Ever been depressed? Ever been in a relationship with someone who is depressed? If so, did you find yourself at a loss to know what to do? Did your relationship get battered in the process ?
Depression strains relationships. A depressed person is likely to be morose, pessimistic, cynical, hopeless, sad, lonely, tired, fatigued and less fun to be around. Depressed people typically complain a lot. They say negative things about what’s wrong with their life, their work, their families, their partners and with the world. They usually have flat emotions, withdraw from their vital relationships, and then they can say or do things that are remarkably insensitive, hostile, angry or uncaring.
In a phone interview with author and depression expert Michael Yapko, he recounted the devastating impact depression often has on intimate relationships: that intimate partnerships suffer when someone is so heavily focused on themselves and their negative emotions, that it is hard to feel loving to someone who is giving very little back, that it is hard to feel connected to someone who is withdrawn, negative, angry, mistrusting, impatient, uncaring or simply not present with you in heart and spirit.
Yapko says that despite the T.V. commercials, depression isn’t about your biology, because there isn’t a depression gene. Although biology may have something to do with it, depression is primarily about the quality of your relationships, including your social skills, communication skills, ability to solve conflicts and work through disagreements successfully, affection, expressing vulnerability and being willing to honor and value someone else’s wishes or needs.
If your intimate partner is depressed, Yapko advises to not get angry, or to attribute your partner’s depression to a lack of motivation, or for you to withdraw from your partner or from the relationship. If someone is going down in flames, they’re essentially telling you they don’t have the resources to solve the depression or to know what to do in order to help themselves.
What you can do is to use the depression as a series of problems that need to be solved, and as a couple you can then talk about what the two of you can do, separately and together. You can also keep your own life going: your own friendships, family relationships, hobbies, activities and interests. You don’t want your whole life be built around your depressed partner—that can, over time, make you more depressed.
You can also keep your focus on current and future challenges your partner faces, or the two of you face, rather than on what happened in the past. Be future oriented, rather than focused on the past.
If you’re the depressed partner, here’s Yapko’s suggestions about what you can do:
- Build up and maintain good relationships with other people, especially those people close to you.
- Be respectful of boundaries, what is wise to say or do when you’re around other people, and develop good impulse control over your words and behaviors toward others. It will not serve you to push people away.
- Look beyond your mood right now. Tell yourself: “I’m more than this mood, more than these feelings, more than my history, more than this setback or loss. I’m not going to let these things define me.”
- Learn about depression. Two resources are Hand-Me-Down Blues by Yapko (St. Martin’s Press) and What To Do When Someone You Love Is Depressed by Golant and Golant (Villard).
- Get help from a psychotherapist and/or marriage therapist. Depression is highly treatable.
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