If you struggle with depression or anxiety, you already know that it can make everything in your life more difficult, especially when it comes to dating. But it’s not just hard for the person with the mental illness in the relationship — it can be really hard to be the one dating someone with a mental illness, too. After all, when you’re dating someone, you want to make them as happy as they make you, but when depression comes into play, sometimes that’s simply not possible, which can be a tough pill to swallow. It’s easy to feel like you should “fix” their mental illness, or that you’re responsible for bringing your partner out of their depressive episodes… but unfortunately, that kind of attitude can sometimes make the situation worse.
But dating someone with depression doesn’t mean you can’t have an awesome, fulfilling relationship or that the person won’t make a good partner. After all, according to the World Health Organization, more than 350 million people worldwide suffer from it, so it’s obviously a very common issue, and the good news is that if someone you love has depression, you’re definitely not alone.
Dating someone with depression isn’t easy, but these tips should make it easier for you and your partner to cope, and hopefully be able to share a healthy relationship that you both benefit from.
Remember That Depression Is An Actual Illness
It’s important to remember that your partner didn’t choose to have depression, and it’s not just a behavior that he or she can snap out of — it’s an actual illness that usually requires treatment of some kind, just like if you had a chronic illness and needed tons of rest and maybe some sort of daily medication. As the National Institute of Mental Health points out, it’s not just about feeling down — symptoms can cross over into the physical, too, and your partner may feel fatigue, have difficulty sleeping and lose interest in the things you once loved doing together.
This is just the way depression manifests itself (and it’s different for everyone), so if your partner doesn’t feel like going to the movies with you, it’s probably not because he or she doesn’t want to; it’s more likely that they feel that they can’t. And that’s a really crappy feeling, so try not to lay on the guilt.
The best way to prepare yourself when you’re in a relationship with someone with depression is by learning about the illness yourself. Psychologist Dr. Seth Myers told eHarmony that even if you just suspect your partner might have depression, it can’t hurt to learn more about it so you know the signs and you know what to expect (and if it’s something you can handle in your relationship or not — and BTW, it’s totally okay if you feel like you can’t). Even if you do want to help your partner through their bad days, the more you know about depression, the better.
Don’t Blame Yourself Or Your Partner
It’s not your partner’s fault that he or she is depressed, and it’s not your fault, either. You have no control over how they act or respond to things that happen in their life, and they can’t simply stop feeling depressed because they want to. Of course, they should definitely be seeking out treatment (not just for the sake of your relationship, but for themselves, too, because depression sucks), but it’s their job to do that. If you blame them or yourself, you’re just asking to eventually end up resenting them, and that alone could end up killing your relationship.
It’s Not Your Responsibility To “Cure” Them
Just like you shouldn’t blame yourself, you also shouldn’t task yourself with the job of making them better. It’s so hard to see someone you love struggling, especially when you feel powerless, but in this situation, you have to understand that you’re just not capable of “fixing” this for them. The only person qualified to do that is a mental health professional, and that is not you. Don’t let yourself feel like it’s your job to save them from their sadness. It’s their job to take the steps they need to keep their depression managed, and you can’t do that for them.
Take Care Of Yourself Too
You know how the flight attendant tells you on a plane that you have to put your oxygen mask first before you can help someone else? Even though you’re not the one suffering from depression, it’s likely that your partner’s illness is going to take a toll on you, and if you’re going to support them, you need to make yourself a priority, too. You might find it’s helpful to see a therapist on your own or to make time for you to do your own thing without your partner. Make sure they know that you’re not trying to get away from them, but that both of you having freedom and independence will add to the longevity of what you two have. If you need to step back for a minute to get some space for yourself, that’s totally okay. They might take it a bit personally, so just reassure your partner that the feelings are all still there – but that you need some “you time.”
As with any relationship, communication and mutual support are key. If you decide to be a support system for someone you love who deals with depression, know that some days are going to be better than others, some weeks are better than others – and months, and years. Know that some days you’re going to just need to sit and listen to what that person is dealing with, but some days they’re not going to want to talk at all. Remember it’s not your fault and it’s not theirs, but know that it’s okay for you to prioritize yourself and your mental health when you need to.