I’ve written a lot on this blog (here and here, among many others) about the mindset of depressed partners who are pulling away from their closest relationships. It’s important to look at the other side too – the desire to return. Hopefully, they’ll come back from the illness, whether they’ve remained at home while they’ve suffered through it or left to try to work it out on their own. A severe episode ends, and they want to have the relationship back.
That’s an exhilarating, joyful time when you can finally stop worrying and talking about what’s wrong and rediscover each other. That’s what my wife and I felt when I came back. (I had not left home but had been absent in every other way – hostile and careless about the relationship.) It was like starting over. My wife felt that too, but she had learned to be cautious after so much hurt and anger, and after many false-start recoveries.
The trust that a lasting relationship depends on had been broken, and it took a long time to get it back. Because my depression kept returning, trust was tested almost every day, but our relationship held through all my ups and downs.
A big reason we could stay together is that we both learned to watch for signs that I was slipping away again. I doubt we could have made it without cultivating a keen awareness. Even after the great renewal of our relationship, I had many recurring bouts with depression. You have to be prepared for that possibility, even though you may feel sure that it can’t happen again.
Here are some of those danger signals that most affected me.
I’m Done with Therapy
In the excitement of recovery and renewed love, it was easy to believe I would never go through such a terrible time again. It wasn’t long before I pulled out of therapy. I felt great – who needed help? In walking away from it, however, I lost the objectivity of someone outside the relationship – and outside my head – who could help maintain awareness of how I was doing. A few years later, returning problems got bad enough that I finally started treatment again.
Treatment Will Cure Me
I went from one extreme to another. Instead of denying that treatment could help, I began to rely on it as the sole source of hope for getting over depression for good. Since my wife was so sensitive to even small changes of mood, I also relied on her to wake me up to the onset of another episode. On first hearing warnings, however, I would fall into the old habit of denying that I could possibly be getting ill again. Sooner or later, I had to admit what was happening. It took years before I fully took on the responsibility for self-care and learned skills to counteract the warning signs before depression took hold.
Why All this Talking?
There are few things as important in a relationship as talking to each other, about anything and everything, but especially about warning signs. Silence and holding back feelings were my first steps toward pulling away emotionally and isolating myself in full blown depression.
I Can’t Stand It!
Getting angry for no particular reason is a classic sign. Before a depressive episode set in, the surest way I could deal with it was to stop and ask: What’s really going on? I used to hear it first from my wife, but then I became alert on my own whenever a pervasive irritability came up. Awareness may not have gotten rid of it immediately, but I knew I wasn’t reacting to anything my wife was doing. Blaming was exactly the wrong thing to do. I could feel my own tension and try to work it off.
This Blank Wall Is Endlessly Interesting
Depression slows me down and helps me drift into inaction. An early sign is the highly pleasurable state of staring at nothing. I could do it forever, feeling full and content, happy to sit motionless. Why talk about anything – there’s nothing to do. I get sleepy and go blank. Psychiatrists refer to these states as vegetative symptoms. They had nothing to do with the stillness of meditation. I was stepping into an emptiness where nothing had meaning, and there was no point to moving a muscle. When I started floating like this, I had to break the spell by forcing myself to get up and do something.
I could go on and on with this list – getting jumpy and distracted, losing concentration, feeling a weight on my chest – but many are early signs of the other familiar symptoms of any major depressive episode.
Feeling the euphoria of recovery is one thing. Sustaining wellness and a close relationship is another. Working together to catch the warning signs of relapse is a way of strengthening the bond between partners.
What I’ve come to believe is that you aren’t so much recreating the relationship you shared before depression drove you apart. You’re creating something different – partly the renewal of an intimacy you’ve known but adding a realistic sense of what depression can do and what you must do to prevent it from taking over.
We learned the hard way that feeling better – even completely restored from depression – isn’t the full measure of recovery as far as relationships are concerned. Rebuilding trust doesn’t come from medication or therapy or endlessly worrying about depression. Instead it comes from doing things together, talking to each other – letting life happen – while remaining sensitive to signs of relapse.
This awareness, though, doesn’t mean you’re expecting or assuming that depression will return. That would be undermining, a self-fulfilling prophecy. What I’ve found in this process – and we still work at it today – is that we’re assuming wellness is the norm and taking steps to stay healthy, just as you’d get a flu shot.
Have you been trying to rebuild trust with a partner after emotional separation and shock? How have you been able to do this? What skills did you have to learn to prevent the same thing from happening again?
I have been with my husband for almost 7 years married almost 2. I know he has struggled with mental health most of his life in form or another as have I and we both have healed on our own in order to come together for what use to be an amazing relationship. Over the course of the last 18-some months I have seen a steady decline in our relationship and bow it is so much so anytime I even attempt to talk to him I get eye rolls, dropped shoulders and immediate “if you would just leave be alone I’d be fine” I truly am at a loss of what to do. I can not make him get help but I refuse to be in yet another marriage where my partner refuses to put any work into themselves or the relationship. I was divorced for 10 years before marrying my current husband and in that time I managed to find immense healing for myself and raised my 3 boys under a home that stands for love, peace and kindness. My current husband knew this before becoming a part of our lives and I clearly set the boundaries and expectations of what it takes to be part of our lives. Now looking back I see how I compromised on things here and there with him but we still maintained our belief system of love and kindness until lately. Everything he does is our fault, we expect too much from him, we attack him, we pick him apart ect ect. I honestly can not see how much more I can do for him or be more patient with him and yet I get absolutely nothing in return from him. He gives everything to his job, gets home mid afternoon and is in front of his phone or the TV for the remainder of the day. There is little to no engagement with the family and what is there is short and filled with frustration. I get it, depression sucks and is uncomfortable and leaves us feeling lost but if he doesn’t think he needs help and the problem is all of us??? I am a mother of 3 teenage boys that have to be a high priority but I also believe in my commitment to my husband and our marriage. Im at a loss of how to be with him or be for him. I understand there is alot of responsibility on his plate but he chose this, he chose us and now that things aren’t perfect it feels like he’s just given up and I don’t know how much longer I have to go down and all to familiar path.
I’m going through hell right now. My husband has just gone away for the weekend to sort out his head. This has left me in a state.but I have to carry on as normal for our children. Last year I found out he was having an affair that had been going on for as long as I’m aware 18 months. He didn’t admit it I found out by various ways and confronted him he finally admitted it and I kicked him out. After 2 weeks I wanted him back we have 3 children have been together for 26 years married for 15. And our relationship has been almost perfect a few blips but nothing awful I have felt his love deeply inside me yes it was hard but I thought you asked him back its worth it. Then in December his mum died he hadn’t spoke to her properly since she found out that he had an affair and left. So he never got to sort the problems with his mum. Last week he said he had been wearing a mask and hadn’t really loved me since January as if a switch had gone off. He said he has tried to switch it back on but it won’t and he can’t fight it anymore. I think he is suffering from depression but with his lying abilities in not sure if this is true or just a cover up. He said he would speak to a counsellor and get help as I suggested the guilt and grieving for his mum has just hit him.
I love him so very much and up until last week he was acting besotted with me we were talking about the holidays this year. We were talking about buying a caravan by the sea. Then this. Any one out there got an impartial take on this please any help is better than none thankyou
I’d guess he’s still having an affair. Sorry. I’m so tired of depression being a pass to act like an ass or be abusive. It’s not. I’d do some searching Nancy Drew style and I think you’ll discover you’re the other woman.
I have just been in a relationship at the beginning of January, I was totally in love with this man, the problems came after 6weeks of him wanting to have sexual intercourse, with me. The drugs he was taking have caused erectile dysfunction and he has backed off. For a few weeks we had text communication and he told he was back on his medication, however now he wont answer my texts, I don’t if too leave him be or still let him know I am there for him which I told him weeks ago, he told me we would talk but never have. HELP what do I do, I miss him so much.