“It breaks my heart that I cannot make you feel better.” I found myself saying that a lot to my partner. Even though I knew that I could not away their pain, hurt, and anger, I really wanted to and I really tried to. I tried to be my partners therapist and it was too much pressure on my mental health. Our relationship was declining due to untreated mental health concerns and the roller-coaster of emotions embedded my heart and I adopted their depression.
When I started to feel like my words were wrong; like everything that I was doing for my partner was no longer enough I knew we had to do something different. I felt like my support wasn’t helping, it was hurting us. I suggested to my partner that we seek professional help even though what I really knew is that my partner and I needed to get help for ourselves, to me it felt safer if we did it togehrer, but my partner was not interested and I felt defeated.
Are you questioning yourself?
What do you do when you know your partner needs help but won’t accept it? What do you do when you feel like you are walking on egg shells around your partner because you feel blamed for everything? What do you do when your partner becomes verbally abusive due to their own past traumas? What do you do when you love someone who tells you that you are never there for them? What do you do when they begin to self-medicate and overconsume to cope with their pain?
These are common questions that individuals ask about their depressed partners. When you love, care, are loyal and support someone, it is likely that you will want to be there for them when they are at their worst. Abdonment is a major fear for many people and I felt so guilty for wanting to leave my partner while they struggled with Major Depression Disorder. It always felt like a battle:
They wanted to stay in; I wanted to go out.
They desired to be alone; I desired physical touch and attention.
They did not want to talk about their feelings; I wanted to talk about everything and give all the advice and emotional support that I could; to be told that I am loved …
I would constantly questioning my actions to not upset my partner and it became overwhelming and exhausting. I was diagnosed with a minor depression in 2016, and while in therapy for myself, I realized that I had been putting myself in the position of my partners therapist and I could no longer do that. Coping with your partners depression is not something that you can do alone because your partners emotions impact you and is their sole responsibility as a human being.
Common Signs for Depression in your Partner
One of the most common signs for depression is a lack of interest or pleasure in doing things; even the things you may love the most and especailly the things you do not love but have to do. You may find that your partner loved reading, writing, going to the gym, or hiking and that they no longer desire to. Your partner may have been social and now they are spending time isolated in the house.
Anger and irritiability is another common sign and symptom for depression. Your partner may be more impatient than usual. They may respond to situations by pointing out the bad and find it difficult to see the good in most things. If your partner struggles to take care of themselves and are neglecting their hygiene, pampering, or nourishment, your partner may be struggling with depression.
Here are some other Common Signs for Major Depression Disorder:
Mood: anxiety, apathy, general discontent, guilt, hopelessness, loss of interest or pleasure in activities, mood swings, or sadness
Behavioral: agitation, excessive crying, irritability, restlessness, poor appeitite, social isolation, early awakening, excess sleepiness, insomnia or restless sleep; excessive hunger, fatigue, or loss of appetite, or restless sleep, lack of concentration, slowness in activity, or thoughts of suicideMayo Clinic
You Can’t fix your partner
The most difficult lesson I had to learn in my relationship while my partner struggled to accept their depression was that it was not my responsibility to cure them. I was not responsible for fixing my partner or healing their depression. I am only human and their words and behaviors hurt. Even though I knew that they did not mean it, I could not help but to feel like a target for their pain and overtime I started to take those jabs personally and became depressed because of it.
I wanted to them to see their worth, and know that they mean the world to me. I had been by their side and on their team from the beginning, and I didn’t want that to change, but I was hindering my own mental health by staying with someone who refused treatment.
5 tips to help you cope with your partners depession
1. Educate yourself on depression and other mental health concerns
Be patient and understanding of your partners mental health and depression signs and symptoms. If your partner is seeking treatment or just disocovering their depression, coping is a process for your partner and it will take them time to learn the coping skills they need to manage their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors.
2. Do not try to be your partners therapist
You can be a listening ear for your partners and provide advice when asked. Support to your partner as they journey towards healing and build strong coping skills for depression. You cannot cope for them or try to fix them or their feelings.
3. Don’t be afraid to express how you are feeling to your partner
Walking on eggshells, tiptoeing, or trying to protect your partners feelings is not going to help them cope with their mental health. You do not have to be harsh to be honest about how you are feeling. If your partner does or says something that hurts you, tell them. They need to understand how they impact you in order to shift, grow, and change negative behaviors.
3. Suggest therapy but don’t expect it
There is nothing wrong with suggesting therapy to your partner as long as you don’t attach that to stigmas of being crazy for needing therapy. Normalize therapy for your partner. You can suggest beginning therapy as a couple but make sure that individual therapy is a part of the process as well. Your partner needsto do their own work to cope with their mental health and thats not something you can do in couples therapy.
If your partner refuses therapy and decides to self-medicate or self-manage their depression symptoms assess their progression – do you see a change in them or are things the same after a few days or weeks? If your partner does not want to talk to a professional and you don’t see any progress, you get to decide if you can handle what this relationship is giving you. Worrying about your partners mental health is not a good reason to stay in a relationship.
5. Assess Yourself
The Edinburgh Depression Scale is a great way for anyone to take a self-assessment to identify if depression is impacting your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Check in with yourself and if you find yourself struggling with depression, anxiety, or being triggered due to your partners mental health concerns, don’t hesitate to seek help for yourself. Therapy is not just for mental health concerns, therapy is for anyone who needs support.
You can go to therapy without your partner.
Not everyone has access to mental health providers and resources that make them feel safe and comfortable to express their concerns. Therapy is designed to be for anyone but not everyone is treated the same in a professionals office. As a Self-love Therapist, I seek to change stigma around therapy and normalize it’s importance, especially for those who are disadvantaged or discriminated against for their race, sexual orientation or identity, and gender.
We all are responsible for normalizing therapy and mental health concerns. Be mindful that disparity exists and many cohorts do not feel comfortable, specifically black men, when talking to professionals due to being treated as test subjects, being discriminated against, or because of unfair treatment. This is a reality for many BIPOC individuals and it will take time to break down these walls for your partner to understand that not all therapists are the same.
I am here for your heart.
-Ta’lor L. Pinkston, The Heart Advocate