Depression can cause havoc in a relationship, but it doesn’t have to. Depression and relationships don’t mix well for many reasons. And if you’re trying to figure out how to keep your marriage or partnership strong when you’re depressed, it can seem overwhelming.
How depression affects your relationship depends on what you’re going through, but it can easily impact your connection with your partner.
However, that doesn’t mean you can’t balance your mental health and keep your relationship going strong, even when you’re fighting depression.
I know because I’ve been there.
I’ve struggled with being depressed for my whole life. For a long time, I didn’t have a name for why I always felt so hopeless and full of despair. I just lived with it.
And then I got married. And he had to live with it, too. It was not fun. And we ended up divorcing.
Fortunately, since then I’ve learned a few things. Now I have a new boyfriend, and I don’t want to history to repeat itself.
Keeping your relationship going when you’re depressed can be very difficult, but it doesn’t have to self-destruct because of it.
Here are 5 ways to keep your relationship strong when battling depression.
1. Pay attention.
Those of us who live with depression can usually tell when it hits.
Simple tasks that were easy to do just the day before become difficult. Sleep is elusive. You’re short-tempered and crabby. Each of us manifests depression differently, but usually you know when you’re experiencing it.
Keeping in touch with your depression and sharing its presence with your partner is very important. Don’t just expect your partner to guess that you’re depressed.
Your spouse might not recognize the signs and may not respond to your new mood, which could lead to some big problems between the two of you.
Before my diagnosis, I didn’t tell my husband when I felt depressed because I often didn’t recognize it. I was just crabby and mean and not fun to be around.
I expected him to fight through all of that and make an effort to make me feel better. Of course, he couldn’t. He thought I was just being mean and crabby, and he wanted nothing to do with me.
If only I told him what was going on, if I had recognized what was going on, perhaps he would’ve had some sympathy and given me what I needed.
So, when depression hits, be clear about it. You and your partner have a bit of a battle ahead. Together.
2. Talk about your depression.
Even the most sympathetic of partners doesn’t really understand what depression is like, unless they suffer from it themselves. Because of this, it’s important to try to teach them what depression looks like for you.
When I first talked about my depression, my message for my new boyfriend was one, you haven’t caused this, two, you can’t fix it, and three, I can’t just suck it up and feel better. For me, it was essential that he knew these three things to be true.
Next, I explained to him what my depression looked like.
I explained that when I was depressed, I felt like I had a gorilla on my back. Moving around, getting things done, and communicating effectively all required such a herculean effort, that I could barely manage.
When I was depressed, I was exhausted, easily angered, and prone to long bouts of crying. Going to work, seeing his family, taking care of myself, all filled me with such an overwhelming sense of dread that I couldn’t bear it.
So, when you aren’t depressed, take some time and share your experience with your partner. The better understanding they have of your depression, the more likely you can keep your relationship strong when you are depressed.
3. Plan ahead.
A key part of dealing with depression for me and for my boyfriend is that when I wasn’t depressed, I was able to make a plan for what I needed when I was depressed.
I knew from experience what I needed to get through my depression. Sharing it with my partner was key.
For me, when I get depressed I need four things: To get outside, to sleep, Pad Thai, and intimacy. I knew those things wouldn’t cure my depression, but that they made living with it easier.
So when I wasn’t depressed, my boyfriend and I made a plan for what to do when I was. We would do those things — or some variation of them — to stay connected while I was depressed and help me get through it.
What we also agreed to was that he wouldn’t try to “fix” it. Many people want to fix things. You can’t fix depression. Accepting that was a great way for my boyfriend to manage when I was depressed, because he wasn’t constantly frustrated and searching for ways to help me.
4. Support your partner.
So, you’ve talked to your partner about your depression and made a plan for what you need when you’re in it. Both of those things are great.
Sometimes, however, those things just don’t work and you’re both miserable. You’re short-tempered and difficult and not fun to be with.
At times like that, let your partner go. Let them go about their day, guilt-free. The last thing in the world you want to do is tether someone you love to your depression.
Encourage your partner to go do something they love instead of hanging around being miserable with you. If you let them do this, they will come home refreshed and better able to support you. And they might even bring you some of your favorite food.
5. Agree to get help.
One of the hardest things for someone who loves someone with depression is their sense of helplessness. They know that there is nothing they can do to help their partner get out of this dark place. And that sense of helplessness can tear relationships apart.
What can you do? You can agree to seek help in dealing with your depression. That help can be what you want it to be: medication, yoga, therapy. Whatever works for you.
It’s important to keep your relationship strong when you’re depressed and know that depression isn’t something that can be ignored. Depression needs to be addressed head-on. It’s something you can both learn to deal with and take on together. As a couple.
Get some help. Both for you and for the one you love.
It can be extremely difficult to keep a relationship strong when you’re depressed.
Depression can have a devastating effect on relationships. It doesn’t have to be a death knell, however.
Some relationships can actually thrive when couples tackle depression together.
Share with your partner what your depression looks like, allow them to fully understand it, and share with them the tools you have in place to manage it.
Give them the freedom to escape from it for a bit if necessary. But be in it together.
Because if together you can manage depression, then there is nothing else that you can’t take on. Together.