I’ve been with my partner for almost ten years now, and by far the hardest challenge we’ve ever faced has been his struggle with depression.
About a year ago, my partner experienced a significant loss in his life that he was not coping well with.
But I also couldn’t deal well with his intense sadness. In fact, it had a detrimental effect on me and our relationship.
When our loved one is struggling emotionally, it often seems inevitable that we will struggle too.
But how do we avoid falling into a spiral of despair and prevent our relationship from breaking down?
Well, here’s how I turned my partner’s depression into our anchor of growth.
When your partner becomes depressed
When your partner is depressed for an extended period of time, most people respond in one of the following ways:
- Creating emotional (and physical) distance to protect yourself from absorbing their negativity
- Putting yourself in the role of ‘therapist’ and trying to solve their problems
For me he was the first.
I noticed his mood slowly changing and felt his energy gradually becoming heavier.
Knowing my sensitivity to energy, I began to distance myself from him as a protective instinct.
I threw myself into work to keep myself busy. I started working outside the home a lot more because the energy in our house became too dark.
I spent more time with friends as a way to raise my vibration whenever I felt like I was “catching” his depression.
This isn’t to say I didn’t try to talk to him about what he was going through.
I talked about it several times, but like many people going through depression, he didn’t want to talk about it.
I should have reassured him that I was there for him when he was ready to talk, and reminded him that I loved and cared for him.
But instead, I rejected his rejection and breathed a sigh of relief. I saw it as permission to distance myself further from him.
I told myself it was just a phase.
Soon he would definitely feel better, the energy wouldn’t be so heavy, and then we could talk things over and get the relationship back on track.
But until then I had to protect myself from falling into the darkness.
The problem with this is that depression is not just a fleeting emotion.
There is a huge difference between temporary sadness and full-blown depression.
At the time, I didn’t realize (or didn’t want to admit) that my partner was going through the latter.
But like all things in life, I could only avoid it for so long.
Even though I tried to distance myself from him emotionally and physically, his depression began to permeate every aspect of our relationship and our lives.
The deterioration of our relationship was gradual. But I didn’t see it happening until the damage was already done.
Every conversation turned into an argument. Frustration seeped into every word and action.
We stopped doing things together and started living separate, miserable lives.
Finally I realized…
By trying to distance myself from my partner’s grief, I had created my own state of misery.
I had isolated myself in the name of protection, causing me and my partner to grow further apart.
Not only was he depressed, we were now both depressed and our relationship was hanging by a thread.
The pivot point
It all came to a head one evening when we decided to go out for dinner – something we hadn’t done in months.
I think we both felt the weight of the relationship and knew we couldn’t ignore it anymore.
At this point my partner was ready to open up about his emotions.
When he told me what he had been through, especially the suicidal thoughts he was having, I realized how much of a terrible partner I had been.
For months I resented my partner for bringing this weight and negativity into our relationship.
My toxic “positive vibrations only” mentality had led me to push him away when he needed me most – all because I didn’t want to absorb his low vibration.
This is the greatest relationship lesson I’ve ever learned – that partnership means sharing each other’s emotions, the good and the bad.
That evening we talked for hours.
When I finally allowed my partner to place his burdens on me and I spoke openly about my feelings, that weight hovering over our relationship became lighter.
Of course, that one occasion didn’t magically repair our relationship. But it showed us how much work we had to do, individually and as a couple.
My partner realized he needed support for his mental health, and I realized I needed to work on the way I show up in a relationship.
We also recognized that we needed to build a partnership that encouraged honesty, openness and support.
Instead of seeing each other as individual entities with separate emotions and experiences, we started experiencing things together. We even started a weekly ritual where we sat down and shared our feelings.
Choosing a better answer to our partner’s sadness
As I have learned, avoiding your partner’s sadness is an unhealthy response. But so does involving yourself too much in their struggle.
Some people, like me, go to the opposite extreme, taking on the role of “therapist” and trying to solve their partner’s problems.
But just like creating emotional distance, trying to “fix” your partner will only cause feelings of frustration and resentment, bringing you further apart rather than closer.
The key is to find a middle point.
Support your partner in times of need, but don’t try to heal his grief.
Our role as a partner is to be there and provide support, not to treat their depression. Just as we would not be skilled enough to fix their broken leg, we are also not qualified to treat their mental illness.
I would also like to note that you cannot force someone to see a professional such as a therapist. But you can encourage them, and you have the right to share why you think it might help.
Take care of your mental health
Empathetic or not, no one can live with a depressed person without feeling like it’s affecting them on some level.
So if your partner is experiencing difficulties, it is essential to take care of yourself.
I took this to extremes, which only made things worse and almost ended the relationship.
So again it’s about finding the balance between supporting your partner and managing your self-care.
Yew you have trouble putting yourself firstyou may find the analogy of “filling your own cup first” useful.
If we fill our cup first, we are well rested and in a good mental space, and thus better able to support others.
But if we try to help others without first filling our cups, we will be exhausted, depleted, and good for no one.
Even though it’s horrible to see a loved one suffer, remember that you are NOT responsible for their depression. So don’t burn yourself out trying to “fix” him or her.
Also, don’t see this challenge as a way to settle scores like I did; it can be detrimental to your relationship!
Of course, it’s not your fault that your partner is having a hard time, but your role is to provide support and an open heart.
So take time for yourself and protect your mental health, but let your partner know that you are there for him or her when he or she wants to talk.
If you approach your partner’s grief this way, it will strengthen your bond and create an opportunity for both of you to grow.
Share this content: