1. Talk about it
Depression is hard to understand when you have not experienced it, and your partner is likely to be confused and without a clear idea of why you are acting the way you do. Communication is an essential tool when dealing with depression in a relationship. Explain how the depression makes you feel, how it impacts you, why it makes you behave the way you do. For example:
“When I’m feeling down, my limbs feel heavy and I feel so slow. I’m exhausted all the time. That’s why I find it hard to do the laundry on a Saturday; just getting out of my chair takes an enormous effort.”
This can help your partner to understand that you have not changed, but you have an illness that is impacting on your behavior. This can be reassuring. However, be careful not to “overload” your partner with information and details about your depression – give them as much information as they are comfortable with.
2. Don’t blame yourself
Remember that your depression is not your fault, and though you may regret some of your depression-related behaviors, you do not need to apologize for them. Any serious illness will cause your behaviors and abilities to change, and depression is no exception. For the same reason, do not blame yourself for any changes in your relationship. Any diagnosis of a serious medical condition is likely to put strain on a relationship, and depression is a chronic illness that seriously affects a person’s quality of life.
3. Get a good night’s sleep
If you are sleeping much more, much less, or are having more interrupted sleep, consider sleeping in separate beds for a while. This may improve sleep quality for both of you, which can have a positive effect on mood. Don’t forget the importance of intimacy, though – maybe set aside 30 minutes or so before sleep time to sit or lie together and be close.
4. If you both think it’s a problem - it’s a problem
Loss of libido is widely reported as one of the most distressing symptoms of depression, and can be one of the most significant challenges when dealing with depression in a relationship. Remember that low libido affects most people at some point in their lives, for a number of reasons, and many couples have learned to deal with it in their own way. Some couples may find it to be a small annoyance within their relationship; others may find it to be catastrophic. If you would like to raise your libido, intimacy-building exercises like massage or sharing fantasies may help. Pressure to have sex is itself a libido-killer, so gently make it clear to your partner that this approach will not help.
5. Focus on recovery
Remember that there is life after depression. Recovery is possible for everyone who is depressed, given the right treatment. Most people find relief using a combination of therapy and medication. It’s important to consult your doctor before making any treatment changes. Recovering from depression is likely to give your relationship a boost.
6. Consider counselling
If you feel that your depression is having a serious detrimental effect on your relationship and you are finding it difficult to cope, consider going for counseling together. Going to therapy together can be a great help for couples dealing with depression in a relationship. The act of seeing a counselor is not a sign that a relationship is in trouble.
7. Remember that your depression is hurting them too
The most important trait to have in a relationship is empathy. Remember that although you are hurting from your depression, it’s probable that your partner is too. Make sure that your partner has the space to talk about how your depression affects them. Their confidante need not be you, if you’re not comfortable with that – a close friend or a therapist might provide the listening ear that they need. This is an illness that affects you both in different ways, but mutual support, empathy and communication can bring you out the other side.
American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed., text revision). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.
Benazon, N.R., & Coyne, J.C. (2000). Living with a depressed spouse. Journal of Family Psychology, 14(1), 71-79.
Corsini, R. J. (2002). The Dictionary of Psychology. Psychology Press. New York: Brunner-Routledge.
Johnson, S.L., & Jacob, T. (2000). Sequential interactions in the marital communication of depressed men and women. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 68(1), 4-12.