I’ve been with my partner for almost ten years now, and by far, the hardest challenge we’ve ever faced was his struggle with depression.
About a year ago, my partner experienced a significant loss in his life, which he didn’t handle well.
But I didn’t handle his intense sadness well either. In fact, it had a detrimental effect on me and our relationship.
When our loved one struggles emotionally, it often seems inevitable that we will struggle too.
But how do we stop ourselves from falling into a spiral of despair and prevent our relationship from breaking down?
Well, here’s how I turned my partner’s depression into our anchor of growth.
When your partner becomes depressed
When your partner is depressed for an extended time, most people tend to react in one of the following ways:
- Creating emotional (& physical) distance to protect yourself from absorbing their negativity
- Giving yourself the role of ‘therapist’ and trying to solve their problems
For me, it was the first one.
I noticed his mood slowly change and felt his energy gradually become heavier.
Knowing my sensitivity to energy, I began distancing myself from him as a protective instinct.
I threw myself into work to keep myself busy. I started working outside the house much more as the energy in our home was becoming too dark.
I spent more time with friends as a way to raise my vibration whenever I started to feel myself “catching” his depression.
This is not to say that I didn’t try to talk to him about what he was going through.
I brought it up on several occasions, but like many people going through depression, he didn’t want to talk about it.
I should have reassured him I was there for him whenever he was ready to talk and reminded him that I loved and cared for him.
But instead, I took his rejection to open up with a sigh of relief. I saw it as permission to distance myself from him further.
I told myself that it was just a phase.
Soon enough, he would surely feel better, the energy would not be so heavy, and we could then talk things through and get the relationship back on track.
But until then, I had to protect myself from falling into the darkness.
The problem with this is depression is not just a fleeting emotion.
There is a massive difference between temporary sadness and full-blown depression.
At the time, I didn’t realize (or didn’t want to admit) that my partner was going through the latter.
But, like with all things in life, there was only so long I could avoid it.
Despite trying to emotionally and physically distance myself from him, his depression started seeping into every aspect of our relationship and lives.
The deterioration of our relationship was gradual. But I didn’t see it happening until the damage had already been done.
Every conversation turned into an argument. Frustration seeped through every word and action.
We stopped doing things together and began leading separate, miserable lives.
Eventually, I realized…
By trying to distance myself from my partner’s sadness, I had created my own state of misery.
I had isolated myself in the name of protection, driving me and my partner further apart in the process.
Not only was he depressed, we were both now depressed, and our relationship was hanging by a thread.
The turning point
One evening, it all came to a head when we decided to go out for a meal – something we hadn’t done in months.
I guess we both felt the weight of the relationship and knew we couldn’t ignore it anymore.
At this point, my partner was ready to open up about his emotions.
As he told me about what he had been going through, and in particular, the suicidal thoughts he had been having, I realized how much of a terrible partner I had been.
For months, I had resented my partner for bringing this weight and negativity into our relationship.
My toxic ‘positive vibes only’ mentality had meant I pushed him away when he needed me the most – all because I didn’t want to absorb his low vibration.
This is the biggest relationship lesson I’ve ever learned – that a partnership means you SHARE each other’s emotions, the good and the bad.
That night, we sat and talked for hours.
As I finally allowed my partner to unload his burdens onto me and I opened up about my feelings, that weight hovering over our relationship became lighter.
Moving on together
Of course, that one occasion didn’t magically fix our relationship. But it made us see how much work we had to do, individually and as a couple.
My partner realized he needed to seek support for his mental health, and I realized I needed to work on how I show up in a relationship.
We also recognized that we needed to build a partnership that encouraged honesty, openness, and support.
Instead of seeing each other as individual entities with separate emotions and experiences, we started experiencing things together. We even started a weekly ritual where we would sit down and share our feelings.
Choosing a better response to our partner’s sadness
As I learned, avoiding your partner’s sadness is an unhealthy response. But so is over-involving yourself in their struggles.
Some people go to the opposite extreme as I did, taking on the role of ‘therapist’ and trying to solve their partner’s problems.
However, like creating emotional distance, trying to ‘fix’ your partner will only cause feelings of frustration and resentment, bringing you further apart rather than closer together.
The key is to find a midway point.
Support your partner in their time of need, but don’t try to cure their sadness.
Our role as a partner is to be there and offer support, not treat their depression. Just like we wouldn’t be skilled enough to mend their broken leg, we’re not qualified to treat their mental illness.
I also want to note that you cannot force someone to see a professional such as a therapist. But you can encourage them, and you are entitled to share why you think it could help.
Taking care of your mental health
Empath or not, no one can live with a depressed person and not feel it affecting them on some level.
So, if your partner is going through difficulties, it’s essential to take care of yourself.
I took this to the extreme, which only made things worse and almost broke the relationship.
So again, it is about finding the balance between supporting your partner and managing your self-care.
If you struggle to put yourself first, you might find the analogy of ‘filling your own cup first’ helpful.
When we fill our cup first, we are well-rested and in a good mental space, and thus are better able to support others.
But if we try to help others without filling our cups first, we’re exhausted, drained, and no good to anyone.
While it’s horrible to see a loved one suffering, remember you’re NOT responsible for their depression, So don’t burn yourself out trying to ‘fix’ them.
Likewise, don’t see this challenge as a way to ‘check out’ like I did – it may cost your relationship!
Sure, it’s not your fault your partner is struggling, but it is your role to offer support and an open heart.
So, take time for yourself and protect your mental health, but let your partner know you’re there for them whenever they want to talk.
Approaching your partner’s sadness in this way will strengthen your bond and create an opportunity for you both to grow.