It’s tough seeing your partner struggling with depression and not knowing what you can do to help. In episode 277, I received a question from a concerned listener looking for suggestions on how they should approach their partner with my words and actions that could help. In this post, I dive into more detail and offer advice on how to be the best for the people that you love and care about.
My question for you relates to depression within a relationship. My boyfriend goes through periods of time where he is in a very depressive state, not to the point where it is hard for him to do things, but he just doesn’t enjoy his job, activities, or even being around people while he feels like this. He told me that he almost goes numb and doesn’t feel emotions too strongly for others and himself; for example, it is even hard for him to say “I love you” back to me during this time.
Before meeting me he typically dealt with this by himself and says eventually it goes away, but since he has me now it is very hard for me to watch him go through this and not help. When he is not in this state, our relationship is the perfect dynamic.
Any suggestions on how I should approach him with my words, actions, etc., that could help him feel better, not alone and wanted?
Great question. I love questions like these of people trying to figure out how to be the best for the people that they love and care about.
It sounds like you both have some pretty good self-awareness here. He understands a bit about his depressive symptoms and his tendencies, and you are beginning to understand what he looks like in that mode as well as your own reactions to it. What he described to you of being unable to feel is a common symptom in depression called anhedonia. It literally means the inability to feel. You most often hear about this when it comes to lack of positive feelings. Inability to feel pleasure, lack of interest in activities and such, but it can definitely happen on the other side as well. Things that would normally make you feel sad or despondent might feel… meh. It’s great to hear that he isn’t at the level where his life becomes entirely unmanageable. Instead, it sounds like he goes into recluse mode and autopilot.
Take care in your assumptions
I think that your feelings are valid. You’re allowed to be taken aback and a little hurt by the thought that he can’t even feel his love for you in those moments. I hope that the consistency of him always coming back and continuing to care for you helps to put that into perspective. It’s allowed to be hard, but I want you to be careful about overinterpreting what it means. What you are hearing is an expression of his depression, not a change in the way he feels about you.
I think that there is some compromise to be done on both of your parts. On your part, you need to recognize that this is an enduring pattern, that it’s not personal, and that he will pull out. That means that even without any intervention, it is probably going to be okay. When he is in that depressed mode, it is probably also super hard for him to even understand what it is that he needs or what would be helpful. So, you need to be careful not to just push him too hard and agitate him by trying to be over-helpful. Now, you are also allowed to have your own boundaries. Just because he is in a depressed mode, that doesn’t give him license to act any which way. You are allowed to have certain behaviors that are off limits or minimum expectations. These are things that you can talk about. Things that help you feel cared for still when he is unable to care about anything.
Supporting your partner
When it comes to supporting him, I would consider the basic needs. Is he feeding himself, taking a shower, is there adequate daylight in the house, is he getting outside. You don’t need to be a nag about all of these, but these are some concrete ways that you might be able to provide support. You can also focus on being clear and consistent in your communication. Even if he doesn’t believe you in the moment, reminding him that you are there and will continue to be. That you care about him and what he is going through. That you think he is still a good person even when he doesn’t. Those words might bounce off him in the depressed moments, but they will linger in the air and can still make a difference for him in the end.
When he is not in a significantly depressed state, I’d encourage you guys to work on your communication overall. Work on being able to talk about difficult things without risk of blowing up or becoming overwhelmed. This practice at communicating will help you do better understand when he is drifting toward depression and it will also help to avoid unwanted misunderstandings. For a primer on communication skills, check out episode 217.
Take care of yourself
If you feel that his issues with depression are significantly interfering with him living a successful life, you can also encourage him to get treatment if he hasn’t yet. You might also benefit from support from others, especially during these times. Friends and family are great. There are also likely support groups that you can find with individuals in similar situations that might be helpful to normalize your experience and help you not feel as alone. Lastly, when he is depressed, more responsibilities and even emotional effort fall onto you. Therefore, it might make sense for you to up your levels of self-care during this time. That could look like prioritizing a group fitness class you love, playing video games, seeing your family members, or anything else that fills your cup and allows you to be a better, more satisfied person.
You can listen to this on Episode 277 of the podcast!
Thank you for the great question!
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