Can it be challenging to keep your relationship strong when you are depressed?
I know because I have been there…
I have struggled with depression for my whole life. 55 years. For a long time, I didn’t have a name for why I always felt so hopeless and full of despair. I just lived with it.
And then I got married. And he had to live with it too. It was not fun. And we ended up divorcing.
Fortunately, since then I have learned a few things because now I have a new boyfriend and I don’t want history to repeat itself.
Keeping your relationship strong when you are depressed can be very difficult but I am here to tell you that relationships don’t have to self-destruct because of it.
What can you do?
1. Pay attention.
Those of us who live with depression can usually tell when it hits. Simple tasks that just the day before was easy to do become difficult. Sleep is elusive. We are short-tempered and crabby. Each of us manifests depression differently but usually, we know when we are experiencing it.
Keeping in touch with your depression and sharing its presence with your partner is very important. Don’t just expect your partner to guess that you are depressed. They might not recognize the signs and might not respond to your new mood and that could lead to some big problems between the two of you.
Before my diagnosis, I didn’t tell my husband when I felt depressed because I often didn’t recognize it. I was just crabby and mean and not fun to be around. And I expected him to fight through all of that and make an effort to make me feel better. Of course, he couldn’t. He thought I was just being mean and crabby and he wanted nothing to do with me. If only I had told him what was going on if I had recognized what was going on, perhaps he would have had some sympathy and given me what I needed.
So, when depression hits, be clear about it. You and your partner have a bit of a battle ahead. Together.
Even the most sympathetic of partners doesn’t really understand what depression is like unless they suffer from it themselves. Because of this, it’s important to try to teach them what depression looks like for you.
When we first talked about my depression, my message for my new boyfriend was 1) you haven’t caused this, and 2) you can’t fix it and 3) I can’t just suck it up and feel better. For me, it was essential that he knew these three things to be true.
Next, I explained to him what my depression looked like. That when I was depressed I felt like I had a gorilla on my back. Moving around, getting things done, communicating effectively, all required such a herculean effort that I could barely manage. When I was depressed I was exhausted, easily angered, prone to long bouts of crying. Going to work, seeing his family, taking care of myself, all filled me with such an overwhelming sense of dread that I couldn’t bear it.
So, when you ARE NOT depressed, take some time, and share your experience with your partner. The better understanding they have of your depression the more likely you can keep your relationship strong when you are depressed.
Want to know more about how you can ask for help when depressed? Read How to Ask for Help With Depression: 8 Ways To Reach Out & Start Recovering
3. Plan ahead.
A key part of dealing with depression for me, and for my boyfriend, is that I was able to when I wasn’t depressed, make a plan for what I needed when I was depressed. I knew from experience what I needed to get through my depression. Sharing it with my partner was key.
For me, when I get depressed I need four things: to get outside, to sleep, Pad Thai, and sex. I knew that those things would not cure my depression but that they made living with it easier.
So, when I WAS NOT depressed, my boyfriend and I made a plan for what to do when I was. We would let me sleep in, go for a hike, get Pad Thai, have sex, and send me back to sleep. We would do that, or some variation of that, to stay connected while I was depressed and help me get through it.