When the one you love is dealing with depression, it can be very hard on you. You are suffering from “Depression Fallout,” which is the title of Anne Sheffield’s book and of her website (www.depressionfallout.com). There are toxic side effects, which you may not have signed up for and which can give even the most loving of spouses reason to question the relationship and if it’s the healthiest place to be.
Fortunately, most depressions do end, but some take more time than others, and it takes a lot of grit to get through a year with a partner who is in the grips of this sometimes debilitating disease. For some, it can be just a short-term situational cause or reason (like the remnants of a bad divorce or getting fired), and other times it can be biochemically oriented (an imbalance of brain chemistry) and may take longer to resolve.
In either case, research shows that the combination of medication and talk therapy is the best way for anyone to deal with his or her mood disorder. You may be thinking you could use a little medication of your own, and that may be an option. Unfortunately, depression can be contagious in this way. I have had more than one person on my couch who made it through this difficult situation with the help of the occasional Xanax.
I’m not advocating that you become dependent on medication or start self-medicating. I am asking that you to take a look at your life and make sure that you are taking care of yourself as well as your partner. Depression can make a person selfish, and your needs may not be getting met. If you neglect your own emotional well-being, you won’t be able to enjoy the good parts of your life and love.
On Anne’s website, you can find chat rooms and lots of information from people who are going through exactly what you are dealing with. It can be comforting to know that you aren’t in this all alone, and you can learn some good coping skills through seeing how others have coped.
Depressed people can be sedentary, and they often sleep a lot. If you’re a high-energy person, this can drive you nuts. If you haven’t had a night out in weeks, you may want to make a reservation and ask your other half to take a nap, so he or she will have the pep to make it a nice evening.
Little tricks like this can make the healing process easier for both of you. Remember that depression distorts your thinking, and the one you love may not be able to see the discomfort he or she may be causing you. Talking about it can help, but it’s important to be gentle about it. Getting into an argument will only make things worse. When you let your mate know how you feel, do it with some tenderness (even if you’re filled with rage and don’t think it will work). Just give it a try.
Taking some time off from each other can also be helpful. You need to keep your balance, and your partner needs to find his or hers, and you can’t do that without some alone time. So feel free to steal a Saturday and enjoy a mocha latte with your laptop. This time apart can do you both some good, and it’s not abandonment — it’s survival.
I’m not suggesting separate bedrooms, but having some personal time will allow you each to reflect. When you come together, your interactions will be more intimate and healing.
Dr. Barton Goldsmith, a psychotherapist in Westlake Village, Calif., is the author of “The Happy Couple: How to Make Happiness a Habit One Little Loving Thing at a Time.” Follow his daily insights on Twitter at @BartonGoldsmith, or email him at Barton@bartongoldsmith.com