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How To Support A Partner Struggling With Depression



One of the key symptoms of depression is a naturally skewed sense of reality. Everything feels worse than it is, and some days it can be overwhelming just to drag yourself out of bed in the morning. When someone who is depressed is in a relationship, that lethargy can carry over into things like going on dates, having sex, or even carrying on basic conversations. If your partner seems to have lost interest in these essential elements of a relationship, it can hurt. It’s also very likely that the reason they’re not interested in those things has absolutely nothing to do with you.

Part of the problem is that most of the symptoms of depression directly contradict the characteristics of healthy, successful relationships. If your relationship is good, you both should be positive! You should be trying new things! You should have active social lives with other people! You should have sex regularly! There are very few relationship guides out there that say a successful relationship is one where your partner comes home from work, says very little, watches Netflix for four hours, then falls asleep for the next ten. What other couples see as warning signs are your normal routine.

Those things may be warning signs, but they’re not necessarily about you. If you had a partner who had a broken leg, they may not be able to go out on as many dates or have as much sex, but you can clearly see why. With depression, the problem is hidden. It’s easier to assume that you’re the cause because there’s nothing obvious to point your finger at. As lifestyle blog Literally, Darling explains, this only gets worse when you see your depressed partner act differently around other people, but that’s not a bad thing:

It’s hard not to take things personally. It’s even harder to not wonder if you did something to make your loved one depressed. When you’re depressed, you feel this complete and utter inability to be yourself, and it makes it ten times harder when you’re around loved ones; ie. People who know the real “you.” Being with strangers can sometimes be easier for them: they get to put on a show. They get to pretend that they aren’t depressed for a short amount of time. It can really hurt you to see this, and you sometimes wonder if it’s just you causing the depression. But it’s not. If your loved one is acting depressed around you, it’s a good sign- in a strange way. It means that they love and trust you enough to share this with you. Sometimes they try to hide it- sometimes they’ll push you away. The only thing to do is just be there.

Even in a healthy relationship, you can’t make someone else’s emotional well-being your sole responsibility. Depression can tank your partner’s sex drive, make them seem bored with the things you talk about, or take the joy out of things they might otherwise enjoy. Those are certainly problems that need to be dealt with. However, it’s also important to understand that having depression and being unhappy with your relationship are two separate issues. As long as your partner says that you’re not the reason they appear unhappy, take them at their word and try to work on the other issues together.

You should avoid taking your partner’s symptoms of depression personally, but you shouldn’t ignore them. The fact that depression can sap your partner’s motivation for romance doesn’t make it hurt any less when you feel neglected. If your partner were sick or injured, you wouldn’t resent them for it, but you would help them get treatment. Depression is no different.

Supportive, loving relationships can actually be a huge benefit to someone suffering from depression. However, that only works if you’re both working together to deal with it constructively. That includes being understanding of your partner, but it also means taking practical steps to deal with the underlying issue. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America suggests a variety of ways to do this (educating yourself about depression, encouraging them to stick to goals, tracking progress), but one of the best ways to help is to go to therapy together:

Mental health professionals are increasingly recommending couple- and family-based treatment programs. In one approach, a mental health professional enlists the partner as a co-therapist. With training, the partner can assist the patient with homework assigned by the therapist. This might involve accompanying the patient into anxiety-producing situations and providing encouragement to stay in the situation by using anxiety-reduction techniques.

Even if you don’t go to therapy together (or at all), finding a therapist together and helping out in your partner’s treatment can make a world of difference. Set timelines and goals for yourself so you know what you’re working towards. There may not be a definitive “end point” to treatment, but ideally you’ll work towards a sustainable solution that both of you can handle.

It’s also important in this phase not to force treatment on your partner. You can assist and support, but you can’t coerce your partner to do anything. If they refuse to get help, then you’re welcome to reassess whether or not you can remain supportive or stay in the relationship, but they need to decide for themselves how and when to get help.