In a perfect world, dating would be like a romantic comedy from the ’90s. There’d be a meet-cutie moment, you’d fall in love, you’d have some slapstick stuff and minor misunderstandings – then you’d ride off into the sunset together. But dating and relationships are anything but simple.
Depression affects a lot of people, so you might one day find yourself in a relationship with someone who’s struggling.
Worth noting: Depression can strike at any time, so even if you’re in an long-term relationship, you might one day find your partner dealing with persistent sadness, anxiety, pessimism, sudden loss of interest in normally joyous activities or decrease in energy or ongoing fatigue.
Just like any other struggle, depression can add stress to a relationship, says therapist Dr Heather Lofton. But there are some ways to navigate it while keeping your bond strong.
1. Learn about depression
Educating yourself on what happens when people struggle with depression can help you understand what they’re going through. “Depression is an alteration of brain functioning that results in people feeling terrible emotionally,” says marriage and family therapist Dr Lisa Marie Bobby, author of Exaholics.
Knowing what’s happening to a loved one experiencing depression can help you approach them with empathy. (But, at the same time, know that you may also feel resentful sometimes, and that’s normal.)
2. Just be there
Someone with depression may isolate themselves, not ask for help, or have trouble talking about what they’re going through, says Dr Lofton. It can be really tough to know exactly what you should do during episodes when they’re suffering.
But you don’t have to worry about doing the exact right thing. “When your partner seems down, being present physically and emotionally can be a great form of support,” she says. This means, rather than trying to offer solutions or talk them out of their feelings (for example, “you shouldn’t think that way” or “snap out of it”), simply be there to listen to them. Compassion can go a long way to making them feel supported.
3. Be proactive
Encourage healthy behaviours, which are important for them to feel well, says Dr Bobby. It can be as simple as suggesting you two go for a walk after dinner. Or making space for them to journal or meditate.
Just remember to support rather than push. It’s not your job to hound them about if they went to their therapy appointment or took their medication, she says.
4. Don’t be the fix
You aren’t here to cure your partner’s depression, says Dr Lofton. In fact, putting that pressure on yourself can be problematic and take a toll on your own mental health, per Yale research.
“Take the pressure off yourself to be the sole provider of care and happiness,” says Dr Lofton. Yes, that’s way easier said than done. But it’s possible and happens by setting boundaries. Be supportive of them through their journey but have a life of your own, too. Continue to participate in activities you enjoy and spend time with others. In other words, don’t give up your daily trips to the gym just because you feel like they need you to always be around.
Self-reflection is also key to protecting yourself, says Dr Lofton. Ask yourself if your needs are being met and how you can take care of you.
5. Consider couples counselling
Don’t push your partner into counselling (it’s not going to work), but if they’re hesitant about going to therapy alone, you can also suggest couples counselling. Not only can it be an entry for them into individual therapy, but you can also talk to a third party about how depression impacts the relationship and what you’re doing as a couple to manage it, suggests Dr Bobby.
If that fails, she actually suggests going to therapy alone. That way you can learn strategies to exist in the relationship in the healthiest way possible. Or suss out if it’s not actually working for you
6. Reassess your future
“People can get into situations that are absolutely heartbreaking five or 10 years down the road,” says Dr Bobby. “I often see people fall in love with someone’s potential and they can enter into and maintain a relationship for years, chasing the dream of how great their lives will be when their partner makes changes,” she says.
It is absolutely possible for someone struggling with depression to recover, however, if your partner is not actively seeking help in some way – counselling, medication, lifestyle changes – and you are not happy or its affecting your own mental health, she suggests that you end the relationship or walk away before it gets serious.
7. Know what you need
Yes, the suggestion of breaking up may sound insensitive, but it doesn’t make you a bad person. “It’s okay to care enough about yourself to make decisions that are healthy for you,” says Dr Bobby. It requires tapping into a strong sense of confidence and honouring your needs. And, yes, you can tell them to hold onto your number for after they seek help, she says.
This article was originally published on www.womenshealthmag.com
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