about you. If it’s chemical depression your partner suffers from, it’s all internal and unique to him or her. There is nothing you did, or for that matter nothing your partner did to deserve this. It just is what it is. When, and there will be those moments, your partner goes off the deep end – maybe forgot a dose of his or her meds, or they need to be adjusted again – two things will you be of help to your partner. Be there, but don’t get sucked in. Try to be objective; this will help you both focus better. Don’t be overly dramatic; this helps no one. Be there for him or her, but don’t allow the behavior to be all consuming. It is a very tough balance to strike – not unlike walking a tightrope.


There Is No Excuse for Abuse

When you agreed to love your partner in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad, this didn’t include abuse – be it emotional, verbal and especially not physical. This is the case whether your partner is depressed or isn’t. It is not uncommon for depressed people, especially those who are manic, bipolar and schizophrenic, to become violent and abusive. You didn’t sign up for this and you should never have to put up with this. At this point you want to ask yourself two tough questions: Can this be solved with therapy, either couple’s counseling or individual? Chances are good if your partner is depressed, he or she is already in therapy. Offer to go to sessions with your partner and let him or her know that you are in it for the long haul, assuming the abuse abates immediately.

If it is physical, your home is no longer safe and you must consider staying with a friend, finding a shelter and getting therapy yourself. If there are kids in the picture, you must put their needs ahead of both your partner’s and yours. Living with someone with depression doesn’t have to lead its way to abuse and you shouldn’t put up with it.


Take Care of Yourself

Although it is easy to allow your life to become all too consumed with your partner and lose yourself, you mustn’t allow this. Remember that you can’t care for your spouse properly if you are no longer functioning correctly. Even if this is your only impetus to stay strong, to remain an individual and to stay sane, that is fine. However, it ought to be more than that. You are still a separate person from your partner with separate interests. This would be the case whether he or she is depressed or not.

If it weren’t clearly stated above, get out, have fun and do things that make you happy. Yes you are married or in a long-term relationship with someone who is depressed, but your world doesn’t have to stop. Call friends, pamper yourself. Go to a spa, go to the movies, get out and enjoy your life. You may need someone to talk to: a therapist, clergy member, sibling, parent, just make sure it is someone who is supportive. Given that you are in this relationship, the last thing you need is people advising you to leave.

Living with someone who is depressed isn’t easy. It takes a very special person to do this and not lose him or herself. If you aren’t already that person, you can, with patience, work and growing pains, become that person.