Ah, depression, you miserable bitch. Anyone who has ever suffered from this condition knows it can be dark, cold, and hopeless. Whether you’re depressed due to life circumstances, or a chemical imbalance, or (most usually) both, depression is never fun, and it’s hard to shake. But what happens when it’s not you who is down, but your partner?
It can be hard to watch a partner when they’re drowning in a sea of their own self inflicted sadness. It’s especially difficult if you’re the type of person who likes to try and fix other people’s problems. Depression is not a problem, it’s an illness, and you have to remember that nothing you do can fix their situation. However, you can help support them.
I’ve suffered from depression on and off my entire life, and I’ve had partners who dealt with it very well, and partners who…well, let’s just say they were missing the “compassion” component in their brain.
One phrase I often tossed around with an ex became a kind of depression code between us: “It’s not abracadabra.” I was pretty severely depressed during the majority of that relationship, and while my ex was patient and kind, he was constantly telling me, in many different ways, to “cheer up.” When I heard this, I would respond by saying “It’s not abracadabra.” What I meant with that phrase is that there is no magical remedy for depression. Hearing someone to tell me to be happy won’t make me happy, and sometimes there’s nothing you can do other than try and remain positive and wait for the storm to pass.
And wait. And wait. Unfortunately, having depressed partner will not only affect them, but also your relationship, and possibly your own psyche as well. Below are some ways you can help your partner when they’re in a funk, without losing your own shit as well.
Listen to them.
Sometimes, when you’re down, you just need someone to listen to you. If you can get your partner talking, listen and make them feel validated. I mean really listen, don’t just nod every several seconds while you think about what you’re going to have for dinner. Remember, don’t feel pressured to come up with a solution (“It’s not abracadabra”), just listen and be supportive, ideally while administering the best back massage ever.
Try to cheer them up…
Depending on the severity of their depression, you may want to try and plan some fun, out-of-the-norm activities. If they’re in it deep, they may be hard to drag out of bed, but there are things you can do there, as well. Is their sex drive still strong? Give em a little special attention. Orgasms produce serotonin, and us depressives are normally lacking in the serotonin department.
But don’t try and diminish their issues.
Often when someone is sad, we try and console them by making their issues look small, ie “Don’t worry, it’s not that big of a deal.” While you may just be trying to help, diminishing their problems will only make a depressed person feel worse, as you’re literally telling them the thing making them feel so awful isn’t much of anything at all. Instead, use language that lets them know you’re on their side, like “I understand why this must be so upsetting.”
Let them struggle.
Remember, it’s not abracadabra, and depression is a disease you won’t be able to cure for someone else. Sometimes, you just need to let them sweat it out, which can be hard, especially if their depression is a frequent or longstanding struggle. Allow them to know you’re there for them, but don’t take on all of their issues yourself.
Remember to be compassionate! Depression is bleak and brutal, and while you might want to smack your SigO right out of their sweatpants, resist that urge at all costs. If you find their depression starts to bring you down as well, some gentle space may be in order.
Do not tell them what they should be grateful for…
“Be happy you have a roof over your head and food on your table,” is a very 1950’s grandma way of dealing with this situation. It’s not going to score you any cuddles, nor will it cheer your partner up, so refrain from telling someone why they should be happy. If they can’t see it themselves, you telling them will only earn you a stink eye.
But do ask them to look at the positive side of things.
Ask your partner to list off what they’re currently grateful for. See if you can get them thinking about what is going right in their life. Sometimes it backfires, especially if your partner is attracted to dramatics. Steel yourself for a flourish of sheets being pulled over head, accompanied by some hardcore sobbing.
Okay, how do you deal with your partner’s depression? Are you depressed yourself? How does your partner help?
*I originally wrote this post for ieatgrass.com.