Watching someone you love struggle with their mental health isn’t easy. You want to support and care for that person but they might be shutting you out or worse, it could be affecting your relationship.
This week’s reader Holly has found herself stuck between a rock and a hard place. “My boyfriend is depressed and it’s affecting our relationship,” Holly says.
“My boyfriend has suffered from depression for the majority of our relationship. I feel bad for saying this but it’s starting to affect me too. We live together and in the last few months the depression has really put a strain on our relationship,” Holly adds.
She continues: “His moods are always up and down, he rarely wants to go out and it’s making me question the relationship. Part of me feels like I want to leave but is that fair? What can I do?”
What should Holly do? Should she fight for her relationship and support her partner?
Co-Founder of So Synced and Relationship Expert Jessica Alderson wants Holly to practice compassion.
“While it’s important for the reader to empathise with her partner’s struggles, she should acknowledge that it isn’t easy for her, either, and she shouldn’t feel guilty about that,” Alderson says.
What would you say to this reader?
“Depression can be an all-consuming mental illness, and it’s understandable that it’s starting to affect the reader as well,” says Alderson.
It can be emotionally taxing to support a loved one with depression so anyone in this position should have someone to talk to.
“In addition, the reader should remember to practice self-care. This might include regular exercise, taking time to pursue hobbies, and spending time with friends and family,” Alderson adds.
She explains that if your partner is suffering from a mental illness, it’s important not to fall into the trap of trying to “fix” them.
“Providing support and understanding is very different from trying to cure someone’s depression. It can be a dangerous road to go down and may cause the “saviour” to end up with serious issues of their own,” Alderson says.
Trying to save someone in a relationship usually doesn’t work as recovery from mental illnesses such as depression or addiction often requires professional help and serious commitment.
Alderson tells Holly that “while supporting a partner is a natural and essential part of any relationship, it’s important that we recognise our own limitations and be aware of our own needs. There’s a fine line between compassion and self-neglect, and staying on the right side of it is key for your overall well-being.”
How can one person having depression affect a relationship?
Alderson explains that “When one person in a relationship is experiencing depression, it can have a significant impact on the dynamics and well-being of both individuals involved. Here are some ways in which depression can affect a relationship:”
Emotional strain: Depression often leads to persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and fatigue. The non-depressed partner may also experience feelings of helplessness, frustration, or guilt for not being able to alleviate their partner’s suffering. If it persists, both people can end up feeling disconnected from each other.
Communication challenges: Depression can impact people’s ability to communicate effectively. The person with depression may withdraw, have difficulty expressing their emotions, or struggle to engage in open and honest conversations. This can hinder effective communication and make it challenging for the couple to understand each other.
Reduced intimacy and sexual desire: Depression often causes a lack of interest in activities that people once enjoyed, including physical intimacy. One side effect of depression is a decreased libido, which can lead to less frequent sexual activity. In turn, this can cause feelings of rejection or inadequacy which can further strain the relationship.
Role imbalance: When one partner is dealing with depression, the other partner may need to take on additional responsibilities and support them, such as cooking, cleaning, or managing finances. This can result in an imbalance within the relationship, and the non-depressed partner might feel overwhelmed or neglected as they focus their energy on supporting their partner.
Social isolation: Depression can lead to social withdrawal and a reduced desire to engage in social activities. As such, the couple may end up going to fewer events together, which can leave both people feeling disconnected from their social network. The non-depressed partner may feel guilty about attending events without their significant other and may become socially isolated.
What practical advice would you give this reader?
This is clearly not an easy situation for Holly. “Deciding whether to stay with a partner who has depression is a deeply personal choice that depends on several factors,” Alderson says.
Holly should consider the impact that the depression is having on her own mental health. “There’s a clear distinction between finding a situation slightly challenging and feeling completely overwhelmed or unable to cope,” Alderson explains.
“One of the most important factors to consider is whether her partner is currently taking action to address his depression or is at least open to the idea,” she adds.
If her boyfriend is committed to making changes this massively impacts how likely it is that the situation will improve in the future. Holly should also consider how compatible they are as a couple on a fundamental basis.
“While depression can strain a relationship, it’s important that she evaluates whether there are other issues that go beyond the effects of depression. This includes factors such as mutual attraction, shared values, and aligned goals,” Alderson adds.
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to whether you should stay in a relationship with a partner who has depression, as each situation is unique.
“Ending a relationship with someone who is in need of support can be a difficult choice to make. It’s ultimately up to the individual to weigh up all the various factors and decide what feels right for them,” Alderson says.
It may feel wrong to leave a relationship when someone is suffering from mental health issues, b01ut if it’s causing significant distress for you it isn’t selfish if it’s done for the right reasons and in the right way.
Love Stuck is for those who’ve hit a romantic wall, whether you’re single or have been coupled up for decades. With the help of trained sex and relationship therapists, HuffPost UK will help answer your dilemmas. Submit a question here.