- Know that your partner can’t just snap out of depression. His or her behaviour may be very challenging to deal with, and you may long to say “For goodness sake, get a grip.” Or “There’s lots of people far worse off than you are”, or something to that effect. But this won’t help. How ever your partner is behaving, they probably feel very bad about the effect they’re having on you – even if they are being unkind. They feel as if their life is spiralling out of control, and their behaviour is a reaction to that.
- Encourage your partner to go to the doctor in the first instance, because their symptoms could be due to something else such as another illness or infection, or as the result of some medication. I know that this can be tricky – many people are reluctant to seek medical advice for a range of reasons, but it’s important. If your partner refuses to do so, there are ways that you can encourage them. See my book LIVING WITH DEPRESSION for tips on how to do this. Or, it might be that you are actually not the best person to do so. Your partner may be more likely to ‘hear’ it from someone else. So perhaps you could have a word with another family member, or a mutual friend, because they might be able to tactfully suggest that your partner needs some help.
- Always let your partner know that you are there for them and that you care. They really need to know this and hear this, even though their reaction could make you think otherwise!
If your partner is depressed, focus on their strengths
- When appropriate, let them know what their strengths are. They may not believe that they have any, so they need you to tell them.
- Praise their achievements, no matter how small. If your partner is totally unmotivated and lethargic, it may be that just getting up to open the curtains is an achievement, because it could have taken a huge amount of effort. Gently let them know that you recognise this, but don’t overdo the praise as that will be counter-productive.
- If they are overwhelmed, help your partner to make clear and realistic goals, breaking tasks down into small achievable chunks. This will help to maintain their sense of responsibility.
- Avoid the temptation to ‘fix’ and ‘rescue’ and take over tasks yourself. Your partner will feel disempowered if you do, and they feel helpless enough as it is.
- Always treat your partner with respect. It is so easy to patronise when you feel frustrated and desperate. And if you help your partner to make excuses for their behaviour, they are likely to see themselves as an invalid and a victim. But all of this will just increase their feelings of powerlessness. More than anything else, your partner wants to feel OK
- Encourage your partner to keep doing the things they enjoy, and to get out and about as much as possible. Depression, by its very nature encourages withdrawal. That’s fine for a time, but too much of it isn’t helpful.
- Encourage exercise of any kind, because that will always boost the feel-good factor.
- Keep a clear sense of your own boundaries. Let your partner know when you can give your time to them to talk, or for a phone call. They need a structure, because their own boundaries may be becoming blurred, and they may expect you to be available all the time.
- Keep as upbeat and positive and healthy as you can. You owe this to both of you, and ultimately you will be able to help your partner more if you do so.
Photo credit: Stuart Miles