How To Go About Dating Someone With Depression:
*Disclaimer: this is not meant to be a comprehensive guide on what it’s like to date someone with depression. I am doing my best to honor the complexities of illness and relationships. Everyone has different experiences when dating, being in a relationship, and living with another person who suffers from mental health issues. Please take care of yourselves.
I am so grateful to be in a healthy, happy marriage where my wife and I know how vital it is for us to take care of ourselves. We remind each other regularly that our wedding must always come first before our career, family, friends, or pets. And if the day ever comes when one of us doesn’t feel like taking care of ourselves, we make sure the other is well taken care of.
I’m doing my best to be a good husband and partner, and I need to remember that others don’t know how to be in healthy relationships. I hope this article can be a resource for people who want an idea about what they’re getting themselves into when they date someone with depression.
1) it is not the job of your SO to “fix” their depression.
It’s not a household chore for you both to take care of, like cleaning and cooking and doing laundry. It isn’t something that your partner can turn off or change by sheer will.
Sometimes, being around another person with depression can be highly triggering. And the way your partner treats themselves is going to affect how they treat you. If they’re constantly beating themselves up for feeling negative feelings or behaving negatively, it’s not fair to put that on you. So don’t expect them to change their behavior just because you think it’s “bad” or “wrong”. And if they do change, it’s probably going to be a long process.
The most you can do is listen to them, encourage them, love them unconditionally, bring them healthy snacks at work when they’re not feeling well.
2) the person with depression has way more going on than just depression.
I think it’s easy to forget that the person you’re dating has all these other things going on – family, friends, work, hobbies. Sometimes they really can’t be in a good mood or spend time with you because of other commitments. When I was first diagnosed and started seeing a therapist every week, I couldn’t tell my partner that I had to leave early from our date nights because of therapy. It makes sense – everyone has personal stuff going on, and you can’t always expect a high level of attention or energy from your SO.
3) try not to make comparisons between your two lives.
I’m really fortunate in that I’m not a high-functioning depressed person. I can still get things done and take care of myself. But at the same time, my depression doesn’t really affect my day-to-day life or how other people behave around me – I’m pretty good at hiding it. Plus, when you’re with someone who is suffering from something you can’t understand or can’t relate to, it’s easy to fall into the comparison game.
You’re going to be upset when your partner cancels dates at the last minute because of their depression. You’ll feel frustrated when they don’t do things that make sense to you because of how their brain is working – something as simple as putting the dishes in the dishwasher. You’ll be disappointed when they don’t do things you think would make them feel better – like getting enough sleep or eating healthy meals.
I’m not going to tell you not to compare yourself to your partner because we all do it (including me), but what I will encourage is for you to change your expectations. You’re not going to understand what your partner is feeling or thinking, so there’s no point in making judgments based on your own experiences. Just try to be as supportive of them as possible and let the rest fall away.
4) people with depression usually have a lot of fears and expectations that aren’t reasonable.
We spend a lot of time worrying about things that aren’t reasonable. We might get jealous or scared when our partners are out with their friends because we’re afraid they’ll meet someone else and be angry at them for not spending time with us even though it’s entirely unreasonable to feel upset about that (see #2). the best thing you can do for your partner is to accept that this is a part of their condition – like how we get headaches when we have migraines. It’s there, and we don’t choose to have it.
One thing I learned from my therapist years ago (and practically screamed at her) was, “I’m not in control of my thoughts and feelings.” I’m not – no matter how much I might want to be. The same goes for your partner – they can’t choose how they feel or what their brain will go off about, so it’s unfair to expect them to control that behavior.
5) don’t take what they say personally.
The words that come out of our mouths are often a reflection of how we’re feeling inside. When you’re in a relationship with someone suffering from depression, you’ll want to take care not to turn everything they say into a personal attack. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had arguments where my partner and I were both yellings because we thought the other person was mad at us for something they said. It feels awful, right?
I’ve learned that when you can separate what someone says from how they’re feeling, things are way easier to deal with. If your partner has a crappy day at work and comes home in a funk, then gets angry at you for leaving their socks on the floor, what that means is that they’re having a bad day and using you as an outlet to take out those frustrations.
So say something like, “I know you had a hard day at work – I’m just going to do the dishes so we can watch tv together.” or if your SO says something like, “you did this on purpose because you don’t want people to think we’re good together,” then say, “I completely understand why you would think that. I know you feel bad right now and are looking for someone to blame.”
Focus on what they’re feeling. If they say something like, “you never come to bed at the same time as I do,” then what that means is that they’re feeling alone and unloved. try saying something like, “I know you feel lonely right now – let’s cuddle on the couch until we both fall asleep.”
Compassionately understanding your partner’s feelings will keep things calmer in general and help them feel understood. And that’s the best you can do for them – making them feel supported and loved.
6) know when your partner has a bad day, they may not be able to have sex with you.