Depression and romantic relationships — how to support someone you love

Living with depression isn’t easy, and if you’re with someone who doesn’t have it, it can be hard to stay on the same page.

Psychologist Dr. Donna Ferguson of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, tells Global News for some people, it can be a “balancing act.”

“You want to be able to support your partner, but not be too intrusive at the same time,” she says. “It’s really important to identify symptoms of depression… there’s a difference between being down and clinically depressed.”

She adds if your partner has a sudden pattern of not being able to routinely sleep, eat, or get out of bed, don’t be shy to check in.

“But don’t be pushing, ‘Well, you need to get help,’ ‘You need to go to the doctor.'”

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Claire AH, a matchmaker with Friend of a Friend Matchmaking, says once a person has a better grip of what they’re feeling, be direct and avoid making your partner feel guilty.

“Offer support, space and perhaps a few small actionable things like grabbing groceries, staying in together and doing something enjoyable but low pressure,” she says. “The first conversation doesn’t have to be huge or dramatic. It’s just opening the door to future conversations.”

Both experts say communication is key, and if you are having trouble having those sometimes-difficult conversations, reach out for help.

“You can’t force someone into therapy, you can’t fix somebody, and you can’t make someone address something that they haven’t accepted or integrated into their life,” the matchmaker says. “All you can really do is let them know that you’re there for them.”

When feeling guilty

Guilt is a two-way street in this scenario, Ferguson says. The person who has depression may feel guilty getting their partner involved, while the other person may feel guilty not being able to help. Sometimes, she adds, people may feel so guilty that they won’t leave the relationship, even if it’s not working out.

Ferguson says for the other partner, it’s important to be transparent and communicate, and let the person with depression know you are going to be there for them. You can also remind them not to feel guilty.

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“Their thoughts are distorted,” she continues, adding it can be difficult for someone with depression to be open at first. They may even feel like they are “dragging” their partner down with them.

Educate yourself

Ferguson says this is also a good time for the other partner to understand what depression looks like and how their loved one may react to certain things.

“Allow the person to have bad days,” she says, adding to also let them have space.

Educating yourself could mean attending therapy sessions with your partner or doing your own research. This way, Ferguson adds if your partner is closed off, you can also learn through different techniques how to communicate with them.

Take time for yourself

As much as relationships are about the other person, they are also about taking care of yourself. Matchmaker Claire says, consider therapy or a support group where you can discuss the experiences of supporting a partner with depression or other mental health conditions.

“You can also speak to family or friends, but there is something to be said for talking to people who understand. There are even lots of groups online where you can find people with common experiences if there aren’t any support groups in your area,” she says.

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Ultimately, therapy or some sort of supportive group dynamic will hopefully help you contend with the fact that, although you can be supportive and loving, you are not solely responsible for your partner, she says.

Learning how to compromise

Ferguson continues, like any relationship, couples in this situation must learn how to compromise.

“Big occasions come with anxiety and depression,” she says, adding sometimes, your partner may not want to be social or go out.

Part of compromising means being OK with this, and not getting into arguments over social gatherings.

“Meet them halfway,” she says. “Go to the wedding and not the reception. They won’t be able to do all these social things, and both partners need to communicate this.”

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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