How to Be an Effective Partner When Your Girlfriend (or Partner) has Depression

Angrily screaming at her while threatening to end your relationship is not going to help things or “wake her up.”

In fact, talk about the exact behaviors which are affecting you and NOT the depression at all unless she brings that up.

Understand in advance that she might not apologize and the talk might not go over well. It probably won’t feel super for either of you, but if you can be light and well-composed when you choose to confront her, that would be best.

Unfortunately, depression’s tendency to catastrophize might kick in and you might find yourself in a strange, circular talk where you feel forced to reassure her that you aren’t leaving as she explains why you should.

To get out of there, if you have to, distract her in an order to get her attention off how you deserve better. Many a depressed person has dumped someone right after they complained “they deserve better.”

The twisted depression logic works like this:

“Well I can’t do any better. They DO deserve better. And I’m clearly hurting them. It would be a mercy if I just left them. I’ll do that to spare them.”

If you find yourself on the other side of this, you’re going to deal with more withdrawal since you’re asking a person who CAN’T right now, to do something they CAN’T do.

In the past she might have been the most loving, sweet girlfriend imaginable. The fact that she’s not anymore could be because of the clinical depression or because she’s genuinely thinking of winding your relationship down. Either way, complaining about her ability to give you affection will not help your cause or inspire her to be MORE affectionate.


6. Familiarize yourself with your depressed girlfriend’s actual capabilities right now.

There is a difference between meanness, abuse and shitty behavior and “things depressed people have a hard time doing.”

And, it might seem like having boundaries like I just suggested would extend to normal relationship behavior since when everyone is healthy, having your loved one withdraw their affection feels like a very personal rejection of you and not a result of what is going on with them.

It can be a really fine line, so I want to talk about that.

If you’re disappointed that your depressed girlfriend isn’t emotionally available as often, isn’t affectionate, doesn’t want sex, has withdrawn and has a hard time making or keeping plans, sure, I can understand wanting to sit her down and ask about this.

Now, like I mentioned since you have most likely crossed over into “can’t” rather than “won’t” territory— trying negotiate with her for more or better time, sex, love or affection will go very badly since she doesn’t have these things to give you.

Just as continually trying to train a cat to bark will leave you scratched up and frustrated, so will trying to get more genuine caring and affection from a depressed person. They are already trying as hard as they can and are well aware they’re coming up short.

She isn’t withholding because she doesn’t want to give, she’s most likely withholding because there isn’t anything to give.

The reality is that depressed people in the middle of an episode generally aren’t super fun to hang out with. They aren’t very affectionate. They don’t empathize well. They may catastrophize and have severe and negative opinions about everything.

Often self-care is incredibly difficult, so wearing a clean shirt or showering might be a real triumph.

I’m not being casual or exaggerating here. That’s the reality of clinical depression.

Since affection comes from the feeling center of a person that depression takes offline, you’re wishing for something that she can’t do right now.

That’s why being upset by what your depressed girlfriend CAN’T do is only going to cause problems between you.

If you want this relationship, this is what it costs right now. You can accept that or you can leave her.


7. Don’t make her feel bad about her fatigue or for not accomplishing anything with her day.

Unless your depressed girlfriend’s choices are affecting you somehow (besides the glaringly obvious relationship problems that we’ve already discussed), take a hands-off approach to her responsibilities.

If she hasn’t left her house, she hasn’t left her house. Accept it and keep your ideas about that to yourself.

She isn’t shameless for not accomplishing anything, she’s full of shame— so adding more by giving her a hard time isn’t going to help.

The fact that she’s admitted to you that she hasn’t accomplished anything is probably vulnerable in and of itself because deep down, she knows as well as you do that this isn’t normal, healthy behavior.

I guarantee that she isn’t enjoying this time or viewing it as self-indulgence. Beating her up emotionally or trying to “talk some sense into her” isn’t tough love, it could be fatal.

Like I just said, basic self care things like brushing her teeth and hair, showering, wearing clean clothes and cooking might be really, really hard in a way you might not understand if you haven’t experienced it.

Instead, empathize with her and be kind. Help her if you can without it being a burden or something you’re going to throw back in her face later. Keep your own well being in mind should you choose to help with any of her general responsibilities in a temporary way.


8. Be mindful of the difference between genuinely helping a depressed person and codependency.

One problem with being in relationship with a depressed person is the tendency for the needy to mate with someone who needs to be needed.

Only you know if your relationship was once healthy and then she began a serious depressive episode— or if your depressed girlfriend has attached to you since you’re already kinda into “saving” people.

If she’s struggling with getting dressed or simply leaving the house, going to therapy or scheduling medical appointments could pose a real challenge. Genuinely helping her make it to wellness appointments is a time when I’d suggest gently helping her if at all possible.

Helping a depressed person with things around the house is a very kind and thoughtful thing to do but it can also be a REALLY slippery slope that leads to a situation that is worse for both people, so if you decide to give, examine your real motives first.

Helping out once in a while is usually extremely appreciated.

Nominating yourself “King of Environmental Management” while she’s going through hard times is a very bad choice for both of you.

Here are a few self-examination questions to ask yourself before you decide to give to or help a depressed person:

Do you want something in return? Are you giving in an effort to exert some kind of control over this very out-of-control situation?

Will giving compromise your own life or goals?

Do you have a history of feeling resentful after people take advantage of your generosity?

Has anyone ever accused you of being codependent?

If you see yourself in these questions, please keep in mind that giving from a place of your own neediness for someone’s approval is not actually a gift, it points to a deeper issue with you.

If your depressed girlfriend is so disabled she may require residential treatment, consult with her treatment team. If not, you aren’t and shouldn’t be automatically in charge of making sure she has clean clothes to wear.

If she’s an independent type of person, be aware that excessive giving might draw attention to the fact that she can’t do whatever you’re trying to help out with. That’s another reason to be careful. If she says no to your well-meaning attempts to help, respect her boundaries and drop it.

Nagging her about how helpful you could be if she would ONLY let you help is still nagging. And, it’s not helpful.


9. Tend to your own well being first.

Depression in a relationship can be contagious. One way to prevent yourself from going down with her is to keep up on the other parts of your life that don’t involve her.

Just like it’s important to examine your codependent tendencies, it’s also good to be aware of caregiver fatigue and make sure you make your own life a priority and do things for yourself.

Dealing with depression is a marathon, not a sprint. You won’t get any extra cosmic brownie points for skipping your sister’s wedding in favor of another Saturday cartoon and cereal marathon with your depressed girlfriend.

Remember that you cannot trade your happiness for someone else’s and you shouldn’t even try.

If you’re starting to feel taken for granted or resentful, lean on your therapist (or get one) and social network for support. They might not understand why you’re choosing to do what you’re doing, but make sure you tend to your own emotional well-being first.

Do NOT make your life revolve around the fact that your girlfriend is depressed.

Don’t allow yourself to gain ego identity from how strong and admirable you are for staying and “hanging in there.”

Staying around a depressed person can be a strong lesson in patience, but it shouldn’t be doormat training.

Put things in perspective and make sure that you don’t drop everything that brings you joy in a mistaken attempt to support someone else. Keep tending to your other relationships, work, life goals and hobbies.

If you feel like you’re “missing out” on something right now by continuing your relationship with a depressed person, see how you can meet your own needs other ways instead of allowing yourself to spiral into martyrdom.

Elizabeth Stone
Elizabeth Stone is a coach, author and founder of Attract The One. Tirelessly focused on helping people improve their love lives, her work has been featured on EHarmony Blog, Thought Catalog, Tiny Buddha, Your Tango, Mogul, Fox News Magazine, Ravishly, Femalista, Popsugar, Read Unwritten, Medium, Steemit, She Knows and many more.

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