Dealing with a partner’s depression is really, really hard. On the one hand, you know that what they’re going through is not their fault. On the other hand, it’s difficult not to feel hurt when they pull away from you or don’t want to do the things that you usually do together. When your partner is suffering through mental illness, it’s essential to practice self-care, both for your own sake and so that you can support your partner.
“Good self-care is especially important when managing high stress situations, such as a partner with depression, because it supports resilience to and recovery from the stress,” Dr. Grant Brenner, M.D., a New York City-based psychiatrist and psychoanalyst and co-author of Irrelationship, tells Bustle. “Keeping self-care in place makes it easier to respond constructively for the other person. It helps to keep everything in perspective, since depression can be so all-consuming. Good self-care is crucial to avoid getting burned out.”
And when your partner has depression, the risk of burnout — or breakup — could be high. Brenner points out that some symptoms of depression include a person being “irritable, negative, socially isolated, hostile and rejecting, or sad, withdrawn and unresponsive.” Low sex drive is also a common symptom that can be especially hard for the partner of someone who has depression to live with.
“It can feel like nothing is good enough,” Brenner says. “While it is normal to feel hurt or attacked, try to keep from retaliating, as this is likely to make things worse. Avoid trying to argue or reason the person out of being depressed, as this isn't like to work, and can lead to feelings of frustration and inadequacy.”
So how can you take care of yourself when your partner suffers from depression? Here are some tips for self-care.
1. Do The Things That Make You Happy
“Don't forget to live your life,” Dr. Erika Martinez, licensed psychologist, tells Bustle. “Spend time with family and friends. Go to hot yoga. Schedule the spa day with your bestie, or whatever else relaxes and restores you. It's to your benefit and your partner's if you want to really help them. After all, you can't offer someone a drink (let alone a sip) if your cup is near empty.”
2. Don’t Be Their Only Support
“Having other people involved in sharing the caregiving, so you can take breaks, maintain your regularly activities as much as possible, and restore yourself,” Brenner says. “Ask for help early on— delaying getting help until things have become much worse is less effective than proactively preventing problems from developing in the first place.”
3. Talk To Your Friends
“Use social supports. Get help,” Brenner says. “Talk about your feelings and needs with supportive and trusted friends and family, but keep boundaries around how much you vent and make sure you also spend time doing things which are fun and a healthy distraction from stress.”
4. Remember That You Are Not Responsible For Their Happiness
“The best thing for the non-depressed partner to remember is that, although you love this person, you are not responsible for making/creating their happiness,” Martinez says. “Be supportive. Empathize, by all means. Encourage your partner to go to therapy, offer to go with them even if it'll break the ice.”
5. Take Care Of Yourself
“Try to make constructive choices,” Brenner says. “Eat as regularly and healthfully as possible, maintain regular exercise, take breaks frequently, and keep your life and relationships active outside of the relationship with the depressed person.”
6. Watch For Signs Of Burnout
“Watch out for signs of burnout — emotional exhaustion, depersonalization (being detached or “checked out”) and declining performance,” Brenner says. “These are signs that being a caregiver is wearing down your resilience, and steps need to be taken to recover. Seek professional help early, such as consulting with a therapist, if you are feeling overwhelmed and regular coping isn’t working well enough.”
7. Get Professional Help Yourself
“Remember that it is likely to get better,” Brenner says. “If your partner’s depression becomes chronic, or more severe, you may also require professional assistance. Coping with chronic stress is different from coping with short-term stress. If the depression is starting to take a toll on the relationship, also consider consulting with a couples counselor for additional assistance.”
When your partner has depression, you may feel frustrated, stressed, or inadequate, but it's crucial to take care of yourself.
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