Depression happens. And while it hurts to be depressed, it also hurts a lot to love someone who is depressed. If you’re in a relationship with someone who is depressed or on the verge of getting into one, here are 9 things to know to keep you sane.
1. It’s not your fault.
When someone is having a down day (or week, or month, or year) it’s not your fault. It can feel that way when that person is your significant other, though, so it’s important to remind yourself that the depression isn’t necessarily a reflection of you or the relationship — it’s just depression.
2. “You should” statements are dangerous.
Sometimes it’s tempting to give advice like, You should work out more! You should get some sun! You should try changing your diet! Or, even, You should see a therapist! But none of this advice-giving is actually going to help someone with depression. Because…
3. Your answer isn’t necessarily their answer.
One of the hardest things about dating someone with depression is the desire to find the answer to what’s causing their depression. The problem is, the answer could be all sorts of things. It might be that working out more often or making a tweak in your diet helped you start feeling better. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be the case for someone else. And, anyway…
4. You can’t solve someone else’s problems — they have to do that themselves.
This is true of any relationship, but it’s especially true of a relationship with a depressive. Depressed people are often dealing with a psychospiritual crisis. Which is to say, their depression is reflective of some larger, deeper problem in their lives. Until they work through that problem — on their own, or with a therapist, or with a psychiatrist and psychiatric drugs — no advice you try to give is going to reach or help them.
5. You can’t save them.
One of the most common things that happens in a relationship with a depressive is that you take on a caregiving role. Their well-being becomes your well-being, and if they’re not doing well, you don’t feel well. This makes sense — you’re an empathetic person and the person you love is suffering — but the hardest lesson of all is that you can’t save them. You’re not a doctor or an expert, and you have to understand that saving your partner isn’t your job. You’re just there to love them.
6. You can be supportive, though.
There’s a lot that you can’t do when dating a depressive. You can’t think it’s your fault, or give unwanted advice, or magically rescue them from their mental illness. You can be there for them, though. And simply being there — without judgment or prescriptive advice or pressure for them to get better — is one of the best things you can do.
7. You can listen.
Simply listening to someone with depression is one of the most loving things you can do for them. But, at the same time…
8. Stay positive.
It’s easy to date someone who is depressed and to become depressed (or something like it) yourself. One way to avoid this is to realize that depression is contagious, and you have to be careful to not catch it. The way to avoid sinking down into the depths of depression with the person you care about is to stay positive. Focus on the good things in life. Rather than telling your partner to do the same, show by example. When your partner sees storm clouds, see silver linings.
9. You come first.
You know what they say: You can’t take care of someone else if you can’t take care of yourself. If your relationship with a depressive is causing you more pain than pleasure and there’s no light at the end of the tunnel in sight, remember that your well-being is ultimately what comes first. If that means a break-up, don’t feel guilty. Your health shouldn’t suffer because someone else’s health is suffering, and that person may need to take a journey by themselves for a while.
Depression doesn’t have to last forever, and it doesn’t have to ruin relationships, but it can be difficult to date a depressive. Above all else, remember: Take care of yourself!