Is your partner depressed?
By Caroline Carr
Being with a partner who is depressed can be very lonely. I know that because I’ve been there. Yet all over the world, millions of partners, husbands or wives are going through something similar to yourself. You mightn’t realise that your partner IS depressed – and they might not know it either. But you’ll be wondering what’s wrong.
You’ll be worried by their behaviour. For example, you may wonder why they are so low in mood and negative, or withdrawn, or even hostile and accusatory towards you. You may well think that you are to blame in some way. And you will be experiencing all sorts of emotions – feeling confused, concerned, anxious, frustrated and angry – all muddled up with feelings of love and hope and insecurity. It may be that anything you say could lead to an unexpected and ‘over the top’ reaction from your partner, leaving you feeling drained, and wishing you hadn’t bothered.
Signs that your partner could be depressed
If you’ve been with your partner for some time, you may well have become used to their behaviour, and as time goes by you tend to go along with any changes you notice, and normalise them. And if you are in a relatively new relationship, you probably think that the behaviour is just a part of their personality anyway. This is why it’s so important to know something about depression, so that if you are concerned about anything, you have a point of reference. There is a mass of information about the symptoms, possible causes and treatments on this website, so I’ll just mention a few salient points.
- Your partner cannot just snap out of depression. Every aspect of his or her life is underpinned by the way that they think and feel.
- At first there might be a few little things that concern you, such as your partner being unusually gloomy, or ‘niggling’ about things that seem unimportant, or cutting down on doing things that they usually enjoy. My advice is to be mindful of this – as soon as you feel something doesn’t seem quite right, take it seriously. Your partner could be becoming depressed.
- As the depression grows, your partner may sense that they are losing their identity, as their life seems to spiral out of control. Unexpected or irrational behaviour is a desperate attempt to get some control back.
- Your partner may not show it, or even know it, but they will be scared. He or she is likely to be feeling empty, helpless and hopeless as their outlook and horizons shrink inwards. They may be constantly negative and sad, or feel there is little point in anything. They might blame others for everything, or become very cynical. They may become angry and hostile. On the other hand, they may not have the energy to even speak, let alone be angry.
- You could find that your partner becomes overwhelmed by tasks and so avoids doing them. Even simple things like putting the dirty dishes in the sink, can to someone who is depressed, seem like a vast, vague ‘problem’.
- On top of everything, your partner is probably consumed with guilt about the impact of their depression on you.
Why partners need special support.
The relationship between partners is different from any other. All relationships are unique, but as the depressed person’s partner:
- You tend to be the one that bears the brunt of the fallout.
- Depression eats away at the elements of a relationship that you have come to expect. Therefore, when you most need those things to be there – they may not be. For example: fun and humour, mutual respect, emotional support, shared ideas dreams and goals, great conversations, tactile intimacy, great sex, making decisions together, and sharing activities that you enjoy.
- The experience of depression is very profound. Therefore changes are likely to occur within your relationship. And for many people, this can be an extremely challenging concept to accept.
How you can help them
- Encourage your partner to go to the doctor in the first instance, because their symptoms could be due to something else such as another illness or infection, or as the result of some medication. I know that this can be tricky – many people are reluctant to seek medical advice for a range of reasons, but it’s important. If your partner refuses to do so, there are ways that you can encourage them. See my book LIVING WITH DEPRESSION for tips on how to do this.
- Let your partner know that you are there for them and that you care. They need to hear this more than ever now.
- When appropriate, let them know what their strengths are. They may not believe that they have any, so they need you to tell them.
- If they are overwhelmed, help your partner to make clear and realistic goals, which will maintain their sense of responsibility. Large tasks can seem really daunting to someone who is depressed, so encourage them to break them down into small, achievable ones, then make a point of noticing and praising each step they take to achieving them.
- Keep a clear sense of your own boundaries. Let your partner know when you can give your time to them to talk, or for a phone call. They need a structure, because their own boundaries may be becoming blurred, and they may expect you to be available all the time.
- Always treat your partner with respect. It is so easy to patronise when you feel frustrated and desperate. And if you help your partner to make excuses for their behaviour, they are likely to see themselves as an invalid and a victim. But all of this will just increase their feelings of powerlessness. More than anything else, your partner wants to feel OK.
- Keep as upbeat and positive and healthy as you can, because ultimately this is how you will serve them best.
How you can help yourself
There are so many ways that you can help yourself, and lots of tips and techniques that you can learn to make this journey smoother for you. Here are a few:
- Seek some support for yourself. You need to talk about what is going on for you, and to process how you think and feel about it. Although you might think you are being disloyal to your partner by doing this, you are not. It’s just about being sensible. So speak to someone you can trust. That way, you’re more likely to avoid becoming ill and depressed yourself.
- Accept the fact that your partner’s depression is not your fault (even though they may tell you that it is.)
- Understand that it is the behaviour not the person that is the issue
- Expect any thing and everything from your partner’s behaviour. Communication between you could become very tricky sometimes, but that’s all part of it.
- Allow yourself to have your own life outside of your partner’s depression, to help you keep a sense of perspective.
- Take strength from the fact that you are not alone. Millions of people are going through this, and it can be quite a journey. But there is always a way through. Although this is so tough for you, you can grow and develop from your experience, and find valuable recourses within you that you didn’t even know you had. I know, because I have been there.
Caroline Carr is author of 'Living with Depression' and 'How not to Worry' and is founder of www.mypartnerisdepressed.com
Please also see our feature 'Helping someone with depression' by psychologist Colin Matthews here