Often, depression is the result of a thick, murky soup of pain that builds up over time. To heal, a person suffering from depression needs to work through the things that are going on inside of them. This means developing a language for their truth. In the process of healing, and specifically in talking about what's going on, a lot of things may come up. Part of growing out of depression is learning to hold space within for these feelings, no matter what they may be.
When you are in a relationship and your partner is depressed, it can be difficult to separate your feelings from theirs, and to understand how to relate to your loved one in this state. Here are nine practices to cultivate if your partner is suffering from depression ...
1. Create a safe space for healing.
Just as a person suffering from depression needs to find an internal space within for self-expression, a safe space for communication must also exist within the relationship. Create a space where your partner can begin to verbalize anything at all that is going on inside of their head or heart.
It will be a challenge, but try to distance yourself from your need to react by keeping mindful of the greater picture — your partner is trying to express intense and often confusing emotions, and it is not easy. The ideal environment is a supportive one where your partner's emotions and thoughts, no matter how complex, can begin to unfold.
2. Find a soothing language.
Trying to communicate with a person suffering from depression can be really difficult. From their perspective, the world can feel like everything in it is covered in pins — everything and everyone can seem ready to be triggered to shut down or react unfavorably. Realize that this is not necessarily a reaction to you personally, but a natural result of being in a state of pain.
Work to figure out how to communicate your partner in way that it gets through to them with gentleness and compassion. If a certain way that you are communicating isn't working, let it go. Try a different style. Don't try to force them to respond the way you think they should.
3. Remind them of their true self.
Depression can be terrifying. A big part of that sense of terror comes from shame and fear of judgment. Because of the way depression causes us to constrict, it can appear to others, on the surface, that someone who's depressed is simply lazy, scared or pessimistic.
But in fact, the opposite is true. A person that is going through life in a state of depression uses an exponential amount of more energy just to do simple tasks. They have incredible willpower and incredible spirit. Imagine trying to power through life while the entire force of the mind is working against you.
One of the best thing you can do is to continually remind them of all the special and amazing parts of themselves that they may have lost sight of. Be a steady voice in the dark that helps to lead them back home to their Self.
4. Realize how your attitude can help or hinder healing.
If you believe that your partner's depression is permanent, shameful or frightening, it will translate to behaviors and attitudes that speak to these beliefs in subtle ways. Your partner will pick up on this and it will confirm their worst fears — that the depression is a black hole that they cannot escape, and that they ought to feel doomed and ashamed.
What a person suffering from depression needs is to be treated with a sincere attitude of hope. Hope is the first step in overcoming anything, and unfortunately in many ways, hope is often the first thing that is taken from a person who seeks treatment for depression.
5. Don't fall into "the suck."
Be sure to keep your friendships, activities, connections, your life outside the relationship. Keep your identity. You need support, too. The more you can talk and sort out your own feelings regarding what is going on in the relationship, the less likely you are to contribute to patterns that cause damage to it.
Although it may feel cruel to leave the house and go do something for yourself when the person you love is suffering, caring for yourself in this way helps prevent a codependent, unhealthy and stagnant relationship. It also alleviates one component of the guilt/shame cycle of depression, because a person suffering from depression is often very aware of the effect they have on others. If your partner sees you maintaining a healthy life, it takes a lot of pressure off, and it helps you to retain your own energy and center of gravity.
6. Help them to face there may be a message in their pain.
In my experience, depression is largely about the past, not the present. We grow into a depressed state because of the things we believe about ourselves which are a result of the ways we have been shaped by our closest relationships and events that overwhelmed us to where part of us stayed frozen in that suffering.
Things that happen in the present may trigger it, but usually it is because they are hard-lined in to some very sore spots within us. If you look at it that way, depression is a calling to heal old pain and rebuild the emotional structure you live within. It is a calling to grow — to go on an amazing journey of becoming what your soul wants ultimately wants to be, free of all the pain and distortions. Support your partner in finding the courage to explore the messages in their pain.
7. Co-create a healthy lifestyle.
When you are depressed, it must be tackled from every angle. Emotionally and physically, internally and externally. What we put into our bodies directly affects our brain chemistry, our hormone balance, and all of the delicate systems within our body. Depression and healing from depression is a highly sensitive time. Things like avoiding gluten, taking supplements, avoiding processed foods and alcohol, getting out and being less sedentary all has great impact in recovery. Don't be the person bringing home doughnuts, pizza, a case of beer, and wanting to binge watch TV all weekend. Support their recovery by participating in co-creating a healthy lifestyle.
8. Be mindful of the dynamic of the relationship.
It is great to support your partner and take on extra responsibilities while they are feeling low, but be careful not to fall into a caretaker role exclusively. Ask yourself a difficult question: if my partner was not only not depressed, but actually flourishing, how would I feel? On some level, do I feel powerful because I see them as weaker than me? Is the chemistry on my end based on this dynamic?
These are hard things to look at, but if the answer is yes, it might be time to look at yourself. Ask questions to help yourself become aware of what you can work on so that the dynamic of the relationship can grow in healthy ways into one that is more balanced.
9. Don't be afraid to grow.
I was in a long-term relationship when I finally began to work through the debilitating depression that I had suffered with for many years. I began to grow in many ways, very rapidly. I began to see a lot of patterns that existed between us where I could only exist in the relationship, as it stood, if I remained in a depressed state. I needed him to look at all of that, and to grow with me, so that those patterns could change.
I think that one of the biggest reasons relationships fail is that one person grows and the other does not. Don't be afraid to go on the journey of self exploration with your partner.
If your partner or anyone you know is suffering from depression and you feel the case is serious, follow this link to PsychCentral's hotlines for expert assistance.