There is, fortunately, a lot of information and help for people who suffer the torment of a major depressive disorder. But there is precious little help for or even acknowledgment of the partners of depressed people. Depression can take a serious toll on loved ones and on the relationship itself. Confusion, frustration, social isolation, loss of intimacy, communication problems, codependency, and sadness are some of the possible consequences of living with a depressed partner.
It's hard to watch the familiar, loving person you know become a distant stranger, one who withdraws or lashes out, or both. It means that your own need for emotional intimacy, companionship and social activity will be largely unmet by your partner for the duration of the depressed cycle. It's natural then, to focus your problem-solving attention on the partner, while you lose sight of maintaining your own health and simultaneously, and inadvertently, changing the relationship to something less than healthy and happy.
You, as the partner of a depressed person, need special care and attention. As you care for the depressed person, you must make sure you take care of your own emotional and social needs and of the relationship you value.
Partners of depressed people need a college level knowledge of depression itself, so read and ask trusted, experienced people. You must understand that the sadness, withdrawal, and irritability are neither your responsibility nor within your ability to relieve. That's a hard one to accept because it hurts to watch a loved one in pain and we are almost all wired to protect and care for our loved ones. It can also produce doubt that the depressed person “really” loves you if your love for her can't cajole her out of her depression. Arm yourself with information before you head for the hills. There are ways to love your partner through depression and take care of yourself.
First, understand that this is neither your fault nor your partner's fault anymore than Multiple Sclerosis is her fault. Nor is it a life sentence of hell. There is very real help for both of you. tips
A nasty effect of depression is that simple things like finding help and making appointments seem like insurmountable obstacles to your partner. You can help her locate a therapist who is experienced with depression and a physician who can prescribe the necessary medication. You might even show support by taking her to her first appointments. If she feels that her therapist or physician is not right for her, try again. Not all therapists and doctors are a good fit, not all can help, regardless of their degrees and licenses. It will be even harder for her to reach out if she feels that she has failed to find the right people to help. So stick with it until you have helped her find the best professionals.
You must allow the depressed person to do her own healing. It is not helpful or healthful to cater to every change of mood or give up the activities you ordinarily enjoy. As are all emotions, depression is contagious. It is imperative that you watch your emotional and physical state and take care that you balance your life with activities that promote your own healthy social and physical lifestyle.
There are several ways both of you can alleviate the symptoms and the duration of depression, and that you can both commit to consistent practice. They include daily exercise, regular sleep, nutritious diet, no alcohol or drugs (other than prescription), and time spent with friends balanced with quiet down-time. Watch for stress in both of you and do what you need to alleviate it. Do you need to have fun with friends or go for a bike ride? Do it whether she wants to join you or not. Does she need quiet decompression after work or a night out with friends? Help her arrange for that and then disengage personally from the results.
It is important maintain your expectations for being treated with the same respect and kindness you show her. Making excuses for hostility changes the nature of your relationship. That's on your shoulders as it is in every one of your relationships.
One way to keep from becoming entangled in your partner's moods is to monitor your own feelings in response to them. Notice what distresses you most so that you can interrupt your usual reaction and regain your emotional independence from the depression.
Remember that the person you love, and who loves you, is still there even when besieged by a malady not of her making. If she is committed to becoming healthy, you can support her as she will undoubtedly support you when you need help.
Marilyn Miller, MS, LPC ~ Psychotherapist
...Delighting every day in helping people find peace in their lives, relieving anxiety, depression, and promoting self-care.