How to Love Someone With Depression
Over 21 million adults in the United States had at least one episode of major depression in the past year. For millions of people, these episodes are a monthly, weekly, or sometimes even daily occurrence. In fact, many of us may know someone with depression, regardless of whether they are open about their struggles.
Yet while acquaintances, coworkers, or distant relatives can hide their negative thoughts and depressive symptoms, partners cannot.
Understanding how to love someone with depression can be very, very difficult past the initial dating stage. Once the honeymoon tingles wear off and you’re past counting dates, it’s time to truly understand what your partner’s depression might entail for your long-term relationship, and whether you are ready for it.
How Do I Know If It’s Depression?
Depression is more than passing sadness or temporary, albeit intense grief. You can be broken up over the loss of a loved one without pathologizing that emotion. But when feeling low becomes the standard baseline of emotion for months, if not years, and things that used to spark joy leave you mostly unfeeling, you may be depressed.
A partner with depression will be affected by different symptoms over time, depending on what kind of depression they are experiencing. It’s not something you can fix. It’s not something you can cheer them up about. It’s not even something you can do anything about, on most days.
Some forms of depression are long-term, but episodic – for example, seasonal affective disorder only affects people for one season out of the year, usually the winter or summer. Premenstrual dysphoric disorder can cause severe depressive symptoms before or during menstruation, but not necessarily between cycles.
Some forms of depression are constant, such as major depressive disorder or dysthymia (chronic depression). In general, depression separates itself from normal sadness through these characteristics:
- Things that used to bring joy feel empty (anhedonia).
- Problems with focus and concentration (often debilitating).
- Erratic sleep (insomnia or constant oversleeping).
- Erratic appetite (sudden weight gain or weight loss).
- Increased pain (minor physical issues can feel much more painful, such as arthritic pain or old injuries).
- Suicidal ideation and an openness for the idea of death.
You cannot romanticize depression. And, sadly, you cannot heal your partner through love and affection. But you can be by their side, even on bad days – if you so choose.
What Does Depression Call For?
Living with depression is difficult. But loving someone with depression is not much easier. From the outside looking in, there will be days when you will feel useless, at best. You may even blame yourself. But here’s what you need to know.
- It’s not anyone’s fault. There is no one to blame here.
- Depression can be managed. It will not be cured, but symptoms can be addressed through long-term treatment.
- Treatment takes time. Whether it’s a new medication or a therapy protocol, it may be several weeks before symptoms improve.
- You will need to do your best to improve your own emotional stability. If you feel emotionally unstable or dependent on your partner’s affections and affirmations, you may struggle to find fulfillment or contentment.
- Leave judgment at the door. The worst thing you can do is blame your partner for the way they feel, even on days where they talk about ending their life. It is, sadly, a part of the disease.
Communication is Key
Talk, talk, talk. But understand the difference between the disorder and your partner’s wishes and requirements.
Learning how to love someone with depression means that both parties must be honest with each other. Establish boundaries, and work out ways you can set up “protocols” to follow for bad days, whether it’s repeating certain affirmations back to your partner that they may have learned in therapy, or maintaining little gestures of love even on days when they want to be alone – such as bringing them some hot cocoa or sitting with them silently.
Expect the Unexpected
If you’re dating someone with depression, it’s important to stay flexible. Plans won’t always fall through.
You might have something special planned for the weekend, but then an episode hits, and it feels like the depression has “ruined” it for the both of you. They know that, and it makes the feeling that much worse. Don’t get upset. Take a deep breath and recognize that this is part of the reality of depression.
It’s (Really) Not Your Fault
If you’re prone to taking the blame, you will need to learn to avoid doing so. Depressive episodes can come out of nowhere. They often don’t need a trigger.
Your partner might wake up one morning and feel much, much more awful than the day before. You won’t know or understand why, and trying to figure out what you did to sour their mood so much won’t help. Instead, remember what you two discussed – and how you can help them, even if it’s the little things, like sending them cute animal GIFs on the phone, or sharing your favorite playlists.
Depression Can Affect Physical Intimacy
Both depression and depression treatments – particularly antidepressants – can affect libido severely. In men, antidepressants can cause erectile dysfunction, or make ejaculation impossible.
It can take a lot of effort to make things work, and there will be days when physical touch just isn’t in question. If you’re someone who needs a lot of physical intimacy, loving someone with depression can be especially difficult.
Do You Love Them?
Understanding how to love someone with depression requires you to be honest with your emotions, and to ask yourself if your interest in maintaining a long-term relationship with this person outweighs the struggle and adversity such a relationship might represent. Dating someone with depression is difficult, especially if you intend to stay around for the long haul.
So, ask yourself. Do you love them? And is that love strong enough to sustain on the days when there isn’t much to talk about, much to do, or much to say that might help them feel better? On the days when it feels like they might be upset with you, even though they aren’t? On the days when they want to be alone, but not completely?
Can you be honest with yourself, and truly happy with them?
Depression is a difficult condition, and one that can often affect someone for a lifetime. There will be better times – when symptoms are barely noticeable, or when the bad days are rare and far apart. But there will be bad times, too. You cannot hope for a day when your partner’s depression is well and truly in the past, because that day might not come, even with treatment.
But it’s far from all doom and gloom, either. Your role as a supportive and loving partner does have a tremendous impact on their depression, even if it does not feel like that sometimes.
There will be just as much room for happy memories and a beautiful life spent together as with any other person. And while depression may be a severe dysfunction, other people have other problems. No relationship is perfect. It’s simply important for you to be honest with yourself, with your partner, and with your ability to manage their mood issues, in addition to the effect those issues might have on you.
Dating Someone With Depression? Amend Treatment Can Help
Dating someone with depression, and loving someone with depression can be a challenging experience, but it can also be a rewarding and fulfilling one. By understanding the condition, showing compassion, and being patient and supportive, you can help your loved one through their struggles and create a stronger bond. If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, remember that you are not alone. There is help available, and at Amend Treatment, we are dedicated to providing evidence-based treatment for individuals who are looking to overcome their depression. To learn more about the services we offer and to take the first step towards a brighter future, contact us today.