Depression significantly affects the sufferer as well as, everyone around them. This is particularly true for partners in an intimate relationship. Depression is one of the most common mental health conditions worldwide. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, there was a substantial increase in depression cases in 2020. Studies indicate a 26-28% increase in depressive disorders in just one year. Depression can result from a variety of factors. Genetic vulnerability, trauma, a dysregulated nervous system, biological mood regulation, life events, poor diet, and health conditions, are possible causes of depression. Considering the pandemic has been ongoing for three years, it has been a significant factor contributing to depression.
Depression is exhausting for both of us
Living with a partner’s depression can be distressing and emotionally exhausting. It feels like you are always walking on eggshells. Constantly monitoring your beloved’s emotional state, dealing with depressive moods and angry outbursts has an impact. Symptoms such as low motivation, sleep problems, lack of libido, loss of energy, and hopelessness, can be excruciating. Eventually, both people in the relationship may become depressed. The brilliance of being human means we are hardwired to experience what other people are feeling as a result of our unconscious connection with others. This is a default survival response, useful in the moment but not helpful for the long-term connection.
We each play a part in the story
It’s painful observing a partner trapped in their depression. With all our love, empathy, and compassion, we try to help ease their pain. However, dealing with their pain takes an emotional toll on us. As a result, we may become hurt, resentful, defeated, and even more disconnected from our partner. Managing our own reactive response is the key to maintaining connection and empathy. Without empathy and compassion we are stuck in the blaming and criticizing survival story. Recognizing our part in this is vital to slowing down and writing a connection story instead.
Depression can be a defensive response
When we feel overwhelmed with our partner’s depression, we see it as a character flaw or weakness. This makes sense: if we know what is the problem we can defend against it. This leads to more blame and shame towards our partner. What if we welcome our partner’s depression as a natural and human way of coping to survive? Can we help our partner to feel safe enough to explore or express their feelings? Inviting yourself to see the suffering in your beloved’s mental, emotional, and physiological state significantly effects your partner’s happiness and stability. You can transform the impact on you and your relationship. Take your partner’s depression seriously and work as a team welcoming and accepting the biological experience. Offer gently kindness and compassion. Sit with it.
Depression is there for a reason
Depression may be a fantastic way to conserve energy. When depressed, a partner may minimize and turning their energy inward. While this is an indication that there is not enough safety in the relationship, it makes sense and is a familiar but ineffective way of getting what is most desired. Minimizing can harm the relationship when it is maladaptive, causing more pain than connection. As young children, most of us learned to self-regulate based on what our parents taught us. Our parents used the resources they learned from their parents.
Unfortunately, life happens to all of us. Traumas, loss of loved ones, separation/divorce, physical and mental illness, poverty, neglect, physical and emotional violence, racism, religious traumas, and actual disasters are part of the menu of things that shape us in childhood. A body and psyche in danger, and parents of a generation who didn’t know how to regulate or learn how to co-regulate equals a failure of regulating resources. When the overwhelming emotions and sensations were too much, we didn’t learn how to regulate ourselves. Now, as adults, when life is chaotic and stressful, our inner child will default to the familiar when in survival.
Self-regulating leads to connection
Knowing how to self-regulate creates safety and slows down the reactivity we have when our beloved partner is experiencing the flood of hormones, sensations, feelings and thoughts that accompany depression. When you add an understanding of the context in which the stories you write emerge to the potential banquet of choices of response and the invitation to turn towards each other in connection, you make co-regulation possible. Learning more about your biological response to stress or distress is critical to welcoming what has been seen as undesirable emotions like depression. There are psychoeducational tools and practices to support co-regulation and safety in all of our relationships.