By: Cristian Renzi
Relationships are a huge part of anyone’s life. When we begin a relationship with someone, not only are we letting them into our life, into our personal bubble, but they are also letting us into theirs. This is a beautiful thing. Being able to understand and love another person and having them return the same thing to you. Another reason that is very important is companionship. The companionship of saying “now WE can go try out that new restaurant that opened up” instead of “who can I go to that restaurant with?”. However, when we are in a relationship, not only do you share the fun, beautiful, amazing times; you also share the dark and ugly times. In the dark and ugly times, partners lean on each other for help, compassion, and sometimes just a laugh to help them through. So, what exactly can we do for our partners when they are going through something that we can sometimes not help them through on our own. Something that sometimes we might not even understand or have ever dealt with. What if our partner is dealing with a mental health issue like depression?
Before we even get into helping our partner, it is certainly helpful to take a second and take our own feelings into consideration. When you are on an airplane, the flight attendants and instructional videos always say that should the oxygen masks drop, always fasten your own before helping someone else with theirs. This may sound selfish, but if we are not keeping ourselves healthy, eating properly, meditating, and doing what we need to be doing (securing our own oxygen mask) how can we assist someone else in doing the same? It would almost be hypocritical. Thomeer, Umberson & Pudrovska (2013) state that depression is not experienced alone. Instead depressed individuals affect the people they are around, and are also affected by the people they are around. Benazon & Coyne (2000) further state that spouses of individuals suffering from depression show higher levels of depression than controls. In short, this means that your partners’ depression will likely have an effect on you, and it is critical to keep your own mental health in check. On the positive end of this, you can also have an effect on your partner’s depression. So what exactly can we do?
A very important thing that we can do for our partner who is going through depression, is to help them get the help they may need. Helping them find a counsellor or therapist that they can trust is extremely important. Sometimes people are embarrassed to say they suffer from something like depression or anxiety due to a number of social stigmas. Something you can do is give your partner a gentle nudge or suggestion that perhaps they may need some help. Forcing your partner to attend therapy, or springing it on them “intervention style” is not the best method, and is often startling, surprising and rather embarrassing. Another thing you can do is let your partner know that they have your support. Helping your partner understand that mental health issues like depression or anxiety are normal and happen to a large percentage of the population can help lessen the stigma. Letting your partner know that they have your support through attending therapy is a massive help all on its own. Of course, if things are more serious, if your partner is threatening suicide, if your partner is threatening to hurt themselves or others, it is best not to wait, and call 911 immediately.
Sigmund Freud was once quoted saying that “psychotherapy is a cure through love” and in my opinion, this does not stop when the individual leaves their therapist’s office. Another very important thing you can do for your partner is simply love them. This may sound redundant, but oftentimes, it can be the most helpful. Thoits (2011) posits that emotional support from a partner is helpful. Thoits (2011) also suggests that a partner should aim to be loving, caring, empathetic, compassionate, and most of all present. Here are some examples of what these things could look like:
- Telling your partner how much they mean to you.
- Telling your partner you love them.
- Physical love/support (hugs, kisses, holding your partner’s hand).
- Cooking your partner their favourite meal.
- Giving your partner a massage.
- Asking your partner how their day was.
- Making a gift for your partner/surprising your partner with something.
Offering Emotional Support/ Being Compassionate
- Trying to understand where your partner is coming from when they are speaking to you.
- Tell your partner you’re there to listen if needed.
- Empathize. Validate. Repeat.
- NOT diminishing your partner.
- NOT saying things like:
o Why can’t you just be happy? OR What’s wrong with you?
o People out there have it so much worse than you. OR Don’t you realize how lucky you are?
o When are you going to feel better?
- When your partner wants to talk, do your best to be there for them.
- Actively listening. This means actually listening to what your partner is saying, making eye contact (not going on your phone), offering reasonable, helpful responses.
- When you promise to be there at a certain time for your partner, do your absolute best to actually be there.
- Help your partner with tasks.
- Do things with your partner.
- Respect your partner’s privacy. Sometimes, your partner might only want to talk about certain things with their therapist. It is important to respect this, as sometimes these things might be embarrassing for them, or in that moment, they do not feel like sharing or talking about it.
When helping your partner through depression, there are certainly a lot of things to think about. First and foremost, your own health and mental health needs to be taken into consideration and you need to stay healthy. Remember the oxygen mask: if you don’t put your own oxygen mask on first, how can you help someone else put theirs on? The most important thing you can do for your partner is love, support and cherish them.
Benazon NR, Coyne JC. Living with a depressed spouse. Journal of Family Psychology. 2000;14:71–79.
Thoits, P.A. (2011). Mechanisms linking social ties and support to physical and mental health. Journal of health and social behavior, 52 2, 145-6.
Zaider, T. I., Heimberg, R. G., & Iida, M. (2010). Anxiety disorders and intimate relationships: A study of daily processes in couples. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 119(1), 163.