Living With a Depressed Partner: How You Can Be Kind and Supportive in Difficult Times

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I cannot imagine having a depressed partner.  Currently, I am in the reverse position.  I am the sufferer.  The sad one.  The tired one.  I am the one with mood swings.  I don’t have to love myself, even though I should.  That should be a rule.  But it’s not.

Rather, I have to watch my husband love me when I’m struggling.  That is as painful, if not more so, than the struggle itself.  He wakes up every day and makes the decision to continue to stand by me when, frankly, my behavior makes me very hard to live with.

mood swing, happy, sad, moods, emotions, Anne Hathaway, depressed partner
Me, on a rapid cycling day, as portrayed by the gorgeous Anne Hathaway.

He should write a blog.  There’s a part of me that thinks I would love to read his perspective on things.  I’m the one who speaks about our journey while he is often silent.  That’s fine.  That’s just who he is.  I do think he would have a lot to offer in his experiences, though.  You hear that, honey? Start writing!

Keep in mind

Something that is hard to remember when you have depression, or anxiety, or bipolar disorder, or any other mental illness is: We are not the only one suffering.  Mental illness is very isolating.  One of its main objectives is to keep us separate from our loved ones.  It makes us crave alone time, and it makes us forget that there is a whole big world outside of our depression.

It is easy to forget that our friends and family and partner watch us feel sad.  They watch us go from happy to enraged at the drop of a hat.  Sometimes, they watch us want to die. They are the ones left behind while we sit on our island of sadness, untouchable and not wanting to be touched.

“That’s the thing about depression: A human being can survive almost anything, as long as she sees the end in sight. But depression is so insidious, and it compounds daily, that it’s impossible to ever see the end.” ― Elizabeth Wurtzel, Prozac Nation

Action steps to help your depressed partner

So what can you do? How can you love someone with depression? Here are 5 tips that you can start using right away that will make your position- the caretaker, the watcher, the mediator, the lover- that much easier.

  1. Check on them often. 
  2. This will sometimes not be popular with your depressed partner.  There will be times that they are in such a bad place that they find this display of love almost painful.  It is hard to explain if you have never been depressed yourself, but you sometimes reach such a low that you believe you cannot be loved.  When you reach this point, and someone shows you an expression of love, it is almost repulsive because your brain tells you it is not genuine.  Your brain tells you it must be some kind of joke at your expense. When your loved one feels this way, it is important to stay the course and continue to ask them how they are and remind them how loved they are.  It takes time and effort to break the cycle in their mind of a fear or almost disdain of love and affection, but it is possible.
  3. Learn how to speak to them. 
  4. Oftentimes, the most well-meaning person can just flat out say the wrong thing.  It’s not on purpose.  Sometimes, they say something in an attempt to be helpful, but it really is the last thing that the depressed person needs to hear.  For example, “Lots of people have it worse.” No.  No one has it worse, at least in their mind.  In the throes of depression, they are sometimes not capable of thinking logically about their illness.  So speak with compassion, and speak in a way that speaks to them.  Reminding them to smile and think about starving people in third world countries is not helpful.
  5. Educate yourself.
  6. Especially if you are in a relationship with someone with mental illness, it is important to educate yourself about their illness.  Not only will it teach you some ways to cope with their symptoms, but it shows your partner that you care enough to learn how to help them.  I can pretty much guarantee that this will improve your relationship.  Pick up a book or follow a blog (Like this one!) about mental illness and you will be surprised at the things you will learn.
  7. Advocate for them. 
  8. What people living with mental illness need more than anything is a support system.  They need someone in their corner.  They need people telling them that they aren’t alone.  Whether it is as simple as cooking for them after a rough day, or helping them with some housework– or something more in depth like attending a rally for support group with them– show them that they have your support no matter what happens.
  9. Bring your depressed partner out of their isolation. 
  10. When you are depressed, it can be so hard to leave the house.  The last thing you want to do is be around other people, especially happy people.  You find yourself resenting others’ happiness, so the idea of being around shiny happy people holding hands is about as appealing as sliding down a banister of razor blades.  Still, it can help to get out there, get some sunshine, and do something “normal.” Offer to go shopping with them, or invite them to be a guest at your yoga class.  This can be difficult for them, but it can ultimately make them feel better.  It can remind them that they are still a part of humanity, and that it is possible to feel normal even though their mind tells them otherwise.

I remind myself everyday that my husband suffers watching me.  I am not the only one suffering from mental illness.  He does too.  So do my parents, and my sister, and my in laws, and my friends.  They suffer from my mental illness everyday.  If you can take any lesson from this, remember that when your partner or friend or sibling suffers from depression, a small amount of empathy goes a long way.  Know that you are brave and strong.  Know that your love matters.


Related Posts: Parenting With Depression: The Ugly TruthTaking Time For Each Other | Why You Need To Have Quality Time7 steps you can take today to feel more emotionally well

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16 thoughts on “Living With a Depressed Partner: How You Can Be Kind and Supportive in Difficult Times”

  1. Learning to communicate to a depressed partner is so important. Communication is one of the best ways to bring a person out of their isolation and help them start living a happy life again.

    A little bit of empathy does indeed go a long way; here is to an empathetic future!

  2. Great post! In addressing how to love someone who struggles with depression, you are recognizing often overlooked aspect. When we are in the throws of our struggles, it sometimes easy to forget the inner world of the people around us.

    I also think the advice you provide is very helpful. I particularly relate to the portion where you address how to talk to someone who is depressed. I recently wrote a post that focused on how to communicate with those who are struggling. One aspect to it was the “just” response. In other words, “just get over him. He was creep.” Etc. Much like your example of “many people have it worse,” both are examples of a person revealing that they aren’t truly connecting with our struggle; making us feel more distant and separate.

    Thank you for sharing this. Very effective post!


  3. I am literally printing your post as we speak. I’m going to pass the info along to my husband. He tries SO hard to help me through my depression. He’s a saint, really. Thanks for this post!

  4. Really enjoyed your article on how to handle someone who is down and depressed. I too am a mental health advocate and we are like-minded. Well done.

  5. Thank you for sharing this. You and your husband deserve awards for just being on this journey TOGETHER. He’s with you and I think that’s a beautiful thing.

    I am so grateful and appreciative of my boyfriend when I get into one of my moods. Or feel insecure. He’s a good egg.

    By this blog, it sounds like your husband is a good egg too.

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