In a relationship with someone with depression
Relationships are hard work generally, but when you're with someone who is suffering from depression, or if you are the partner with depression, relationships can become even harder.
If you are the person struggling with their mental health in your relationship, there might be the pressure to be 'normal', or to 'look on the bright side'. It can almost feel as though you are only accepted when you are well, and this can put a strain on you which, in turn, puts a strain on your relationship. It might become harder to admit that you're struggling, as you might fear rejection from your partner. Your partner may not understand that some things are just difficult. You may not want to go out, often due to anxiety, you may not want to talk when feeling low, and sex might be off the agenda for a while. Your partner may take this distance as a rejection of them, which then means you are constantly having to reassure them that you still love them. There is the additional frustration of keeping things going like going to work, seeing family and friends, and household chores which might make you believe it would be easier to be on your own.
For the partner who is with someone who is struggling with their mental health, it can feel like your mood is dictated by your partner's mood. There may be pressure for you to not be as sociable when they are unwell. When you might need a break, you may have to take on the lion share of things at home while your partner recovers, and this can be draining. In some cases, you too might feel low due to being surrounding by the thick fog of depression. If your partner has not taken action about their mental health when you feel they should, it can leave you feeling resentment.
When working with a couple where one person is experiencing depression or anxiety, the first thing that helps is to talk about all the preconceptions about what should be happening in the relationship. This helps to clear the air, as it is sometimes the things that are unsaid that leave people feeling bitter, which spreads throughout the relationship like a virus. It also can be helpful to concentrate on what is possible and what isn’t, as by being realistic and flexible about expectations can you can both reduce the frustration you may feel. Being able to see your partner as the person who is both suffering mental illness and is well at times, and working on the shared frustration when mental illness returns, can help solidify the relationship as neither of you are the enemy.
Most people who have suffered from depression know what they should be doing (seeing their GP, going out, not ruminating, getting exercise, sleeping well, etc), but when in the dark place of depression it is difficult to pull yourself up to do this. As the partner, being supportive without being condescending is hard but necessary. As the partner, self-care is also so important - if you’re both in a bad place, then it becomes even harder for either to see a way out.
I don’t believe that you always have to be completely whole in order to find and be in love or a relationship. If this were true, then not many people would find someone, as one in four of us with suffer with our mental health at some stage in our lives. Acceptance of each other (positive and not so) is what often makes for great relationships. Where changes and compromises can be made then couples counselling is a great place to agree on these. If you are struggling as a couple where one person has depression, there is help out there, and sometimes seeing you both together can work wonders.
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About Marilyn McKenzie
I am Marilyn McKenzie and I am a qualified psychotherapist who has worked with couples, addiction, DV, young offending, grief and bereavement as well as anxiety and depression.
I am integrative in my approach but often work systemically. I have a private practise and work with relate.… Read more
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