Depression and your relationship

Carmen BryceBlog posts

If you are depressed, your relationship can also become depressed.

Depression can wreak havoc on your ability to experience and maintain intimacy within your relationship. Being depressed can illicit feelings of worthlessness; depression can affect moods, thoughts and behaviours, and even physical health. A common impact of depression is feeling lost or numb, so the depressed becomes disconnected from their inner self, and when we can’t connect to ourselves, naturally it becomes challenging to connect with others.

Dr Laurence Heller is a psychotherapist who has studied the human need for connection; he believes that, “it is the experience of being in connection that fulfils the longing we have to feel fully alive”.  Regardless of what we are going through, the need for connection is deeply rooted in all of us since conception, therefore we continue to gravitate towards connection even if we are depressed.

Living with depression, and trying to maintain healthy relationships can become draining. Depression can cause or magnify existing relationship issues, which in turn can feed the depression resulting in more intense feelings of loneliness and isolation, it’s a vicious cycle.

However, there is hope, here are some practical tips to help you retain and enjoy intimacy in relationships when battling depression

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Get to know your depression

If you are depressed it’s likely that your perception of reality can become distorted.  You may notice that your reactions to everyday situations can become erratic, and your feelings more intense.  For example, if you are feeling low and vulnerable, you may become very critical of your partner, or feel that you are being criticised by your partner. You may also find that you become very needy and seek constant positive affirmation and assurance from your partner.  When you are depressed it may not be easy to command control over your reactions in the moment.  Getting to know how your depression impacts you and your relationship can help you to separate the real you from the depressed you, so that you don’t end up becoming critical if you acted in a way which you wouldn’t have ordinarily if you were not suffering with depression.  Take 5 minutes at the end of your day to reflect on your interactions, making a brief note of what was an authentic reaction versus what you feel was your depression responding.

Share the knowledge

In today’s fast paced world it’s unlikely that you will have the time or even the desire to have in-depth discussions with your partner about your depression.  However, it is helpful to let your partner in on how you feel your depression impacts on your relationship.  Explain to your partner that sometimes you don’t want to communicate, sometimes you overreact and sometimes you want to curl up and be by yourself when you are feeling depressed.  Giving your partner the inside track upfront can help them to understand and empathise with you when you are depressed, and may prevent your partner from feeling rejected.

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Mutual support

Those closest to you will want you to recover from depression.  It can become tempting for your partner to work hard to “fix” you, which can end up with them feeling helpless and resentful if you are not recovering at a rate they would like, and it can also further fuel your depression if you end up feeling that you have failed your partner if your recovery isn’t immediate.  To avoid falling into this trap let your partner that you are not placing any expectation on them to solve your depression.  Instead, empower your partner by collaborating to find the most appropriate way for them to support you when depression is taking its toll without any pressure to provide you with a solution. Encourage your partner to read books and access information online.  If you are seeing a therapist ask for recommendations for support groups or suggest your partner speaks to a therapist so they have a space to share what they are experiencing as a partner of someone battling depression.

Remind yourself of the positives

When the black cloud of depression is hovering over you, it can be hard to see the good things in your relationship.  When you are depressed it’s likely that you may feel insecure and pessimistic in your relationship.  Try to remind yourself of why you are with your partner.  Reminisce on how you got together, and make a list of the things you are attracted to in your partner.  Use positive adjectives to describe your partner, and keep this list close to hand.  Making small efforts to reinforce the positive qualities of your partner can help you if you are feeling resentful or critical of your partner when you are depressed.

Turn towards connection

If you are depressed it’s likely that you will try to avoid your partner.  Although being alone may feel like the right thing for you to do when you are depressed, the loneliness can end up making you feel worse.  Seeking some form of connection from your partner can help to reduce feelings of isolation, and hopelessness. Reaching out could be challenging so find small gestures that you can adopt without becoming overwhelmed by your desire for avoidance.  You could gently encourage intimacy and connection by making eye contact with your partner and aim to hold the contact for 3 – 5 second intervals, or hold hands without any requirement for conversation if you don’t feel like speaking.  Agree some physical signals that you can enact to keep close to your partner within healthy boundaries that suit you.

Depression is treatable and recovery is possible. After recovery the threat of the symptoms returning can be forever looming in the background of your relationship, so it’s important to remember that you are in a partnership, and if you commit to being on the same team you can beat depression together.

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Written by MyMind Cork therapist Emma Doyle and featured in a A Lust for Life.