Understanding how to support your partner with depression might feel overwhelming. Here are some things I wish my ex had known when we were together.
It seems silly now to say it, but I didn’t tell my ex-boyfriend that I have depression. There were a few reasons for keeping it secret, which I talked more about here. At the time, I told myself that I didn’t want to worry him. In hindsight, I realize it’s because I was embarrassed.
Turns out, keeping your emotions bottled up and hiding them from your partner doesn’t bode for a successful relationship. Shocking, I know.
Around the time things ended between us, I was in a depressive episode, and I didn’t know how to talk to him about it. I struggled with articulating my insecurities or expressing my true feelings to him. I’m sure this was a big contribution to the relationship’s failure.
At the same time, I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m happy with where I’m at in my life, and I hope that he is, too. That said, the experience has shaped my current understanding of what I want — and need — in a partner. Here are five things I wish my ex-boyfriend knew about dating someone with depression — and what I’d like my future partner to know.
It’s intimidating to sit someone down to tell them that you have a chronic mental health condition. It feels scary and embarrassing to take the time to express the confusing and icky feelings floating around your brain. Looking back on my relationship, I wish my partner had asked me more often about how I was really doing.
Often the onus is on the depressed person to share or ask for help. But that doesn’t mean that people can’t offer it without having to be asked. Ask your partner — especially if they have depression — how they are really doing.
Openly check in on their mental health — without beating around the bush. Having mental health conversations with my ex made him visibly uncomfortable. I now hope to find a partner who is open to asking questions about mental health, who is curious about mental health, and who will initiate conversations about mental health.
For those of you who are dating while living with depression, know that there is no “right” time to share with a new partner that you have depression. You can start the conversation with them whenever you feel ready. But from personal experience, if you don’t feel comfortable sharing your mental health with your partner, or you’re combatting feelings of shame or worry about how they may react, think about how this is affecting you.
Take time to look inward and reflect on what emotions are coming up for you. It’s important to be able to be honest with your partner.
Google is my best friend. It can teach you a lot.
If you’re dating someone with depression, take the time to understand what depression really is. Take time to read articles or mental health books. Look into therapy. Educate yourself on symptoms, as well as causes, and think about how you can anticipate ways to help your partner.
It can relieve an incredible amount of pressure if you take the initiative to learn about your partner’s condition. From my experience, it alleviates the expectation that it’s the responsibility of the person living with depression to educate their loved one. It’s also comforting to know that your partner is taking the time to understand you more deeply.
I also acknowledge that if your loved one is in the midst of a depressive episode and you’re new to the relationship, it may feel uncomfortable or scary to figure out how to handle it. There are many online resources curated by professionals, like this one, that can guide you in best supporting a loved one during a depressive episode. After all, everyone is different.
But when in doubt, if you don’t know what to do, please just ask. My personal favorite question to ask a loved one who is struggling is this: How can I best help you right now?
Perhaps what I find the most infuriating about depression is that it can look so different for everyone. And sometimes, it can manifest differently within yourself. I have experienced numerous episodes that look nothing like the other. During my first, I was unbelievably sad. During another, I was ridiculously lethargic. Most recently, my depression has manifested as apathy.
Because each of my depressive episodes can look different, I can best recognize when I’m in a depressive episode when I realize that my emotions feel in charge of me rather than me being in charge of my emotions. Sometimes, sadness has more control over me than I like. The same could be said of lethargy, apathy, etc.
It’s important to me that a partner, or potential partner, understands that the only thing consistent about depression is how inconsistent it can be. Unfortunately, you can’t schedule a depressive episode. Nor can you anticipate how that episode will look. Day-to-day feelings can fluctuate during an episode.
Know that your partner may exhibit different symptoms in different episodes and varying emotions on various days. If, for whatever reason, your partner’s emotions seem “off” to you, talk to them about how they’re feeling.
In the future, I hope that my partner recognizes that my depression may look different daily, but that in no way diminishes it or makes it any less valid. There may be days when I experience happiness or joy, but that does not necessarily mean that my brain chemicals are balanced.
I was in a nasty depressive episode last year, and at the time, I was single. My depression didn’t affect a romantic partner, but it did affect my other relationships — most notably, my relationships with my roommate and my family.
I’m so thankful that I had a community of people to rally behind me during such a dark time. But looking back, I realize that my depression was a web of its own, trapping people within it.
In no way do I mean to imply that people with depression are burdens because that couldn’t be further from the truth. But I do acknowledge that my depression touched those closest to me without me realizing it. I know now, after talking to my roommate and my family, that it was incredibly hard for them to see me that low. Their pain came from a place of love.
Remember to take care of yourself. If your partner has depression, be as supportive as you can, but do know that it’s OK to ask for support. We’re all human, and we all experience frustration, sadness, anger, and lethargy — whether we’re in a depressive episode or not.
Seek help and comfort for yourself, be that through friends, through a professional, or through an activity you enjoy. I’m sure you’ll find that, ultimately, you can best support others when you’re at your best yourself.
To me, a straight female, there is nothing hotter than a man who is willing to be emotionally open. A guy who can name his emotions? Hot. A guy who cries? Hot. A guy in therapy? HOT.
And yeah, being emotionally open with people is great and all, but in dating, I’ve found that it’s more important to be emotionally open with yourself.
Emotional intimacy is a huge part of dating. It’s how you connect and find a source of comfort and support. I wish, with my last relationship, that I’d been more honest with myself that my partner was not as emotionally supportive as I needed him to be. And that’s at no fault of his own.
We’re all on different paths — emotionally, spiritually, and physically. He was a bit behind me emotionally, and I needed more than what I thought he knew how to offer. In a sense, we were speaking two different languages.
I encourage you to take time and reflect on your relationship. For those of you with depression, do you truly feel that you can connect with your partner? Do you trust that they will stand by your side during the worst of your days?
For those of you who are in a relationship with someone with depression — do you feel that you are emotionally secure enough to support them? Do you feel equipped to support them? If not, are you willing to educate yourself? And do you truly want to?
People with depression can have a perfectly healthy and functioning relationship — regardless of having an episode or not. But as humans, I think it’s important that the mental health angle aside, we take the time to sit with our true feelings and acknowledge them — as icky and upsetting as they might be.
If I had been honest with myself back when I was dating my ex, I would have saved myself a lot of time and a lot of heartbreak. And I think, too, if he had been honest with himself, he would have openly acknowledged that we were — at least emotionally — in two different places.
It’s no one’s fault. It’s just, if I’m honest, what it is.
Medically reviewed on April 21, 2023
Have thoughts or suggestions about this article? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the author