This is tough. You see your partner slowly deteriorating… they’re sleeping later, or not sleeping at all, they’re eating more or less than usual, and they’ve stopped wanting to engage with loved ones. They’re telling you that they’re sad and stuck, and you have no idea how to help.
The good news and the bad news are similar: there is not a ton you can do when your partner is depressed. Start by relieving yourself from the pressure of solving your partner’s depression, and instead focus on what you can do with the tips below.
Easier than it sounds. Having a partner who is feeling depressed can feel exhausting, especially because it is a natural tendency to want to “cure” the depression. So, you wind up working extra hard to plan out their days and encourage nutritious meals to no avail. You even commit to running in the park with them in the morning, but then they have too hard a time waking up.
This will only lead to frustration. While inspiring hope and encouraging healthier behavior is important, try not to waste all of your energy on it. Instead, focus on empathizing and listening. Listening can feel like doing “nothing,” however, it is often immensely more helpful than trying to solve problems that may not be solvable.
2. Don’t try to solve problems
This goes with listening. How many times have you started talking about an issue, only to have someone suggest a solution that you’ve already tried? How frustrating!
While most people offer suggestions and try to solve problems to be helpful, it can feel really minimizing to whatever one is dealing with. For example, if your partner is dealing with a terrible boss, “just quit” is typically not as simple as it sounds. There are layers of a drive to support family, of pride to “stick it out,” of feelings of failure, etc.
Sometimes, a problem is more than just the problem, so it can feel really invalidating to be thrown a solution. Further, it might convince your partner that their problem is “small” so they should pretend everything is fine. This can feel extremely lonely and deeply exhausting. Sitting with your partner’s pain will be tough and uncomfortable, but it leaves the opportunity for a fuller connection and less loneliness.
3. Ask what they need
It is typical for partners who have been together for a long time to assume that they know what their partner needs. While this might usually be true, something about depression can take this consistency and security away.
Instead of googling therapists, offering advice, or sending over self-help articles, ask your partner what they need. Maybe, contrary to the prior suggestion, they do what advice! Or maybe they will let you know how sad they are about feeling so stuck, and that they just need to be held.
Or maybe they don’t know. And this is okay too. Depression can make it tough to make decisions or to even know what one needs. In this case, you know your partner well. Take the reins, and help them in the ways that your know-how.
Specifically, educate yourself. With your support, empathy, listening, and questions, your partner may turn to you for help on what to do next. In this case, it can be so helpful to prepare yourself with information that may be helpful when your partner is depressed.
For example, remind your partner of the importance of seeing a professional, of warning signs of depression, and of what you notice in them and why you are concerned. Let them know all of their options- therapy, medication, support groups, and friends and family for support. Help them understand that you are not judging them and that you are only here to help. After all, getting out of bed to brush your teeth in the morning can feel impossible with depression. Finding help can feel insurmountable!
5. Practice self-care
If you are not taking care of yourself, you absolutely cannot take care of your partner (or anyone else for that matter).
Remember what you are capable of versus what you wish you could be capable of. Yes, it would be absolutely lovely if you could make your partner’s depression disappear. Unfortunately, no one has this ability, not even a therapist. All you can do is give your partner the support to get where they want/need to be.
You are limited in your capacity to heal your partner, and that is okay. Take care of yourself for you, and take space when you need it. Your partner may want to lean on you a little extra while they battle this depression, so take care of yourself for you but for them too. The best thing you can do for them is to care for yourself so they can hold on to you when they need some source of stability.