Written by The Relate Institute
It’s no surprise that our first instinct when we see our partner struggling with something is to try to fix it for them. This is especially true when our partner struggles with mental health. We hate seeing our partner in pain and we want to be the source of comfort and healing for them. Unfortunately, our attempts to “fix” and “heal” our partner more often than not send the messages, “You’re not good enough right now,” and “I don’t want to be around you like this." So what if there was something we could do or say that would actually help our partner while simultaneously sending the messages “I love you just the way you are,” and “You can lean on me through this tough time”? Today we focus on helping a partner struggling with depression. Here are 5 ideas to replace your current efforts towards your depressed partner with.
1) Instead of…
“So many people have it way worse than you do and they’re still happy with their lives.”
Being complimentary, affirmative, and supportive.
We can almost guarantee that your partner struggling with depression is already criticizing themselves and thinking how pathetic it is that they can’t figure out how to be happy even with all that’s going well in their life. They don’t need you to reaffirm this fact. They need a boost in their self-esteem, which you can help with! By showing them (verbally and non-verbally) that you value them, you appreciate the little things they do every day, and you view them as an innately worthy individual, regardless of their emotional state, you affirm to them that they are worth something. As their self-esteem rises, so does their mood and their motivation to try things instead of stay in bed all day.
2) Instead of…
“You like bike-riding, why don’t you try to do that today and see if it helps?”
Planning a date together where you do something active outside while spending quality time together.
It’s a natural response to offer suggestions to your depressed partner of things they can try on their own that they might enjoy. You hope they’ll try it and realize it made them happy and then keep trying activities and slowly come out of the depression, right? The problem is that one of the main perpetuators of depression is a partner feeling alone and misunderstood in their relationship. When you offer to do the activity with your partner it’s the equivalent of you saying, “I’m here with you. I’m not leaving you alone out there. I want to help you get through this. I want to understand.”
3) Instead of…
Refusing to listen and acknowledge the depressed feelings for fear of encouraging the depression–
It seems like a simple answer, but empathy leads the partner to feel understood, which can be healing in and of itself. Some ways to make sure you’re empathizing instead of checking out might be to summarize what your partner just told you, guess at what they must be feeling, and then ask them if you got it right. If you missed anything, ask them to help you understand better what they’re feeling. When a depressed partner feels genuinely understood, they feel more hopeful and closer to their partner.
4) Instead of…
Jumping to problem-solving mode–
Asking your partner if they want to problem-solve right now or if they just want to be heard.
Problems are going to be present in every relationship and that’s okay. The issues come from how problems are handled in the relationship. If you’re on the same page with your partner, problems lose their power to tear your relationship apart. There is a time and a place for problem-solving in a relationship, but it’s crucial that you both be ready and willing. If you come home and your partner just needs to talk about feeling depressed without feeling like you want to fix it, just listen and empathize. You can problem-solve later when you’re both prepared for it, but right now, they just need to feel validated.
5) Instead of…
Telling your partner they need to take a break for a little while–
Facilitating that break for them so they don’t feel so guilty.
Self-care is crucial in maintaining emotional health and, as a culture, we don’t do enough of it. Unfortunately, just telling your partner that they deserve a break doesn’t mean they’ll feel like they’re allowed to ask you to help them with that. They’ll probably feel guilty for making you work harder while they’re off playing. If you facilitate a time for them to relax and recuperate, though, they have no choice but to accept it and enjoy it. By doing more than just telling them they deserve a break, you show them that you really believe they are doing enough in their life to take some time for themselves.
For more info on how to support your depressed partner in a marriage, the following are some great self-help resources:
Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David Burns
Depression in Marriage by Steven R. H. Beach, Evelyn E. Sandeen, and K. Daniel O’Leary
And remember, taking the RELATE assessment can give you a look at the current state and health of your own relationship including measures of depression for both you and your partner.
Photo Credit: Crooze Photography
"What counts in making a happy marriage is not so much how compatible you are, but how you deal with incompatibility."
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