3. Make it clear that you’re with her because you want to be.
NO ONE wants to feel like they’re your pity case.
When your depressed girlfriend protests that you, “could do better,” in the sense that you should go out and immediately date someone else, do your best to simply ignore it.
She’s likely very aware of her limitations right now in the affection department. And, research suggests she might be even more reactive to your pain since low mood can make empathetic distress worse.
The fact that she can’t really reciprocate your affections in a normal way most likely makes her feel more shame and guilt, that in turn, causes her to feel like a bigger burden to you and so on.
Other than that, liberally use the words, “I’m not bothered,” when she says the stuff about your relationship and then don’t act bothered.
This strategy to help your depressed girlfriend won’t work if you let her protests get to you, because she’ll see you’re upset and feel worse about her behavior then push you away “for your own good.”
Make it clear that you’re with her because you want to be and don’t take her cognitive distortions about your relationship personally. That leads me to my next point.
4. Don’t take things personally.
Pretend you’re at a movie. You don’t take whatever happens at the movie personally do you? You don’t prepare for a real zombie apocalypse after watching Brad Pitt kill zombies in WWZ, right?
Use this same mindset with your depressed person. Prepare mentally for her to potentially push you away, withdraw from your relationship and dump you.
Don’t be afraid of this or try to talk her out of it when it happens. Don’t make any dramatic declarations about your love for her if she goes this route.
Don’t put any pressure on her at all for any reason.
The more you chase a depressed person, the more they will withdraw from you.
And, your misguided persistence about keeping the relationship going at all costs will eventually make her feel pressured and force her to make unilateral decisions about your relationship (using black and white thinking) that you don’t want her to make right now in this state of mind.
You might be thinking, “Of course I would be offended and hurt by a breakup.”
And, I completely understand. During normal times, a breakup is the height of personal rejection.
During a normal breakup someone is essentially saying,
“You know this amazing, vulnerable, loving relationship we share? Remember all the sex, love, affection and great times when we ate pizza in the rain together? How about our shared love of garden gnomes? Remember that? I’d rather do that with ANYONE else except you. No thanks.”
When a clinically depressed person breaks up with you, this is one of the rare times when “it’s not you, it’s me” is the 100% pure, gospel truth.
I’m NOT saying that if your depressed girlfriend breaks up with you that you should stick around like a jilted puppy dog and keep sending her “encouraging messages” as heartbroken lovers often attempt to do.
Not at all. In fact, DO NOT STAY IN TOUCH.
The concept of not taking it personally doesn’t mean you put up with crap, I’m simply encouraging you to detach and avoid letting her confusing statements about your relationship hurt your feelings.
Your boundaries— what you’re willing to put up with— should remain.
Speaking of which:
5. Shore up your boundaries.
I realize I just told you to avoid taking things your depressed girlfriend says personally. Detaching from her whims and moods will really help you.
However, if your depressed girlfriend starts lashing out at you, don’t allow it. Even though you’ll be using the thicker skin you’re growing, that doesn’t mean you should passively ignore it when or if she is actually mean to you.
Sometimes people in relationships with depressed people avoid confronting their partner and enacting consequences when they cross the line because they are afraid that whatever they say will cause more shame and guilt, thereby making the illness worse.
This is a mistake for several reasons.
First, by not explaining your boundaries and feelings around her unacceptable behavior, you’re training her that it’s okay with you.
No one knows where your line IS when they have no idea you actually have one.
Same with all your relationships— even those with non-depressed people.
Second, since her ability to genuinely empathize with you might be disconnected or temporarily out of service right now— she might have a serious and REAL blind spot around whether her behavior is hurtful or abusive that simply wouldn’t be there if she wasn’t mentally ill.
This doesn’t mean you should accept her abuse, quite the contrary.
Instead, not confronting a depressed person is like not warning your friend about the giant piece of spinach in her teeth at the debutante ball.
You might not want to embarrass them or make them feel worse, but in the long run, the nasty behavior will spread to others and likely drive everyone away who they haven’t already isolated from.
For extra style points, you’ll experience the relationship-destroying joy of dormant, buried resentments waiting in your psyche to explode at any second.
And, when they out of this depressive episode, they will get to go back and rebuild all of their relationships from scratch.
Trust me, the “sorry I was a jerk for 9 months” talk is NOT a fun way to spend an afternoon.
When a someone is irrational, removing the real-world consequences of their irrationality doesn’t magically make them more rational. Later on, they might not even remember the terrible thing they said to you because they were so far in the depressive fog.
So, if your feelings are hurt by something hurtful your depressed girlfriend actually said or did, gently but firmly sit her down and speak your truth.
Be mindful of when and how you choose to confront her.