What to do when depression enters a relationship
When depression enters a relationship we go from two to three. It can enter a relationship with a bang or a whimper. Either way, it can feel scary, weird even. Relationships can be torn apart by the new arrival. Most of us aren't equipped to deal with our own depression let alone that of our partner.
When depression puts in an appearance, it can either help us grow together or pull us apart. Navigating our way through depressive episodes is tricky. I have often heard it said 'how lucky' the person with depression is to have a 'supportive and understanding' partner. The reality is that too often, this 'understanding and supportive' partner is feeling resentment, guilt, anger - which often goes unacknowledged.
Equally, it is important to recognise that the person with the 'black dog' does not want to be depressed. It's not a choice, it's an illness but it is an illness that no one talks about. If it was the flu, we would be saying, loud and clear, how awful we feel. We don't look well either and so others can see we are not well.
We can't feel it. We can't touch it. We can't hear it. Yet we can certainly feel it's presence.
So how do we support our partner who is depressed? Well, we need to start acknowledging they are not well and we need to actively listen. Learn about how depression feels. Follow what our partner says. Be open to communicating differently.
Avoid defining our partner as being 'depressed'. Look for the symptoms, listen to how they describe their symptoms. Depression hits us all differently so it is important to hear how they are feeling.
The biggest problem with depression, in my view, is the social isolation it tends to create. The person has no one to talk to - even though they may have lots of friends. There's the uncertainty. There's the stigma (sadly, it's still there for many). Then there are the crazy thoughts. Often not based on facts, but real all the same.
Guilt and shame are also part of depression. Let your partner know it is okay to be wherever they are.
It is okay. It is also important to take responsibility for your own social life. We need to get on with our own lives.
Take the social pressure off your partner and find a support system for yourself.