If you or your partner suffers from depression, you are likely feeling very distant from one another.
You want to help, but you don't know how to reach your partner.
You've tried different things, but nothing you do seems to help.
You want to know what to do.
What Is Depression?
Depression is a medical condition with well documented effects on individuals. It makes us feel sad and withdrawn.
If we're depressed, we feel like we have limited no energy to engage in activities and our appetite decreases. We can feel like we're worthless, we might have trouble sleeping, or sometimes we can feel very irritable.
How Does Depression Change Relationships?
Depression Changes The Way We Interact With Others
For example, it is harder for a depressed person to respond to positive, or happy, messages from others. It also takes the depressed person longer to respond in conversations.
Even eye contact is impacted: depressed people make less eye contact with others during conversation.
Some people who are depressed display more dominant behaviors, including becoming demanding, domineering, or hostile.
Others become less and less able to maintain positive relationship behaviors like affirmation and affection.
A Partner's Depression Can Also Change The Way We Respond
If depression makes your wife more angry, you may choose to back away and withdraw.
If your husband becomes noticeably sad and starts crying, then you might respond by approaching him and offering touch or compassion.
If your partner is slow to respond and does not maintain eye contact, you might get the impression that they are not paying attention to you, or that they are not interested in what you have to say.
Add in the general withdrawn feeling the person is experiencing, and it may seem like your partner is a million miles away.
When we feel disconnected and distant in our relationships we might respond by demanding more attention or by withdrawing in sadness and disappointment.
So, What Can I Do?
1) Have compassion for your depressed spouse and realize that the behavior changes you are seeing are not about you.
There are biological changes going on in his or her mind that are changing his or her behavior. It can still be difficult to feel close to one another, but most people I work with find there is less sting and more sympathy when they realize it isn't personal.
2) Give your partner some space to be depressed.
Aim for understanding what it's like for them to be depressed instead of trying to fix it.
When we try to fix someone's depression, it sounds to them like we don't understand what it's like to be in their shoes. A depressed partner is hurting, and wants you to understand that pain.
3) Remember that you are responding to your partner's depression with new behaviors of your own.
Relationships are a system. What one person does always affects the other person. Check to see if your actions are supportive to the relationship or if you are unconsciously alienating your spouse even more.
4) Remember, help is available.
Psychologists and Marriage and Family Therapists do a lot of research into depression and relationships.
In the office we can teach you ways to understand each other better and ways to better communicate with one another.
A professional can also help you figure out treatment options for the depression itself.