Depression is a lonely disorder, even when the person struggling with depression ostensibly isn’t alone. It’s difficult to accurately and faithfully describe what it is like to be depressed, especially because it’s likely that everyone experiences it differently. But a common factor is that no matter what logic and reality might dictate, the pure sadness felt during depressive episodes overwhelm any rational thought. This means that, sometimes, there isn’t much you can do to help your partner. And it’s important to realize that.
Often enough, the spouses and partners of depressed people find themselves dejected or even ignored when their partner is going through a serious depressive period. Depression comes and goes, and can hang around for quite a while, making it seem like it’ll never actually go again. It’s those times that are the hardest, when you know that it’ll be over, but don’t know when. Despite that, it’s critical that you continue to be supportive. It might seem like you’re not helping at all, but that’s not true. Even when it seems like your love and affection isn’t getting through at all, it is. Your loved one might not be able to express their true gratitude, but it’s important that you don’t give up despite that.
Keep Yourself Healthy Too
Being a supportive spouse isn’t an easy position to be in, and the first thing you must do is confront the possibility that you will be helping your spouse fight depression for the rest of your life together. Just like marriage, this in itself is a serious commitment. And in some relationships, there comes a time when the person you’re with is not the person you married. Depression can lead to other dark places, and there’s a point when supporting your loved one means enabling the deterioration of your own mental health. And sometimes, you can fall out of love, and have to consider saying goodbye.
As they say, put your oxygen mask on first. This isn’t a matter of selfishness, and we’re not advocating that you leave your partner. Rather, you can’t be a supportive spouse if your own mental health is in danger.
Seek help together, from professionals, friends, and family alike. Take time to deal with your own stresses and ask yourself if your relationship is still a relationship. It’s understandable that your spouse can’t be there for you during their own hard times, but do they stand by your side when you’re suffering? Understand that you are in this for the long haul, and you must both work together to keep each other sane and healthy throughout each other’s low points and struggles.
Don’t Get Frustrated
It’s easy to feel frustrated when your partner has depression, particularly when you don’t. While it’s natural for us to empathize with those we love and seek to rescue them, it’s hard to understand that sometimes, we can’t do enough to really make a dent. There are days when all you can do is keep your loved one alive and try to be there for them while they struggle. Those are the hardest days, and it’s important not to let them tear you down as well. Don’t lose hope.
You’re only human, so it’s clear that some days, it might just feel like a little too much. Understand that you’re a spouse, part of a relationship, and not a professional caregiver. What you do doesn’t replace professional therapy, although it is still important. Your love and affection are crucial for your loved one’s continued recovery and mental support, but you have to have your own boundaries, and times where you can let loose and recover mentally as well. Identify and pursue healthy coping mechanisms, like pursuing professional goals, exercising towards a specific end, attempting a personal challenge, or just taking time every week to do something that relaxes you, like going for a ride, or playing some music.
Work on Small Goals
Don’t make promises you can’t keep, which includes promising your loved one that the depression will definitely go away someday. Avoid using terms like “someday” altogether, and instead, work on smaller goals – both in treatment as in life. Doing things together is always great, regardless of whether one of you has a mental disorder or not. Try to find a realistic goal together, and work to achieve it within a specific time limit.
It could be something like losing weight together, getting help together, working on a creative project together, or learning something new together. More to the point, it’s very important to celebrate the small victories. Whenever you feel you’ve made progress together, point it out. Talk often about your feelings and why you feel you make a great team. Reminisce and dwell on happy moments together.
Find Help Together
Unconditionally loving each other is a big part of any successful relationship, but depression is still a mental disorder, and requires professional treatment. If your spouse hasn’t already begun going to therapy or seeing a psychiatrist, convince them that it would help you both. It’s possible that, despite starting treatment, your spouse is struggling to get better.
Sometimes, the first line of treatment isn’t always the most effective. But there are other ways to help treat depression. Some people respond better to different types of talk therapy, including therapy with the family present, or therapy through art. While antidepressants help thousands of Americans deal with depressive thoughts, they’re not always effective. Other treatments, like transcranial magnetic stimulation, are proven to work better for individuals who don’t respond well to several types of antidepressants.
And finally, it takes a continuation of treatment at home for it all to come together. That means working together to create a calming, loving home environment, attempting positive lifestyle changes together, and helping your spouse stay on track, continuing therapy, medication, or treatment, even when they’re feeling better.
Always Be There for Them
Sometimes, your loved one will need your hand. Or your arm around them. Or just the knowledge that you’re right there, in reach. Other times, they’ll need space. Just a little time to be alone. Stay close but give them the space they need. It’s hard to interpret what a spouse might want when they’re depressed, especially when it comes to affection and closeness. Clarify with your partner before giving them space, making sure that they really want to be alone for a little while.
Know What “Worse” Looks Like
Depression can take a serious turn for the worse, for any number of reasons. It doesn’t always make sense, and it usually hits hardest when neither of you might expect it. Never take your partner’s happiness for granted and recognize the warning signs of when things might be getting worse. If your partner is starting to feel melancholy, begins talking about self-harm or death, and secludes themselves or seeks alone time more often, be wary of what’s going on. Have an emergency plan in mind. Contact your partner’s doctor and therapist, and the family. Sometimes it helps to just be among more loved ones in the darkest hours, and it’s always a good idea to be in touch with a professional when you’re fearing the worst.
Loving someone who is going through a depression is not easy, but we can’t always choose who we fall in love with. Thankfully, through continuous support from doctors and family, treatment, and unconditional love, you can continue to live out a life-long happy marriage filled with countless beautiful moments, in spite of depression.