When depression affects your relationship – setting the course to recovery

We all have our bad days when our lives feel out of control, and you wonder what’s the point.  In fact, a recent study by the New Zealand Mental Health Foundation revealed that in 2020, 25% of New Zealanders reported feeling like they had “poor levels of mental and emotional wellbeing”.  If you are in a relationship, this feeling may be fleeting as your partner says or does something to let you know that you are not alone, and they are here to support you whilst you find your feet again.  At least, that is how it usually works, but even in the strongest relationships, there will be times when one or both of you may still struggle with mental health. Signals that all is not well with you may be missed by your partner, leaving you feeling unsupported. Or the signals you give out may be misinterpreted by the other. They take your actions as a sign that you are unhappy with the relationship.  Either way, the relationship moves into choppy waters that require all hands on deck to get through the storm.

It can be hard to watch someone you love act and feel like they are alone with their illness when you are standing right beside them. It can also be hard being the one suffering from poor mental health. Depression, in particular, distorts our way of thinking. It can make you feel like you are a burden to those closest to you, and you withdraw in an attempt to protect your partner from your suffering.

Relationships can falter because couples try and cope on their own, or symptoms are ignored until the gap between you is too wide to close. Therefore it is imperative that you and your partner seek help if you are concerned about your or your partner’s mental health. 

How do you know if you or your partner is suffering from depression?

Diagnosing depression should be undertaken by a qualified professional, but common symptoms include:

  • Feeling low, sad or frequently depressed for no obvious reason, e.g. death of a loved one, redundancy, physical illness.
  • Loss of interest and enjoyment from usual activities.
  • A change in sleeping patterns.
  • A change in appetite.
  • Decreased energy, tiredness or fatigue.
  • Feeling worthless or guilty, lacking in self-confidence.
  • Thoughts of hopelessness and death.
  • Difficulty concentrating on tasks.

What can we do to get through this?

As with all relationships, building a solid foundation of trust, communication and respect for each other will help you get through when the chips are down. However, maintaining those pillars can be harder to do when one or both suffer from a mental health issue. There are things that you can do, however, to make it easier on you both. These include:

1. Be supportive. 

Let your partner know that you will support them through their journey. Remind them of the love you have for each other and if they withdraw, try not to take it as a rejection of you; as I mentioned earlier, people often withdraw because they do not want to hurt the other person or feel unworthy of their attention. Know that it is also okay to make time for yourself whilst you are caring for your partner. It is harder to be there for someone else if you are also tired, emotional and stressed.

2. Seek treatment together and create a recovery plan.

Depression is an illness, so the sooner you start treating it, the better the prospect of recovery. Working on a wellness plan that includes you both will help keep you connected and give you a common goal to work towards.  

3. Compassion and empathy.

No one wants to be depressed, and as hard as it is for you to see your partner suffer from it, it is even harder for them to go through it. Listen when they are ready to talk and do as much of the day to day running of the household for them as you can on the days when getting out of bed is too hard for them. Remember that it won’t be forever and there will be good days as well as bad ones.

4. Don’t lose yourself in the process.

Caring for someone else is not easy, especially when you have a full schedule already, so be sure to include your own needs in the treatment plan.  Depression should not be treated as something to be kept in private, so be sure to let your friends, family and work know that you might also need their help while your partner is recovering.

5. Talk to a therapist

Now, this might sound like shameless promotion of my services, but it is not. Couples therapy has been shown to help treat depression because it offers an opportunity to talk freely and without judgement about what you are both going through. It doesn’t matter if you attend separately or together; there are benefits to be gained from letting your thoughts have a voice rather than keeping them bottled up inside.

Part of being in a relationship is being willing to commit to being there for each other when times are tough. However, it does not mean that the two of you have to go through the tough times alone. There are numerous support services available to help, including therapy. Give me a call if you would like to know more about how couples therapy can help your relationship survive depression. For more information on depression and mental health in New Zealand, check out:

www.depression.org.nz, www.allright.org.nz, www.mentalhealth.org.nz

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Ann Jay

Ann Jay is a Wellington Relationship Counselor who provides marriage counselling, couple's counselling, and relationship coaching for couples and women either in a relationship or single. Her goal is to help people create healthy, loving and fulfilling relationships and experience the love they deserve.