This week, I’m writing the 3rd blog post in our series about Dealing with Depression in Your Relationship. Two weeks ago, we discussed how to discern if you or your partner is dealing with clinical depression, which often requires medication, or situational depression, which is often treated through psychotherapy and behavioral changes in daily habits. Last week, we reviewed how couples can team up against the depression in their lives for the purpose of pursuing greater connection rather than continued disconnection. This week, I want to discuss how partners can focus on specific strategies to love his/her depressed partner while also being sure to incorporate positive, active self-love.
As a couples therapist in Washington DC and nearby Bethesda, I often work with parents, adults and couples on how they can optimize their self-care strategies within the realities of daily living, working and parenting. This process is not easy—and, it is especially challenging when you are dealing with feeling depressed or loving someone who is depressed.
As humans we are loving, giving beings. We often try to love first, and then seek out what we might need for ourselves later. Yet, most parents have realized that this well often runs dry. Eventually, we are depleted and unable to keep on giving. Anyone familiar with the oxygen mask analogy of parenting knows how true this process is. So I often ask couples to try to move past the cliched advice of “just do self-care,” to deeply considering how they might need to love themselves wholeheartedly and fully within this present experience of disconnection. Here are some tips to consider on Loving Yourself and Loving Your Partner when coping with depression. The great part of about each of these tips is that they can apply to both the person who is depressed and the partner who may be alongside.
Loving Yourself~Loving Your Partner
- Start with the basics-–Evaluate and refine your Daily 5: 1) healthy whole foods, 2) ample water, 3) 10-20 minutes minimum of movement/exercise, 4) enough sleep, and 5) 1-7 minutes of mindful reflection or stillness. We don’t have do these perfectly but we do need to focus on how our own engine runs in order to be more loving in helping our partner jumpstart his/her mood.
- Don’t allow depression to keep you isolated—Depression is disconnecting. It causes the depressed person to cut-off and feel alone, and it creates loneliness and social isolation within couples and families. Seek respectful permission to be able to speak up to close confidantes and family members about how depression is impacting your daily life and shaping your most important relationship.
- Seek acceptance together about the impact of depression–It is not too far off from how recovery groups have trained themselves to think about addiction. We didn’t cause it, we can’t fully control it, and we can’t always cure it. Acceptance isn’t about complacency, but rather about reducing the resistance and discomfort we experience in reaction to a problem, which then allows more energy to be used towards healing.
- Secure your commitment to healing and to each other–One evidence-based treatment for depression, ACT [Acceptance Commitment Therapy], calls for Committed Action, which is a values-based action plan where someone designs and takes responsibility for his/her healthy, recovery behaviors within present-moment living. For example, what is worth living for? What is worth getting better for? Is it your child? Your spouse? And is there a way to insert that into every step you take toward getting and feeling better? I can offer a small example of how I finally added meditation into my daily life. I have been trying to create time and space for stillness and meditation in my life for 20 years. But, I’m not a very still person. In 2018, I found a way to commit to regular mediation with my daughter just before bedtime. Why? Because she loves it, she wants to spend time with me, and I want to spend time nurturing and caring for her.
- Decide when you are relating healthily or unhealthily–If you are angry, bitter, too lonely, or too anxious on a regular basis then you have missed providing yourself with something needed or you have not set clear enough limits with your partner who might be depressed. Have you been clear with him/her about what steps you need him/her to take to get better? Or, have you shared how you might need your spouse to give you loving space with an open invitation to rejoin you when he’s/she’s feeling well enough to engage? Have you sacrificed your time for fun or exercise because your partner isolates or won’t exercise? Have you lowered expectations of what you might want for yourself as a parent, lover, or spouse because of the depression coursing through your body? Don’t give up on yourself–you deserve better, you deserve health, you deserve to love and be loved.
This list isn’t comprehensive but it is a place for couples to start to re-engage with each other in a new way toward healing and becoming more connected. Just remember that “loving through” is rooted in self-compassion in moment-by-moment living, which allows us to expand our capacity for empathy and understanding of our partner–both of those ingredients are the breeding ground for greater connection.