When your partner has depression, their symptoms can become key factors in the equation of your relationship.
Perhaps you recognize depression as simply one piece of their complex identity and focus on other traits: their artistic talent, sense of humor, intelligence, or integrity.
That’s great since it means you’re capable of seeing them as a whole person instead of defining them by their mental health.
Yet your relationship can still involve unique challenges you might not face in other relationships. Watching your partner struggle with the weight of their distress isn’t easy, and it’s normal to want to help them find relief.
Before you can offer support, you have to accept one key fact: It’s not possible to completely eradicate their depression or “make them better,” and trying can leave you both drained and miserable.
You can still extend compassion and healthy support in any number of ways. You’ll find seven to start you off below.
You’ve probably encountered quite a few myths about depression. Learning to distinguish myth from reality can make a big difference in how you show up for your partner.
Some people describe depression as heavy fog or a blanket of nothingness. Others say it feels like drowning. Many people feel so overtaken by dullness, apathy, and hopelessness that they struggle to recall more positive states.
Good vibes and happy thoughts won’t chase these feelings away, just like imagining yourself free of congestion won’t get rid of a cold.
You can offer better support when you have a more accurate understanding of how depression affects your partner. Doing some research is a great way to expand your knowledge without putting the burden of education on your partner. (Get started with this guide.)
Since depression affects people in different ways, ask about their experience once you have a handle on the basic facts.
Try, “Could you tell me more about how you’re feeling today?” Listen actively to what they have to say, offering empathy and validation instead of advice.
Don’t be afraid to ask if they think about suicide. Some people feel afraid to share suicidal thoughts with loved ones. By asking, you’re letting them know they can be honest. If they don’t think about suicide, they won’t suddenly start just because you mentioned the topic.
Treatment helps improve depression symptoms for many people, so you might think it’s best to urge them to see a therapist. But saying things like, “You should go to therapy” or “You need help” may only make them feel worse.
Here’s the thing about depression: It can make even simple tasks seem insurmountable. A quick internet search might seem easy to you, but someone in a depression fog might feel overwhelmed by just the thought.
Instead, try, “Have you thought about talking to someone?” If they seem open to the idea, make the process less daunting by offering to help them find a therapist, schedule an appointment, and go with them to their first (or first few) sessions.
If they’re already in therapy, remember treatment can take time, and not all approaches work for everyone. It’s always fine to ask how things are going, but avoid pressuring them to try other approaches.
Pushing lifestyle changes generally doesn’t help, either. Avoid saying:
- “You should exercise more.”
- “Going outside to get some sun will make you feel better.”
- “If you ate healthier foods, your mood would improve.”
Sunlight and physical activity can help, but they aren’t magical cures. Your advice, however well intentioned, can give your partner the impression you really don’t get what they’re going through.
Instead, encourage them to do something with you:
- “I’m feeling a little restless. Let’s go for a walk together.”
- “The weather is great today! Why don’t we eat lunch outside?”
Depression can make it tough to do even the things you really want to do, and your partner may not always feel up to following through with plans.
It’s understandable to feel disappointed when they spend your long-awaited vacation scrolling through their phone while you see the sights. You might feel hurt when they spend your birthday asleep or can’t make it to dinner with your parents, again.
Perhaps you’ve even noticed they’ve lost interest in things you usually do together—discussing your day, preparing meals, or having sex. You might feel rejected and begin to believe they don’t care about you.
This disinterest, known as anhedonia, happens commonly with depression. Treatment can help renew their interest and energy, but in the meantime, offer compassion instead of criticism by validating their feelings.
- Instead of: “You never want to spend time with me anymore.”
- Try: “I’m sorry you can’t make it to the movies tonight. I understand you don’t have the energy when you feel so low. How would you feel about ordering some takeout and watching a movie at home?”
Even if you wonder what your friends think when you regularly show up to hangouts alone, avoid saying anything your partner hasn’t given you permission to share. A simple, “They couldn’t make it” may not satisfy anyone’s curiosity — but that doesn’t matter. What does matter is honoring the trust they’ve placed in you.
It’s also worth remembering you don’t have to stay home yourself unless you want to keep them company when they need support. Otherwise, sticking with your original plans can help you avoid frustration and resentment, so it’s often a better choice for your own mental health.
Depression is often fueled by
Your partner might say things like:
- “I can’t do anything right.”
- “I could disappear right now and no one would care.”
- “I must be so boring. I can’t imagine why you want to spend time with me.”
- “I’ll never get better.”
It’s pretty understandable you’d want to immediately reassure them these beliefs are completely false. But you can’t talk someone out of depression, so this can sometimes backfire pretty explosively. Maybe they insist you’re just trying to make them feel better or shut down and stop telling you how they feel.
Instead of trying to refute their negative thoughts, try validating their feelings without agreeing. Then gently draw their attention to their strengths and positive traits.
- “I know you feel discouraged because therapy hasn’t helped immediately. You’re putting in a lot of effort toward feeling better, though, and I really admire your determination.”
- “I get that depression makes you feel pretty alone, but I’m here to keep you company.”
- “I understand you haven’t felt like yourself lately, but you’re still you, and I’m here to support you through this.”
It’s only natural to want to help and do whatever you can to make things a little easier for them. You won’t have much to offer if you neglect your own basic needs, though.
Everyone needs time for self-care, but looking after your well-being becomes even more essential when supporting a loved one. If you prioritize their needs at the expense of your own, you’ll end up overwhelmed and resentful.
Exhaustion and stress can eventually lead to burnout. You might even begin to experience depression symptoms yourself.
To maintain emotional health, good self-care practices are key.
Find more tips on creating a personalized self-care plan here.
An added benefit of taking care of your physical and mental health? It can encourage your partner to do the same.
Healthy boundaries make healthier relationships.
Establishing boundaries means setting limits around specific behaviors that don’t work for you. Boundaries help safeguard physical and emotional needs, so honoring them is healthy. It doesn’t make you selfish or uncaring.
Maybe your partner regularly cancels plans when they feel low, which you completely understand. The challenge lies in the fact that they want you to skip out, too. You set a boundary by telling them that unless it’s an emergency, you’ll go ahead with the plans you made.
As you’re heading out to meet for a hike with friends, they text to say, “Sorry, I can’t make it. Can you come over instead?” You stick to your boundary by replying, “I need to get moving for a while! Maybe tomorrow?”
People with depression sometimes lash out and say hurtful things. You know they don’t mean them, but you can still choose to protect yourself by setting a boundary around unkind or derogatory language.
Next time they have an outburst, you say: “It seems like you’re pretty angry right now. I’ve asked you not to shout at me, so I’m going to leave. We can talk when you feel calmer.”
A partner trying to manage depression may not have the emotional capacity to support you as they usually would.
Everyone needs social support, but friendships outside of your romantic relationship become even more valuable when your partner has depression.
Suppressing emotions can isolate you and leave you struggling to manage emotional turmoil, but trusted friends and family can listen and offer support. Their compassion and validation can meet some of your needs and have a positive impact on your well-being.
Support groups can also be a good option if you don’t feel comfortable sharing your partner’s mental health details with anyone you know.
It’s also worth considering talking to a therapist on your own. Dating someone with depression isn’t always easy, and it never hurts to strengthen your coping skills and practice new ways to communicate.
Most people would agree loving someone means accepting them as they are. This acceptance becomes even more important when your partner lives with depression.
Showing your acceptance is sometimes as simple as listening and validating their distress, but it’s normal to need a little extra support when it comes to nurturing your relationship. A couples counselor can help you shore up your partnership so you can stand stronger together.
Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.