It's clear to anyone who has ever experienced mental illness, whether firsthand or via a loved one, how difficult it is to maintain a healthy relationship with those involved. The rate of depression in middle aged men has gone up, leaving many marriages and relationships in terrible states. Plus, since men are less likely to have many peers around on a regular basis when they're older, they often turn to their partners for help instead. So how can we help the ones we love when they're depressed?
As someone who has experienced depression for over a decade, I can honestly say that relationships are one of the hardest obstacles to tackle. With family, it's easier to feel secure in knowing they'll still be family, through and through, regardless of how unhappy and withdrawn you become. Although your relationship with them might become strained, it's still a much more established bond.
When it comes to romantic relationships, however, the pair of you are less able to feel comfortable and safe in your existence as a pair. Even if you've been together a long time, it still might not be or feel unconditional, giving the depression an even larger breeding ground on which to fester anxieties and insecurities — thus deepening the sadness.
One of the most important things to do if your partner is experiencing depression is to expand his support group, especially by helping him gain more friends. But this is not easy to do, considering we can only try to influence the actions of others, not perform them ourselves in their place.
Licensed Clinical Social Worker Julia Flood says, "We only have control over ourselves. But that's actually good news. The real issue we're having may be along the lines of: 'I feel over-burdened by being the sole source of nurturing and/or entertainment for you, dear husband, and I need a break from the caregiver role I have been taking on for you. I am not getting my needs met, and I would like to spend more time with my friends, however I feel guilty about this, because the message I am receiving is that this is not okay with you.'"
When it comes to actually helping your partner's depression, it can be extremely difficult to determine the best option. Start, instead, by asking what's wrong and not simply making it about you. Says Flood, "As far as what actually would help people move through depression — rather than asking him to change, start by being fully present with him in his depression."
Ensuring that he knows your undivided attention and focus are on him may help those depressed feelings come up to the surface, making them more clear to you — and even to him, perhaps. Keep reading ...
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