Living with Depression: A Partner’s Perspective

Isabella P on June 27, 2016

Almost all couples experience their share of challenges at some point during their relationship. However, when half of a couple has depression or any other mental health challenge or disorder, it can open up a whole new set of challenges and exacerbate any of the ‘normal’ and common issues that couples encounter.

Take my partner, for example. My heart dropped the first time he allowed me to see his depression. My first instinct was to use any of the tools in my arsenal to prevent him from slipping any deeper, but I was emotionally drained myself. Exactly one month after moving to Vancouver, I received tragic news that a close friend of mine had taken his own life. The news had hit me hard – even today, I can still vividly recall the moment I awoke to that phone call and the pang of confusion, anger, and guilt that ensued and lingered for months after. Though I was in the midst of my own recovery from grief, I had to pull myself together for I could not bear the thought of losing yet another loved one.

Depression is hard, and living with a loved one who suffers from depression is also hard. It is by no means a static disorder – feelings, thoughts, and behaviours change on a daily basis. This variability only adds to the baffling quality of the disorder. Without any advanced warning, it feels like someone swaps the healthy, hard-working person who I know and love for a lethargic, weary, and unmotivated one. And then, just as suddenly, my partner feels better and, in his words, his heart no longer feels like it is being “dragged through the floor.

One of the biggest challenges of living with someone who has depression is dealing with my own impatience. In all honesty, thoughts of “When will this end?” have repeatedly crossed my mind. If only I could ‘fix’ his problems, decipher what triggered the latest episode, ask the right questions that may draw him out of the slump and allow him to live lightly and freely again. But, I often have to remind myself of one thing: that time is the key ingredient for healing and the most helpful thing I can do is simply accompany him in the process.

Having had loved ones who have experienced mental health and substance use challenges before, I’ve learned that sometimes what an individual needs is permission to rest, to sleep, to feel sad, and to stop trying to push him or her so hard. The last thing anyone who is going through a tough time wants is to be pestered or made to feel guilty for not living up to your expectations. Trust me, I’ve tried many times to turn the tides of sadness and was dismayed by the outcomes of my attempts. So, in light of this, I try to be compassionate and give my partner some space.

Yet, for each and every depressive episode that strikes, certain fears begin to surface: am I making matters worse by coddling him and letting him sleep? Alternatively, am I asking too much of him if I expect him to keep the common rooms of the apartment tidy, for example? By the same token, if I take on more than the normal share of domestic responsibilities, would he feel like I am interfering with his sense of dignity?

There is also the issue of wanting to know what it is that may be weighing him down, while also giving him the space that he deservingly needs. Although it’s incredibly difficult not to press him for more answers, I have learned to trust the process, to make him feel loved and supported, and to act on the conviction that kindness and sincerity, as opposed to force, are more effective motivators for relieving any pain. I have also learned that I need to encourage him to be more attuned to his thoughts and emotions. Oddly enough, one of the ‘gifts’ that I think depression can bring is the opportunity for self-reflection.

And sometimes, this means prompting him to seek professional help.

If your loved one is suffering from depression, here are some strategies to keep in mind:

  1. Don’t pretend that things are fine. Hiding the problem won’t make it disappear and may in fact prevent the person from seeking help. Instead, recognize the severity of the problem for what it is. By opening up the floor for honest communication, not only does it help maintain a sense of intimacy and trust, it also creates a foundation for compassion, mutual support, and long-term healing.
  2. Learn more about depression and the options that are available to treat it. As cliché as it sounds, knowledge is power. By learning about the illness, you can equip yourselves with the requisite information and skills to mitigate its impact and develop a recovery plan, together (with the help of a trained professional, of course!). An important part of this strategy also involves learning more about your loved one’s illness. For example, are there specific triggers, such as changes in weather or lack of sleep, which makes the issue feel worse? What kinds of lifestyle and dietary changes can the both of you make to support the recovery? This can involve simple things like going for a walk, jog, or hike; cooking a healthy meal together, with family, or friends; taking up a new hobby; or relaxation exercises, like yoga, mindfulness, or deep breathing.
  3. Don’t forget about you. Yes, this can be a real challenge when you are emotionally involved with the person, but you can’t be a provider around-the-clock without paying a price in your mental wellbeing – it’s not good for you or your loved one. Be sure to set some clear boundaries on what you can and cannot offer. Slow down and pay attention to any changes in stress, diet, sleep, and exercise, and carve out time for your own hobbies. Self-care is not selfish, it’s essential. Besides, we cannot possibly nurture anyone or anything else around us if we are not physically, mentally, or emotionally well.
  4. Finally, if you or your loved one is struggling with depression, have hope. For even in the darkest of nights, the sun rises again.
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BC Children's Hospital

This is an agency of Provincial Health Services Authority, providing provincial tertiary mental health services to the citizens of British Columbia. Programs include: Adult Tertiary Psychiatry, Geriatric Psychiatry, Forensic Psychiatric Services, Child & Adolescent Mental Health, Women’s Reproductive Mental Health, as well as the Provincial Specialized Eating Disorders Program for children and youth located at the BC Children’s Hospital.

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Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA) is one of six health authorities – the other five health authorities serve geographic regions of BC.

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British Columbia Ministry of Health

RBC Children's Mental Health Project

RBC Children’s Mental Health Project is RBC's cornerstone “health and wellness” pillar; RBC Children’s Mental Heath Project is a multi-year philanthropic commitment to support community-based and hospital programs that reduce stigma, provide early intervention and increase public awareness about children’s mental health issues.

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Through a wide range of fundraising events and opportunities, The BC Children's Hospital Foundation is united with its donors by a single, simple passion - to improve the health and the lives of the young people who enter BC Children's Hospital every day.