Relationships can break down quickly under the impact of depression. While many depressed partners decide to leave for good, I think it’s more common for two people to stay together and try to tough it out. If that’s the situation you’re in, you need more than hope to make a go of it and eventually restore the relationship.
As my wife and I discovered, one of the first things you need to do is learn all over again how to communicate, how to be with each other. If we hadn’t done that, I doubt we could have kept going over the last 25 years.
There are methods that can help you start the process of healing the relationship, but they take a lot of practice and commitment on both sides. If you can stay with them, they’ll help you just as they helped us.
Keep in mind that they won’t solve every problem, and they won’t cure depression. But they can help keep your relationship going while the depressed partner is getting treatment for the illness.
Communicating Goes Beyond Words
A lot of the advice you hear about relating to a depressed partner is all about words. There are countless lists of the helpful things to say, and the things you should never say. The problem is that the words alone don’t express what you mean.
Communication comes from total presence of a person. When you and your partner are talking, you’re much more attuned to facial expressions, physical signs and, above all, the tone of voice than to the bare words. You’re in motion when you try to relate to each other, and you’re both responding to a dozen changes that all the senses are picking up.
In the midst of depression, all those signals you’ve gotten used to either disappear or take on different meanings that block each of you from getting through. The methods we’ve learned help us get behind those signals and better understand what we need from each other.
Everything depends on our working together. That’s the first step, but we couldn’t get started on our own.
Here’s how we got going and what we learned.
Get Help Together
You may be able to master new skills on your own, but you’ll come to a lot of rough patches. A skilled counselor or therapist can guide you through the early stages and give you exercises to practice. A good professional can also introduce you to techniques you might not otherwise hear about.
Make the Commitment
It’s important that you agree to work with each other over time. This is not something you can do in 20 minutes a day. You’re trying to learn skills so well that they become second nature. Eventually, you’ll both know when and how to use them without prompting. But that takes a major commitment and a lot of time and practice.
Find Out What the Triggers Are
One of the best starting points is to discuss what each of you feels and needs, and also to identify the triggering incidents that send you into a tailspin. Julie Fast describes a good method for doing this in Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder. Each of you lists on paper what you feel in the relationship. When you read these to each other, you’re both likely to discover a lot of misconceptions each of you has had about your partner.
Then you can each list the types of incidents that stir the deepest feelings of anger, hurt or injury. You can’t try to evaluate what your partner is identifying. The point is to be alert to the danger spots so that you can try to keep them from setting off a confrontation.
Stop the Rush to Judgment
The psychologist Carl Rogers believed that conflict began with our habit of making judgments. We hear an opinion or witness an action, make a quick assumption, pass judgment and react. We’ve worked for a long time with a method to interrupt the process the mind goes through to make the snap judgment. It seems instantaneous, but you can interrupt this sequence.
- First, you perceive something – hear a statement, see a facial expression, catch a glance from your partner. It’s a trigger that starts up the process.
- Next your mind identifies what that perception is and interprets it. You assume you know what it’s meant to communicate.
- Then comes an emotional response. If it’s a sensitive trigger in the context of depression, it’s likely to be negative. You feel angry, hurt, frustrated.
- You form a judgment. You’re being attacked for no reason. Your partner refuses to listen, is angry and is blaming you for something you didn’t do.
- Lastly, you fire back and you’re off to serious argument.
This all happens in a split second, even though your mind is doing something quite complicated. What you can learn to do, after a lot of practice, is to stop the process before making that final judgment and launching an attack. It sounds simple, but it’s hard to do: You have to check out your interpretation with your partner.
You say something like: “Here’s what I just saw, here’s how I’m interpreting it. Am I right? Is that what you meant?” You may find you’ve missed the mark completely – or you may find you were right. But even if you read the message correctly, now you have a chance to probe what’s wrong. It’s amazing how that pause and questioning can stop the escalation of feelings into a fight.
But remember: As we did, you may need to learn the method from a therapist. He guided us in practicing it. And we agreed to work on this every time we felt we were running into trouble. We’ve used this basic tool for a long time, but we can easily forget. Even when that happens, however, we both have the model as a reference point. There’s a good chance that one of us will realize what’s happening and try to take us back to where we went wrong.
Listen to the Other Side
Once you’ve been able to interrupt the rush to judgment, both of you can listen to one another’s concerns more easily. The hard part is to listen without trying to evaluate or judge. There’s a strong urge to interrupt, criticize, dismiss – all by making those quick judgments you’re trying to be conscious of. The best thing is to listen silently and concentrate on what your partner is saying. They’re describing how they see things, and that’s what you need to understand.
After that, it’s helpful to mirror back what you’ve heard to show that you really do hear what they’re saying. The feeling that you’re being heard and understood is a powerful one in any relationship. It’s an affirming and hopeful experience.
It’s easy to expect too much too soon from any method. You may try it for a while, but have trouble making the new techniques work. That happens with any kind of therapy and with the process of recovery as a whole. The onset of depression has changed everything, and you’re scrambling to make things better.
You need to be patient with yourself and your partner. Give yourselves plenty of time to internalize new ways of relating to each other.
Have you and your partner been able to work on relationship issues while treatment is underway? What are the key problems you’ve tried to work on? Which methods have been most effective?
My boyfriend has been in a depressive episode for about ten weeks. Some days are ok and some aren’t. He’s been trying so hard. I shared with him things I need to feel secure during this difficult time and asked him to share things that make him feel good. It went well. We laughed a little about some of my ideas.
He was texting me over the next couple of days while I was out of town. Talking about plans for where to eat etc. When I got back he had packed all of my things and broke up with me. He said he has no feelings for me and that he doesn’t like spending time with me. I asked if I was being punished for what I had talked to him about. He just said he doesn’t want this anymore.
I wish I had found this page sooner. I probably said all the wrong things. I told him I refuse to accept a life changing decision made while he’s depressed. We are talking in person in a couple days.
I’m so broken but this information is so helpful. It seems like there is a good chance I won’t be able to say anything right. It feels so scary.
My boyfriend and I have been dating long distance for the last 2 years. We don’t live insanely far, just about 2 hours away from each other. Since we live in different states we would always see each other on weekends since we both had work or school. Since COVID I decided to go into an accelerated nursing program and should be finished by May 2022. Even though we live in different states, my boyfriend has always been extremely supportive of me going back to school and we have both always been willing to work with each other’s schedule. He would say he wanted a future together and that we would look at getting a place once I graduated from nursing school.
My boyfriend has always struggled with depression and he has been very open about it. I also suffer from depression and anxiety but have been seeing a therapist and taking medication for years. My boyfriend, however, does not see anyone and does not take medication. I have always been the one he tells everything to when he is depressed and I believe I am the only one who actually knows the full extent of his depression. He talks about being exhausted with life and how he doesn’t want to be alive anymore. Of course, I worry about him more than anyone can imagine! He says he won’t commit suicide because he doesn’t want to hurt those around him, but I worry about him getting into a car accident or making a mistake that could cost him his life.
For most of our relationship, we have managed to get through a lot of the ups and downs that would come from his or my depression and anxiety. I know depression isn’t anyone’s fault and have never blamed him for anything. I have always tried to be understanding of things, however, it has always been more difficult for him to be understanding because of his severe depression. . I love him more than life itself and have wanted nothing more than to be a support system for him when he needs it, but lately out of nowhere he has completely pulled away from me, to the point where he wouldn’t want to talk to me, he wouldn’t want to see me on weekends anymore, and he said he wasn’t sure if he wanted a relationship anymore because of his own insecurities, but he wouldn’t tell me what insecurities. He has always said he loves me and cares about me but thinks I would be happier with someone else… which of course I never agreed with because he does make me extremely happy, I just hate seeing him like this because more than anything I want him to be happy with himself because I think he is absolutely amazing! I wish he could see what I see in him, but I know he doesn’t believe anything I tell him sadly.
He used to tell me how he couldn’t wait to see me on the weekend and how he was thankful to have me in his life, but now it’s as if he wants nothing to do with me and I have no idea why! I know I shouldn’t take some of the things he says personally, but it is so hard not to!
Of all the people in his life, why am I the one he seems to want to get rid of?
I have asked him what I can do to help relieve any stress he has, but whenever I ask him anything his answer to everything is “I don’t know”…
He recently said the other day that he is emotionally exhausted with life and needs to take a step back and take a break from our relationship… of course, he said a few other harsh things with it saying he doesn’t care if I hate him or I can do whatever I want to get over him or let him go, but I didn’t respond in a harsh way because he has always been worth it to me and I have always made sure to tell him that. He just sadly doesn’t believe me because he doesn’t believe it himself… I asked if he wanted to break up completely or if he wanted to re-visit things in a month or so because I wasn’t sure what it was he was wanting. Just the other day he said he wanted me to be a part of his life, so it was just hard for me to believe that he would want to end things forever… He ended up responding say he would like to re-visit things in a month if that was ok with me, which of course I was ok with, but a part of me (my anxiousness) has a terrible feeling that I won’t ever hear from him again… I fear that not only will I not hear from him for an entire month, but he won’t reach out to meet up and instead will just continue on without me.
I know that is something I need to prepare myself for, because if not having me in his life is what will make him happier then I need to be accepting of that and respect his wishes, even if it will be one of the hardest things I have ever had to do.
Being in nursing school and always having each other for when I had a rough day at school or he had a rough day at work, it is just crazy to see how everything changed so fast. It’s as if he doesn’t care about me or anything anymore, and it is so frustrating that I can’t just see him in person or be with him since we live farther away.
I want to respect his wishes and give him the time and space he asked for, I am just having a difficult time not making my mind wander with all kinds of unfortunate thoughts… I try to read other posts to remind me that this isn’t my boyfriend, but his depression, but I have loved him through his depression and I still do, it just sadly had never gotten this bad to where I felt like he wanted nothing to do with me. I still love him more than life itself and pray he is able to get the help and time he needs.
Should I stay strong and not say anything for the entire month, and pray he says something to me in a month? Of course, I hope he says something sooner than a month, but I just worry about him and if he would do anything to hurt himself. My mind is all over the place. I can’t seem to focus on my studies or anything else except trying to understand everything there is about depression in hopes to find something that will put my mind at ease.
Any advice or thoughts would be helpful. I know I sound crazy, but I love him with all of my heart and I want the very best for him. I just worry about him and what he is going through and I hate that there is nothing I can seem to do to help.
depression is awful says
I am in a STRIKINGLY similar boat right now. Any advice to give to me? What ended up happening?
hi there, my boyfriend broke up with me recently. i know he struggles with depression and it seemed that i would get glimpses of how bad it was 🙁 he would be flakey, cancel plans, say he didnt feel well, push people away. he said he didn’t see me long term and didnt see a future with me, but it is hard to feel like depression played a role in things, given how much we seemed compatible and loving towards one another. i havent heard from him since the breakup, and I am wondering how much to factor depression into his decision. ty!
I’m sorry, I can’t give you an adivce. I can only tell you that I had the same experience recently and am torn between being angry with him, when I think he treated me badly, and sad and feeling guilty, when I think his depression made him treat me badly.
If you need someone to talk to, I’m here to listen.
My name is Vashsti. I have been in a relationship with my high school sweet heart for 16 yrs now. When we met he was a little older than me, already finished school and had started having children. He was a single father of 3. I was young, yet mature and fell in move with him. He was 6 yrs older than me. In his defense I lied about my age for months. It was my mother who told him my real age. We were caught up by then.
Fast forwarding to our relationship I was forced to take on the full roll as a mother at 16 due to me being with him and his children mother being absent.
I was ok with it. I helped raise my brother and sisters. When we met he had experienced alot of hurt, let downs and pain so i found myself constantly trying to prove that I will never be one of those ppl who hurt him. He even had trust issues with his own mother.
Through out the relationship his pride and ego controlled and ruined alot of things. Where for me I am very strong willed, stubborn and determined to have my way which caused us to clash and develop alot toxic behaviors.
I had a child by him at 17 and another at 24. He haven’t been the best partner but he has always been a present father and helped provide for our family. As we are both hardworking.
This is where everything took a turn on 2017 he loss his secure job with great benefits after 10 yrs. He kind of always struggled with consistency in jobs attendance etc and had motivation spurts where sometimes he was overworking and then other times he barely wanted to work at all. (Sign of depression) Back to the job loss. He loss the job, hid it from me, he took me to another country for my college graduation (previously planned) knowing he was jobless and let his card decline while we were in Mexico and told me something was wrong with the card. Smh
Once we got back I realized he was still off work pretty frequently. I had a feeling he lost it but thought it was suspension. During this time he had depleted his savings as we been surviving off the money and I didnt know. Ok so I found out. I bitched! yes I did. More so because he lied to me which he have a history of doing. ( lying to protect his feelings and pride). Ok I got over it, got a second job for a while, reached out to a friend who works as a hr rep for the same company I work for she was able to get him in at different location of course. He was extremely happy because he made more money in this position. He hated his other job etc etc. But he loss great benefits that I was planning our future with.
Fast forwarding to today he never seemed the same after the job loss. He developed a severe gambling problem, start not going to work at this job again. He took it upon his self to cut back hours and work when he feels like it despite the gazillion bills and large family we have. When he loss the job we fell behind on our mortgage etc. Just when we got it caught up the gambling problem took over and put us right back in the hole. During this time I was working a second hustle and my full time job to try to keep thing a float. Some months he was good and pulled through then the very next month he went right back to i have nothing to give but what was so frustrating about it all is he would make me think he did up until the very day it was time to pay the bills. I would be begging him to give me his portion and he will say things like “I have to go to the bank” etc etc.
I recently found out After putting my self in counseling that he may have been dealing clinical depression all of these yrs and was never diagnosed. He refuse to talk to anyone about his problems even me. He keeps it all bottled up.
I always wanted to get married not sure if he did or not. When u spoke about it we will always argue so I gave upnon thought of marriage.
Sometime last year after dealing with this roller coaster for 3 yrs. I checked out. I had to… He had stopntalkinf to me, moved himself in our daughter room and we only text about house and kid stuff.. I was becoming extremely depressed. I would go in to the bathroom at work fall to the floor and cry out to GOD because for the life of me I couldn’t understand why this man who I have loved, sacrificed everything for dreamed of some day marrying and have proving my love and loyalty to through hardships, infidelity, lies, hurt and some abuse still just cant love, respect and give me the simple things i ask for like secure roof over our head without me killing myself or suffering to have it when he dnt feel like pulling through..
My checking out resulted in me hooking up with someone else. My boyfriend found out and have been devastated ever since. I caught feelings in this situation not because the guy was anything special but because it just had been so long since I felt good in the opposite sex presence. My boyfriend is not affectionate, he doesn’t compliment me. He’s very stern, tough and strictly business like. The other guy was the opposite he kissed my hands, forehead, called me beautiful etc and my dumb ass fail for his game. He wanted sex of course he was doing those things..(I was not the only one) but I cant lie It felt so good for the moment.. O still crave to have that feeling again.
Today after all of this has taken place. We both are dealing with depression. We are trying to work through things but I dnt think i feel the same anymore. I dnt see any real changes. Just this past week he was short with his portion of the bill money and had to go out borrow money so we can afford our bills. He’s constantly putting under pressure, accusing me of things and belittling me about getting played by the guy I fell for. We are still here under the same roof but I am not sure if i want the relationship anymore.
I feel I deserve better than what I am getting. Yea i know I tried once and got played but I just feel God wants something better for me. I talk to GOD alot and I am trying to get closer to him so I can do things his way but this relationship have my entire existence, decision making and mood off. I think i am.just staying out of guilt because I stepped out. I wasn’t hiding it tho I was really done with the relationship. I didn’t begin to feel guilty until.i seen how bad he was hurt behind it and told me that he was just going through things he still loved me and wanted us.. i felt like shit for misunderstanding and assuming he was throwing us away. Our communication sucks and always have!
I also think about the guy who played me often. I never really gotten any closure that from so I am just hurting for so many different reasons. I really dnt know what to do and like I said I feel so much pressure from him tonbe the woman that I always was to him although its not in me to be her anymore. i was that woman for 16yrs and got nothing but unnapreciatuon from him and the kids I raised, he would talk dwn on me at times, he hit me a sometimes when wanted to, he ignored me and my feelings ALOT today I just fewl so confused as I look at him I LOVE him but not the samw way I once did.
I am confused! I dnt know what to do!
My ex boyfriend has been feeling depressed for the past month. We broke up and then we decided to try again and he broke up with me again. Our relationship wasnt perfect. But i love him very much. I had a toxic relationship with my dad growing up and ive developed issues because of it such as clingy, trust issues, etc. Ive been trying to work on it and be better cus i want us to work. Alot has happened before he became depressed. His grandmother passed away and she was like a mother to him. He doesnt have a great relationship with his parents, and hes worried about his grandpa with the pandemic happening. We’ve also just moved and his depression began after we moved. Its been months since his grandma passed away so he doesnt think its because of that. He loved her more than he loved anyone. When this started, he said it didnt have to do with his feelings for me, cus he loves me and that was never the question. But after trying again and talking lastnight…he thinks it is because of me. Amd that destroyed me. Because i love him more than i love anyone. I was willing to do anything to save us. I was working on my issues and trying to change myself for the better but it wasnt enough. He blames me and i blame myself. For not dealing with my issues before. I still have hope in us…but i dont know if he does. I dont know what to do. I told him that i love him, i will always support him like i always have and i will always be here for him. My love, my loyalty and support has never waivered. Of the 4 years we’ve been together, ive never questioned if we were meant to be together. Cus i always felt like we were and ive never felt this way about anyone. I have this need ti please people i love. Ive done it in past relationship as well. I go out of my way to do something sweet and thoughtful just so i can see how happy or appreciative they are and it makes me feel good that ive done a good thing cus ive constantly felt like everything i do is wrong…i have my whole life. But with him telling me that im the reason hes depressed just makes me sad and alone. And him thinking that i only care about myself. I know i can be selfish at times, but ive always put him first, even if he didnt see it or believe it. He knows that im here for him of he wants to work on our relationship, we also need to work on ourselves but im terrified that he’ll be happier without me and our relationship will be in the past. I cant help but hope that we can make it through. But im trying to accept that we might not. And im struggling with that.
My relationship did break down 6 months ago (usually stuff, couldnt put me through what she was dealing with, couldnt be the girlfriend I deserved etc etc) and after a month or so of sporadic contact she cut me off . I tried sending her messages now and again to remind her I was there for her, nothing too heavy just gentle reminders she wasnt alone. After a few months we did actually talk about us and she told me she didnt have the same feelings she had before. That my contact was “too much” and that I should leave her alone and move on. So I did, as much as it killed me to walk away. I have a suspicion at this point a male friend of hers she was spending a lot of time with became more than friends
Now in our situation we are work colleagues so see each other a few times a week. So there is always contact. As time went on ans she seemed to be recovering she stopped ignoring me completely. Lines of communication were tentatively opened. Whatever was going on with the other guy seemed to stop.
Now nearly 7 months after the break up we are communicating more. She seems in a much healthier place. We are laughing and joking in work, She is even instigating communication outside of work, neither of which would have happened a few months ago. The strangest thing is that we seem to have developed a ‘safe’ topic of conversation- we have both started growing vegetables (I just moved to a place with a green house and mentioned it in work, she suddenly went out and bought a load of seeds and now messages me about them!) Which is actually really nice. It’s something apart from her illness or our relationship and it’s just nice to engage with her.
It’s hard to gauge exactly what is going on. I don’t want to get ahead of myself. I don’t want to get hurt again! And I definitely do not want to push things and set her recovery back. So I’m trying not to think too much about the reconciliation of the relationship and just enjoy being friends again. My love for her is undiminished and Id like to start again but it’s hard to tell whether she is interested in that or wants to be purely friends and tbh I’m petrified of broaching the subject.
But what I’m learning is what John said in the article. Patience and time is working, although it’s hard! We are reconnecting on a personal level and I have hopes that this may lead to more, as it did once before. A few months ago where we are now seemed impossible so in a few more months I’m hoping things are clearer. But I remond myself that her health IS the most important thing and if we emerge from this as nothing more than friends that will be something at least. Can’t stop the hope though!
I’m curious where things stand with you and the woman of which you wrote? My own situation is 4 months old; 5 months when comparing to when things came to a head and 7 months when I started to understand I was no longer dating the same woman.
The more I read and research, the more her behaviors and comments indicate a pretty solid step into depression. I’ve done all the wrong things any depressed person would hate for me to pursue, but, oddly, every time I put distance between her, I’ll get a random and brief message. Silly me, I take that as a positive sign, but it’s probably foolish on my part. I’m curious how things progressed in your situation, because I always have this debate in my mind how I’ll handle things if she reaches out to try to rebuild what we had.
Im only 17 and he’s 18. I know we are young but we fell in love. We are together for a year now and i feel like i love him more than anyone i ever loved. And he felt the same. Although we are still young we had a great communication and we always enjoyed spending time together. But recently everything changed. He changed. First he was short-tempered. I kinda wanted him to change but i gave up because maybe he cants. Than he started saying that he doesnt want to be like that but he cant control it. I didnt understand.
Than he started being sad all the time. He is the positive person who always laughs and joke around but then all of it disappeared . He became person with low self esteem, he always calls himself idiot and etc. He didint know ehat was happening to him nor did I. He was always happy when we are together but now he doesnt even want to be with me. He push me away,he always gets angry, he said he is not sure in his feelings anyome (but he said he is sure that he loves me) . He also started smoking cigarettes and marijuana just to be “happy” for some time. I’m really trying hard ti understsnd him and i do but we are too young and he is hurting me. A lot. What should i do? Leave him although i love hik more than anything or stay and do what?
Ive never done this before but am getting desperate .
My partner and i have been togther for nearly 10yrs . Id say for at least half of that she has suffered with depression on and off .
Im struggling so hard to cope and understand .
I feel so unwanted and and loved .
Whenever i try to talk about iy or say how im feeling she always says im moaning or going on or that im just making digs about what she does or doesnt do .
She tells me she loves me etc but u just feel like shes going through the motions and saying what couples say .
She always blames me and makes me feel like i. Wrong …
What do i say or do ?