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10 Ways To Support Your Depressed Lover
Your partner is beautiful. They're beautiful in the way that their presence feels like home and their embrace makes the troubled days worthwhile. They're beautiful because of the smile you fell in love with or the voice that sounds so sweet over the phone. You know them for their vibrancy, their insurmountable passion, and their great capacity for unconditional love. But as you've probably discovered, the flame of their spirit sometimes grows dim. It may flicker for days, weeks, sometimes longer. It comes without warning and releases them on its own terms regardless of environmental aspects and situations. The dimmer of the flame is a quiet beast, always lurking beneath the surface of their skin. Sometimes it is unfamiliar and engulfs your lover when they experience something new and tragic. But you are not helpless in fighting it. You cannot always pull them completely from darkness, but you can be the light that leads them through. These 10 ways will help you support your partner during their darkest times.
A majority of the feelings that your lover experiences are out of their control, especially when they have a history of mental illness. Understand that they won't be able to prevent every anxiety attack or depressive phase. Getting over these things is not easy, especially when you have chemical imbalances that make you more sensitive and susceptible to emotional distress. Don't ever blame your partner for their feelings or make them feel ashamed by them. These phases may be frustrating for you but the last thing you want to do is react with any form of hostility, anger, or abandonment. If their mood catches you off guard or comes at an inopportune time, do your best to immediately inquire about what they're feeling and offer them some physical comfort (if possible, if not then be comforting with a soft voice and loving words). When you get angry or upset it will only make them more unstable and instill feelings of shame or fear when it comes to their episodes. You are their rock and the one person who they want to feel safe opening up to, so do your best to give them that environment. The first part of an episode is a vital time to set the stage for comfort and healing.
Having a good medical understanding of their condition can help as well. Reading more about the symptoms, causes, treatments, and facets of their illness will help you be more understanding of their situation and less critical of them, yourself, or your relationship. This is not a time to blame yourself or to immediately question the status of your partnership. Unless there is an obviously identifiable issue or a problem that you both have discussed in the past, their episode most likely has little or nothing to do with you. These bouts of sadness or apathy are still real even in the most successful relationships, so don't worry yourself with assumptions.
It's also a good thing to be aware of any trends in your partner's mood. Are there any specific events that you notice triggering a bad mood? Are there times in the day, month, or year when these are most prevalent? Is there anything that you or other people do or say that brings their mood down? Has something significant happened recently that's affected them? Are there places that seem to remind them of something bad? Pay attention and work to avoid negativity in the environment. If you can't eradicate the negativity, at least help your partner be as prepared as possible and search for ways to avoid these trends. Discuss with your partner to find out why certain things bring about their mood and how you can help them.
2. Accept Their Release
A lot of people just need to let it out. Crying, pacing, talking to themselves, or even screaming are all forms of emotional release. If their release is not harmful to them or anyone else, it is best to let them go through the motions. If your lover just wants to cry on your shoulder, let them. If they want to go for a walk, join them. Even taking them on a drive to a more natural, calming place can be beneficial to their release. If your lover is experiencing something serious or dangerous to their health such as an intense panic attack, anxiety attack, or self harm, it is best to step in and calm them down with the intent of preventing the worst from happening. Look for these signs of severe distress:
- Difficulty breathing.
- Increased heart rate.
- Intense feeling of fear or dread.
- Sensation of choking or smothering.
- Dizziness or feeling faint.
- Trembling or shaking.
- Nausea or stomachache.
- Tingling or numbness in the fingers and toes.
- Chills or hot flashes.
- Attempts to harm self or those around them
- A fear that you are losing control or are about to die.
If your partner shows any of these signs, it is time to focus on immediately calming them down. Remove any objects from them that they may use to injure themselves or others and bring them to a safe, comfortable, and quiet environment if possible. Do not immediately embrace them as this may bring shock or more panic to those who experience intense episodes. Continually talk to them and be reassuring with your voice and words. Get to their level and approach them slowly, offering your body to them first instead of taking theirs into your own. They may not want to be touched at all or they may only want to hold your hands. Ask them before making any approaches to them and respect their desires. They sometimes may even want complete distance. Either way, keep talking to them and encourage them to talk to you and explain what's going on. Work at their pace. Don't force them to do anything they don't want to and be as calm and gentle as possible. The episode should lose its intensity over time. If it keeps getting out of hand or your partner is talking about suicide or attempting suicide you need to call 911 immediately. Throughout all of this it is important that you stay calm and that you never make your partner feel like they are "crazy" or that they are at fault for their reactions. These can be very stressful times for both of you and it's good to take extra care after an episode to replenish you and your partner's emotional and physical energy.
3. Support Their Decisions
This one should be obvious but it's still a good mention. Sometimes your lover will need to make a life change or a temporary adjustment to help them cope with their emotions. If this calls for a break from school, a change in career, or even just more "me time" and less time around the kids, make sure to let them know that you've got their back. If something seems just too unrealistic of an option or you feel like it would be more hurtful than helpful, talk with your partner and try to compromise. Don't let the conversation only occur once. However, avoid sounding like you are scolding them for their choices. Keep talking about what they want to change in their life because they may end up making a long term decision on short term emotions. If you notice a correlation between a part of their life and their tendency for sadness, apathy, or emotional episodes, then these are signs that the stress is based on a long term issue. If it is, then perhaps a break from something would be a reasonable option. You can always return to school or find another job, you can't always regain your sanity or emotional well-being.
Medication and therapy is also another thing your partner will make decisions about. It's best to have a discussion with a psychiatrist or therapist present at least once so that you both know all of the options available. If your partner is adamant about not taking medication or receiving treatment then you cannot force them to do these things. If a doctor feels like their health is in serious jeopardy, it's best to baby step your partner into the idea of continuing (or starting) treatment. Be calm and reason with them, it may take time for them to make their final decision or warm up to other options. If your lover is going through treatment and not experiencing noticeable improvement, you may consider alternative options or even ending treatment. However, never have them stop taking pills without seeing their doctor first. Stopping medication cold turkey can have very negative affects on your partner's mind and body. It's best to ease them off of medication and therapy in a way that a trained professional deems safest.
Some people may just need alone time. It's often common for your partner to feel like they have lost themselves in one way or another. Some personal time to soul search could be beneficial to them as they rediscover their passions and purpose. If your partner desires more space, it is best to give it to them. Talk about why they feel like they need their space and if it's not an issue within your relationship then you are clear to give them their solitude without worry. You may continue keeping tabs on your partner but do not smother them, for this is a vital time for them to learn how to repair themselves. More often than not they will return to you with open arms, ready to be happy with you again.
4. Be There Even When You Can't
Few couples get to spend every waking moment with each other. You both have lives, friends, jobs, school, or hobbies to attend to on a daily basis. This may leave your lover feeling alone and vulnerable sometimes. If your responsibilities are absolutely inflexible, there are other ways to be there for them when you can't actually be there. The most obvious option is with your cell phone or laptop. There are hundreds of ways to stay connected through your mobile devices. Texting, video and voice calling, photo sharing, and chatting are the main methods to use. While it's not practical to walk around on video chat with your lover, it's nice enough to just respond to their messages as fast as possible and maybe call them during a break or two. Anything that let's them know that you're thinking of them while you're away can do wonders for their mood.
Another option is leaving them with something at home to act as a reminder of how much you love them. While a stuffed animal can't replicate your warm embrace, leaving it for your lover to wake up to is still sentimental and comforting all the same. You might leave a love letter or text for them to find later. Gift boxes or care packages of food and/or movies and games can help them get through the day while you're gone. You may also leave a shirt or jacket of yours for them to wear or a spritz of perfume/cologne on their pillow. The important thing is to always give them a reason to smile and to always let them know that you miss them.
5. Avoid Negative Phrases
Your partner is very sensitive to the things that you say and do. They will pay attention to the way you say things. Sometimes a sarcastic tone or use of blunt phrases can make them feel even worse. You are there to help create a loving, accepting environment for them. People with mental illness are used to feeling secluded or even exiled by those around them. They are used to being shamed and doubted for their feelings. The worst thing you could do is remind them of that negativity or make them think that you're just like everyone else. It is not an easy road for you to travel and getting frustrated or disheartened is a natural reaction. If you do let a negative phrase slip, immediately apologize and take back what you said. For future reference avoid phrases such as:
- "Why don't you just get over it?"
- "When are you gonna snap out of it?"
- "Are you even trying?"
- "You're doing this to yourself."
- "Stop overreacting."
- "You're always sad."
- "Can you ever just be happy?"
- "You're never going to get better."
- "This is so annoying."
- "You're ridiculous."
- "I can't take this."
- "When are you gonna grow up?"
- "My ______ had depression and they weren't this bad."
- "Why don't you just stop being sad?"
Living with mental illness is a process. Your partner needs you to love them through this process while they learn to love themselves again. If you surround them with negativity and carelessness, they will absorb it. When you surround them with support, love, and understanding, they will absorb that instead.
6. Balance Constructive Criticism and Coddling
Being comforting is a great thing but it is not enough if you and your partner want to make a long term change. Mental illness can never truly go away forever but it can be treated and made more bearable to live with. So far you've read many ways on how to be comforting to your partner during desperate times, but to make any improvement in their mental health you have to also consider logical solutions. Communication is key in fighting frequent depression and episodes. Through communication you can find out just how your partner is feeling about the situation and if there are any immediate changes that can be made to help. Don't be afraid to approach your partner about their bad habits such as smoking/drinking every time they feel sad or placing the entirety of the blame on you, themselves, or others. Be firm with your partner about destructive habits or infectious people in their life. Be serious with them about making a change and don't let your fear of hurting their feelings prevent you from being respectfully real with them. Always find a good balance between comfort and criticism. When you only go with one or the other there is little room for growth. However, using both is a great tool to help your partner develop more emotional strength. Your comfort will make them feel safe and loved, while your criticisms will open the road up for practical solutions and perhaps some much needed self-assessment by your lover.
7. Be Close
All levels of physical intimacy have been scientifically proven to do wonders for the well-being of the human mind, body, and soul. Keeping close with your partner and frequently showing them affection is a simple but effective way of supporting their happiness. Kissing, cuddling, hugging, holding hands, and having sex are all great ways to help with your partner's mood. Be affectionate and spontaneous. When they are feeling down, hold them and kiss them in places such as the head, neck, cheeks, back, or shoulders. When you surround them with a positive, passionate energy it will help them calm down and feel loved. As always, keep consent in your head when showing affection to your partner. They may show a lack of interest in sex and intimacy and that is completely okay and normal. Respect their boundaries and help them ease back into a zone where they feel comfortable. Never be forceful or take any rejection personally. Just have patience and show them the love that you can.
8. Praise The "Little" Triumphs
When your lover struggles with depression or other illnesses it can be hard for them to do a lot of things that we take for granted. Simple every day tasks such as getting out of bed, getting dressed, going to work, or even eating can be difficult. Gently encourage your partner to make an effort every day and praise them for the things that they achieve, big or small. When you appreciate them for the things that they struggle against it shows a great degree of love and care. Continually let them know that you're proud of them. Your partner will appreciate your recognition and in turn work harder to create more triumphs in the days to come.
9. Encourage Healthy Habits
Your lover will no doubt go through stages of lethargy, lack of appetite, insomnia, hypersomnia, or other physical ailments. The brain and body go hand in hand and it is mandatory to focus on both when it comes to healing. There are hundreds of proven ways to build a healthier body and mind. It is up to you to not only encourage a healthy lifestyle but to partake in one as well. Start with small things and work your way up. By introducing things a little at a time your partner is less likely to get overwhelmed and the transition into healing will be much easier. Some simple things to try are:
- Experiment trying different teas, coffees, or natural fruit and veggie juices. (The ones that you like can help you cut back on soda and stay hydrated)
- Making fruit or veggie medleys to snack on
- Going for walks outside around the neighborhood or park together
- Opening the windows to let in fresh air and sunlight throughout the day (Lack of sunlight is shown to correlate with higher levels of sadness)
- Stretching in the morning when you wake up
- Taking a hot exfoliating bath at least once a week
- Learning a new recipe
- Dabbling in aromatherapy with various candles, oils, or plants
- Listening to new, different kinds of music
- Finding creative ways to replace junk food with better options
- Trying a new art medium
Taking small steps will ready you for the next steps in beginning a healthy lifestyle. Diet and exercise will do wonders for your body. When your body is feeling better then so will your mind. But becoming more active and eating better aren't your only options. Other ways you might contribute to a healthy lifestyle are:
- Getting a pet together (if you don't already have one)
- Doing yoga
- Seeing new places together
- Surrounding yourself with positive people
- Quitting an addiction
- Having tech-free time (no phones, TV, or computers, just you and your lover)
- Reading a hardcover/paperback book
- Experimenting with sex and intimacy
- Playing trivia or brain training games
- Smiling and laughing
- Cooking healthy meals together
- Starting a journal (shared or separate) to write thoughts and ideas in
Taking this opportunity is a perfect time to refresh your relationship and build something new together. Stimulate your mind and body to be as active as they're built to be. Don't try to take on everything at once, baby steps are the key to this whole process. Try something new every week and work your way up to the bigger commitments. Don't force something to stick that you truly don't enjoy and move on to the next thing. With new experiences at hand, your lover will soon flourish again.
10. Don't Forget Yourself
Tending to your lover can be draining at times and you should always be mindful to take care of yourself. If the relationship has drained you to the point where you yourself are feeling depressed or distant, it may be time to evaluate your chances of success in that relationship. However, a lot of couples will grow stronger together over time as they pass through hardships. Always remember that your own health is just as important as your partner's health. Take time for yourself to do the things that you enjoy. If you dedicate your entire being to someone or something else you will eventually whittle away. There's nothing wrong with taking a step back and focusing on your own well being. In fact, you should always take time every day to treat yourself and indulge in your individuality. Admire who you are and never forget why your lover choose you in the first place. When you remain in love with yourself and live passionately it will inspire your partner to do the same.
What do you like to do when your partner is sad?
© 2014 Michelle W