Living with a Depressed Partner

Living with Depressed Partner

Several readers have asked about the best ways to respond to warning signs and symptoms of depression in their partners. The illness tends to separate two people in many ways, so the question always arises: What can I, the well partner, do when the symptoms start to push us apart?

I think the first thing is to have realistic expectations about anything you do or say. You can’t prevent depression from interfering with your relationship. The illness separates people. Putting a lot of pressure on yourself to get it “right” will likely lead to frustration, perhaps setting you up for your own depression.

It’s important to keep in mind a big picture of what the illness does.

1. Depression is unpredictable. It gets in the driver’s seat with your partner. Neither of you know where it’s taking you, and it’s easy to feel frustrated and helpless because you can’t control what’s happening.

2. It’s going to last for a long time. The average episode is 8-9 months, and recurrence is common. It will wear you down.

3. Recovery is definitely possible, but it depends on your partner and the quality of treatment. Your role is supportive. That’s an important role, but what you say or do will not decide the course of depression. You didn’t cause it. You can’t end it.

4. Depression changes the behavior of your partner, not the person as a whole. This is hard to keep in mind for both partners. Those of us who’ve been severely depressed believe we’re bad people. The way we act hurts the people we love the most.

We’re very convincing in this role, and the well partner gets the worst of what we have to offer.

It’s a mark of recovery when a depressed person can see the harmful beliefs and behavior as symptomatic of the illness rather than who they are. It’s just as important for the well partner to keep in mind the same thing.

Yet nothing is harder than separating the person from their behavior when a crisis hits. What depressed partners do and say hurts. You’ll feel the pain, anger, frustration and shock, as your partner is changed. Whether they disappear in isolation or push you away in anger, the intimacy you’re used to is gone.

Your partner and you have one thing in common at this point. Neither of you can control what is happening. Your partner is in the midst of depressive symptoms and acting them out. You are reacting to unpredictable changes.

My wife and I found that the best thing we could do, perhaps the only thing, was to try, if at all possible, to talk to each other when we could. For most people, depression is not a static condition. Feelings, beliefs, behavior can change from day to day.

The variability can add to the baffling quality of the illness, but it also gives you both a chance to talk when things are not so bad. You can both get some perspective on what’s happening.

Those are the times my wife and I were able to take advantage of. We could really hear each other without the filter of depression distorting everything.

That’s when she could tell me exactly how my behavior was hurting her and know that she was being heard. I could also tell her what it was like feeling so out of control.

Rather than treat me with kid gloves, she explained what she felt and what she needed if the relationship was to survive.

We managed to stay together by looking at the specifics of the most hurtful things I was doing and coming up with ways to deal with them when I was getting in a bad way.

Talking together honestly about what to do seems to me the only way for couples to survive severe, recurring depression. You may need the help of a therapist or counselor to have those conversations if the relationship has taken a beating for some time. You should get whatever help you need.

(This post first appeared in the Storied Mind Newsletter.)

Image credit: ssilver / 123RF Stock Photo

9 Responses to “Living with a Depressed Partner”

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  1. elizabeth says:

    I have been living with MDD for over 20 years. While I understand people leaving a depressed spouse. I also have to wonder what kind of effect that is having on them. I have a good friend who has been struggling for a number of years. Her three daughters walked out on her because of her illness. They won’t let her see her grandkids. Her son recently left because his wife convinced him she is faking it for attention. They are about to have a child.

    Her meds have been changed numerous times to deal with this issue. She has been hospitalized over this issue a lot. Through no fault of her own she has been fighting to stay alive from an illness that threatens her very existance every day. She is not addicted to drugs or alcohol. She is married for over 30 years. How is your advising people to walk out … abandon those who suffer, healthy for those with the illness? Why not also advocate how to learn coping mechanisms? I am sorry for all those who cannot cope or deal with an illness many do not even want to understand. If it were high blood pressure or cancer, there would be no talk of walking out … but because it’s MDD there is no hesitation.

  2. Lesley says:

    I am living with someone who is depressed and an addict as well. I have decided to move out and move on with my life without him. He is convinced I have made his life a mess and he is the way he is because of me??!! What he actually needs is therapy, meds and NA, nope it is my fault. I was prepared to stand by him through it all, but he has been so verbally abusive and just so much has been said I can not possibly forgive or want to at this point.

    One thing that baffles me is the memory loss he has during this all? He can only focus on one thing ( negative of course) and continue to argue about it until he is raging mad and totally belligerent. The last time I stood up for myself during one of his rages, he came at me in such a rage, fists ready, veins popping out of possible area about 1 cm away from my face screaming as loud as he could. I thought omg get ready Lesley he is going to hit you this time, I calmly removed myself from the situation and he followed and followed. I told him if he continues this I have no choice to call the police, that seemed to calm him, that night I called my gf’s for help and trying to find me a place asap. I am on the move and will be out very soon, moving from gf’s to gf’s until I find a permanent place.

    He is a recovering alcoholic (25yrs) and was off drugs until a year ago. His family is no help, 2 sons that only care about themselves and see nothing wrong with their dad, they are 18 & 22. If they stay clear of him and since I’m there full time I get the brunt of it, not them – that’s how I see it. Tried to talk to them about offering some help and getting him some help, was told it’s none of their business and don’t want to get involved . I have to shake my head to this all, or I would go mad myself.

    Well, I will be free of this pretty soon and looking forward to life of calm serenity. I will him well and a healthy life sooner than later.

    Thank you for everyone reading this and be able to have this outlet, I hope this will help someone in this future. As many of you have helped my over the last year…again Thank you

  3. Be5ofus says:

    I am a 51 year old female, married to my high school sweetheart for 32 years now. I knew of my husbands, let’s say: different and difficult up bringing befor we got married. After witnessing the family’s physical fights, the tone and launage in which parents and childrened talked to each other and most of all his mother standing in the kitchen with a knife and threading to kill herself at the top of her lungs, I felt sorry for the man that I loved so much. We left the area and lived on our own away from family, raising our three children and all was wonderful. Or so I thought. Lol. I don’t have to go into the details for they have been already voiced on your blog (thank you very much everyone, I no longer feel alone in my struggles). But it did not take long for the after effects of my husbands childhood to rear its head. We have been battling his depression as a couple for many years, with many attempts and broken promises of getting help. But my point in posting here is to remind women (namely myself) not to enable the depressed party. I now realized that I have been doing this for years by taking on ALL responsibility for our family because I knew he could not handle it. My husband is finally serious about addressing his issues and getting help. The reason why is not important to my point. But now we are trying to learned to be happy together again and I find it is hard to let go of doing everything for him. Including talking for him, explaining his actions for him to others, making excuses for his actions and being the buffer between him and our now grown children. How do I help to change the whole fily dynamic?

  4. david says:

    First off hello to everyone. Second off I need help advice anything. I’m a 37 married male my wife and I have been together 20 years. We are blessed with 3 wonderful teenage boys. I have always been the bread winner in our relationship and have done ok but definitely not where I would like to be financially for us as a family. My wife has always been a home maker and successfully ran this family to a degree that all I have to do is work and work which I love doing. she has been simply amazing. she is the poster woman for mom and wife. I have always thought that we have great communication in our relationship. And even though we have had our tough times we have never let the sun set on our anger or hard feelings. I have seen nights when the sun came up and we finally kiss and go to sleep. In my heart and feelings she is simply amazing as the woman she is. Ok I could ramble all for the issue me. As any person that can do math can tell yes we were young when we got married. Not the issue. Since our children are all now older and some of the stresses of time and money have resolved I decided to encourage her to be the woman she needs to be for her. (Because despite my selfish greedy depressive blaming and hating everything attitude.) She is the love of my life. I encouraged her to go to college and have been behind her 100% from a awsome wife mother homemaker lover and friend she has transformed into a a woman that when I look at her I’m in sheer amazement. She only had a g.e.d. now she has a very good career as a R N. With real ambitions to get her B. S. N. and I’m behind her 100% now that being said. During this time mainly in the last 4-5 years I have become really depressed. I’m very Moody angry upset frustrated scared. I wake up thinking suicide I go to sleep asking if there’s a god prove it and take me. Unanswered prayers huh. I do have a long history of depression and adhd. And as many of the women have stated here about the way their spouse made the feel. I have done my share. I have what I feel fallen out of love with the love of my life. How is that. I go through all the actions. I work hard I clean house cook laundry I try to pull my share. I kiss her touch compliment and tell her. But I’m not in love with her. I do love her for who she is and have became. But I’m just not in love. It hurts I feel so guilty for the feelings I’m feeling. I just want to b in love with my wife. Wow that hurt. I have caught myself trying to distance her from me. Almost as if I’m trying to coax her to leave. She remains very.strong. I have been trying to hold myself in line so I initiate deep heart discussions. We have had small. G a amount of success. I know we have a problem I know what it is how can I fix this. I’m lost

  5. Amy Viets says:

    You’ve got some excellent insights here, and I thank you for your honesty and realism. My co-author and I work in the same area, having lived with depressed husbands for most of our married lives. I would like to reference your blog on ours ( I’m sure our readers will find much to think about as they read your posts. – Amy

  6. Nicholas says:

    I lost a sibling to suicide over 20 years ago. She was aged 20 and suffered from severe depression. Now, my brother suffers from it, although he is not as bad, but definitely has suicidal thoughts. He is 26 now, but it’s just an ongoing problem. Circumstances don’t help, because nothing has ever really worked out for him, but I don’t really know if there is any situation he could be in where his depression would completely disappear. I think it’s just a part of him, as it is of some people. Part of the human condition, I guess. I think it’s so important to have that family support, and understanding by society as a whole. Education is crucial, and these days, the issue of depression receives a lot of attention, which is excellent.

  7. Jessy says:

    This article really touched me. About a year ago my family had to support me through an unusually bad bout of depression caused by the loss of my father. I have had a history of depressive ebbs and flows, but nothing like this during my marriage of 7 years. I just gave up, quit taking my medication, and went into a darkness that I had not seen in a long time.

    What I really want to say, is that my husband is the strongest most incredible man to support me through that time. Without good family and good treatment, I do not know where I would be today!

  8. Donna-1 commented on Storied Mind:

    What can make a bad situation even worse is when the depressed person believes the partner is responsible, i.e., if “they” had not done this or that I wouldn’t be feeling like this.Read more…

  9. Donna-1 says:

    What can make a bad situation even worse is when the depressed person believes the partner is responsible, i.e., if “they” had not done this or that I wouldn’t be feeling like this. I know I vacillated between blaming my partner and blaming myself. Neither approach was helpful. Hindsight is a great teacher. Now, I am divorced and my partner(s) in this struggle are my family of origin. I’ve considered divorcing them, too! Maybe I can look back at how depression affected my ability to assess the meaning of life, how it affected the very quality of my thinking, and draw inferences about how it is affecting me right now and adjust accordingly. I don’t know. What’s difficult is, the brain that is supposed to be figuring out the best approach andmove toward the desired outcome is the very organ that is most affected by the vagaries of depression.

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