Hectic schedules and everyday work-life demands make it easy to become wrapped up in our own our world and many a time we lose sight of our partner’s stress. It is imperative to make that extra effort to recognize when your partner is struggling with depression. Regardless of where your spouse stands on the spectrum of depression which ranges from mild to severe, it can be overwhelming. It is natural for you to feel powerless, anxious, afraid, frustrated and confused. You may start getting the feeling that the help extended by you is not appreciated by your partner. You might also think that that you are responsible in some way for your partner’s problem. You are not alone. Depression is an isolating illness that can negatively impact relationships and has the potential to create distance, disagreements and disconnection.
Relationship itself is a challenge, but when one or both partners are struggling with their own issues it can become a bigger challenge and can be hard on both partners- the individual going through mental distress and also the partner who is unsure as to how to render help. By providing constant support to your partner, not only can you help prevent your relationship from becoming strained, but can also create a new level of intimacy that actually brings both of you closer together.
Stress is an inevitable part of life and dealing with it is not at all easy. Your partner may have been your lynchpin consistently in your relationship, but a time may come when you may be given an opportunity to be a rock and provide support and unconditional love to your partner. This will lay a solid and healthy foundation in the relationship and create an immense sense of comfort and connection.
You may not be able to fix your partner’s depression or anxiety, but there are ways to help. Here are some simple ways………
Be there. You can hold your partner’s hand and offer hugs and respond with encouraging statements: “Tell me what I can do to help.”; “You are important to me.”; “I am here for you,”……..Be there emotionally and be empathetic. Merely listening to your partner will make them feel that they are being cared for. If you are not with them physically, try to be there by calling them or Face timing with them. Be there to tell them that things will be alright; be there to laugh with them; and also be there to tell them that you love them.
Avoid being a cheerleader. “Partners unknowingly make the mistake of helping their loved ones by uttering things like: “Our life is so good—there’s nothing to be depressed about,” “Just cheer up,” said Colleen Mullen, a psychologist in San Diego. Of course, you are just trying to be positive, likely hoping that your positivity becomes contagious. But these statements disprove your partner’s illness and their feelings.
Focus on small steps together: All too often, people feel that they just have to get over the depression themselves, but rarely does it improve without treatment. You can help your partner by encouraging treatment. Express your willingness to help, including fixing up appointments and accompanying them to the doctor. Be with your partner when taking small steps, such as sharing the symptoms you have noticed; expressing your concern; discussing what you have learned about depression; talking about treatment options, including psychotherapy, medication, and lifestyle changes; and accompanying them for therapy sessions.
Communicate. Many people have the tendency to draw inwards when they are feeling anxious or upset. If you see that your partner has retreated, do make an effort to approach your partner and say something like, “You seem like you’re having a hard time. How can I help you right now?” This talk will probably lead to your partner opening up to you and you can give your partner the feeling of security which is very vital at this stage. Listening to your partner without judgment or immediate reaction will require a tremendous amount of patience, kindness and compassion on your part. Abstain from raising your voice during arguments, if any, should they arise. Effective communication will help in formulating plans to ease the situation. At the same time it is to be kept in mind that your suggestions should be met and respected as well.
Do things. People undergoing depression lose interest in carrying on with their normal chores and activities. Do things with your partner. Small things can make a big impact like cooking together, going for a walk, or going on a picnic. Give them breakfast in bed if necessary, brush their hair, and as silly as it sounds, help them take a bath if they are unable to do so. Encourage them to do things on their own.
Show Compassion. It may so happen that your depressed partner may become withdrawn physically and emotionally. Refrain from personalizing your partner’s negativity as it is a symptom of their illness. Stay away from giving in to these emotions as you will be adding to the already existing tension within the relationship. Instead, display compassion towards your partner and towards yourself too.
Create a congenial and supportive environment at home. Lifestyle changes can create a big difference in the treatment process. You can help focus on healthy eating; get your partner involved in planning and cooking healthy meals together to encourage better food choices; Exercise together; Plan a daily walk or bike ride to inspire getting back to exercise; and finally help your partner continue the treatment. Whenever possible, drive to appointments together and wait during the treatment process. Consider creating a daily schedule to handle meals, medications, and chores; Make a weekly date to go for a movie; go for a short hike, or even play board games. Start the process of positive reinforcement and help your loved one to restart socializing with others. Help your partner understand the areas in which improvement is needed, which in turn will lead to progress. But too much of pushing is not good if your partner is not ready for it.
Last but not least, LAUGH together and continue to have fun as a couple. Look for happy moments in your day to day life and laugh to your heart’s content. The person whom you fell in love with is still with you and you two can have a great time by smiling and laughing through your troubles.
The caregiver is emotionally taxed while caring for the depressed partner. It is of utmost importance for the caregiver to practice self-care and increase the support network at this point of time. Helping your partner can be demanding on your schedules but it will definitely strengthen your relationship. By tending to your own requirements now, you will emerge to be a stronger person, better equipped to be the anchor that your partner requires. Find ways and think of ideas to recharge and unplug yourself and then focus on building these ideas into your daily life. Small activities go a long way in invigorating you and they include savouring a morning cup of tea or coffee sitting in a balcony; browsing a bookstore; taking a long walk….. Remember these are not frivolous or selfish activities. But are highly important for partners to possess a “strong roster of coping skills…. to be able to deal with the helplessness that they may feel through their partners’ depression episodes,” according to Mullen, a well known psychologist in California.
Your partner’s level of motivation, passion and energy hits a high time low if depression has been persistent for a long period of time. It is of utmost importance that you do not view the changes personally or as your partner’s investment in the relationship. Your partner needs to be reminded that diagnosis of depression is just a part of their identity, as they have several interests and parts to be played. The very act of being able to fulfil these roles is by itself a huge step towards recovery. There may be gradual noticeable changes in their mood. No massive improvement can be expected within a short period of time. Equip yourself with more knowledge about the subject of depression as it will help you to guide and lead your partner through their problem of depression. But nudging them gently to seek professional help does not point out to your failure in guiding your partner. It is just that your partner may need some alternate methods of coping with depression which you may not be aware of.“Caring for someone with depression can be challenging, but it can also deepen our relationships,” says Frey, a therapist who specializes in depression, relationships and anxiety. Continues Frey, “We can use our experience to build the trust that we are in true partnership in which both the partners have each other’s backs” and are there for one another when times get tough. A depressed spouse can take a toll on a relationship, which makes it important for people to know how to effectively deal with their depressed partners.