DON’T COLLUDE WITH THEM.
You want to be sympathetic but that doesn’t mean accepting their depressed world view. For instance if they just can’t face getting up in the morning, don’t accept that, insist that they do. Be sympathetic, make them a nice cup of tea, make them breakfast but insist that they do in fact get up. You don’t actually help them by validating their own depressed view of things.
DON’T LET THEM CONTROL YOU.
If your partner is depressed it’s going to have quite an impact on your own life as well. There will be things that you might want to do with them that they don’t want to do, there will be things that you would normally expect them to do which you have to do yourself. Try as far as possible not to let them control you. If they really really don’t want to go out in the evening and that’s important to you, then go out with friends. Don’t necessarily make a huge thing of it but make sure that their problem doesn’t limit your own life more than it has to.
ENCOURAGE THEM TO DO WHAT THEY CAN.
Recognise that however depressed they are they are not completely disabled. There must be something that they are still able to do, maybe even something that they still enjoy doing. Make sure you recognise that, make them see that you appreciate it. Remember that they have a depressed part and they have a healthy part. Your natural tendency is to pay attention to the depressed part, so make a real effort to recognise the healthy part. Are they still managing to go into work? Are they still managing to help you with the children? Are they still managing to cook a meal for you both on occasions? There is something there which is still working, make sure that you recognise it and make sure they know that you appreciate it.
DON’T TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR THEIR PROBLEMS.
They may on occasions blame you for their problems. ‘I am depressed because you….If it hadn’t been for what you did then things would be different’. They may not say it, but may sulk in ways designed to make you feel guilty. You may simply feel guilty in the way that many people are programmed to feel guilty about anything bad that’s going on around them, regardless of whether it is their fault. Remind yourself that it is a problem for you in that this is your partner who is suffering but it’s not your fault. The causes of this problem are elsewhere, you are doing what you can to help.
AVOID FEELING OMNIPOTENT.
There is a terrible terrible temptation to feel that you can save them, that you on your own can solve this depression and get things back to where they were before. It is not possible. Of course there are things that you can do to help but the roots of this depression probably lie long long ago in childhood or in other factors which are completely outside of your control. There is a limit to what you can do. It’s very easy to start feeling stressed and guilty when you feel ‘I should be doing more….I should be able to help this person….Surely there is something more that I could do…’ Accept that you are doing everything you can. Recognise that solving the problem will take professional help. It may be psychotherapy or counselling, it may be pharmaceutical treatments or it may simply be the passage of time. It’s not within your power to solve this other person’s problem however much you may want to or feel that you should.
BE AWARE OF HOW YOUR PARTNER’S PROBLEMS COULD PROVOKE PROBLEMS IN YOURSELF.
We all have areas within us of weakness, low self esteem, feelings of helplessness, or feelings of repressed anger. It often happens that we are drawn towards partners who have similar characteristics tous. This maybe positive but it can also be negative. Having a partner who is depressed and is showing those sort of feelings very clearly can also provoke the corresponding feelings in ourselves. This makes things very difficult for us. You need to recognise that this can be happening and if necessary look for appropriate help yourself.
TRY TO SHOW COMPASSION AND DEAL WITH YOUR OWN FEELINGS.
Having a partner who is depressed could provoke a whole range of unhelpful feelings in yourself. It could be anxiety; you don’t know what is going to happen, are they going to become completely disabled? Will they still be able to work? Will you end up with financial problems? It could be anger, if they are making things difficult for you, if you are having to do more and more of the things which they used to do. It could be depression in yourself. Be aware of these feelings, be prepared for them. Try to be as compassionate as possible towards your partner but recognise that you will have other less helpful feelings towards them.
BELIEVE THAT THERE IS A SOLUTION.
Depression is not a fatal condition. It can be treated, by means of psychotherapy, by counselling, by pharmacological treatments or a combination of those, or it may simply resolve itself with the passage of time. Recognise that there is hope, that there is light at the end of the tunnel and be prepared to do what you can to help your partner move towards it.
Sara Dryburgh is a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist. She offers a free online introduction to those considering psychotherapy to help them understand if it is right for them, how it works and how to get the best from it. http://www.saradryburgh.co.uk/course.htm
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