Whether it's you or your partner who's depressed, here's how to protect your relationship.
Depression sucks. Sorry to be so honest, but I'm a therapist and that's my job. When you're depressed, nothing sounds good, your body aches like you have the flu, you feel like the most worthless human being on the planet, and you just can't stop crying.
If you are depressed, you might be suffering from some or all of the following symptoms: loneliness, paralyzing fear, racing heart and thoughts, achy body, headaches, stomach aches, insomnia, sleeping all day, annoying your friends and family with your negative view of the world, or being consistently angry with yourself for feeling stuck in a dark hole. Oh, and also being a lousy partner in a relationship.
As a couples therapist, I have the unique job of working with both the relationship and the individual needs of clients. When one of the parties is struggling with depression, it gets even more complicated. I have to gauge their understanding of depression, dig out any family history with the disease, and the decide how to work with the couple when only one of the individuals is suffering from this particular problem. Imagine telling a wife that all of her marital issues stem from her husband's depression? "It's not you, it's him, and there's nothing you can do about it." It certainly changes the course of the therapy.
Even after years of experience, I honestly don't know which is the harder role: having the depression, or supporting the person who has it. Regardless, there are some healthy ways of accepting depression in your own life and in your relationship.
Often it's hard to know if depression causes the relationship problems or the relationship problems trigger the depression. What's important is how the couple chooses to manage it. We don't always have control over our feelings, but we do have the responsibility to manage how they impact our lives and the lives of those around us.
Managing depression in a relationship requires the couple to work together on "how" it is taken care of. It sounds mechanical, but part of it needs to be. If depression isn't cared for, it can wreak havoc. I ask couples to externalize depression as its own issue, like taking out the garbage. Both need to deal with it for the better of the whole.
If you are on the outside looking in, loving someone who has depression can be incredibly difficult, especially if it came about later in the relationship and has now changed the dynamics of the relationship. This problem calls upon your fundamental love and caring for not only your partner but for your relationship. Don't assume one of you has to be "fine" all the time and that somebody has to be you. Be reasonable about what you can and cannot accomplish yourself, but more importantly, don't lose yourself.
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