Depression is hard to comprehend when you’re experiencing it and even harder to explain to those around you. Some days, you may feel like yourself and other days you may struggle to finish a daily task like eat a full meal or take out the trash.
Major depressive disorder may be one of the most common mental health disorders in the United States, but it isn’t always recognizable from the outside and symptoms vary significantly from person to person. If your depression isn’t addressed, it can worsen. This is why it’s important to keep your partner in the loop.
Your partner should be your advocate, your cheerleader, the person who knows you best, but telling them about your depression can feel awkward, uncomfortable, and stressful. How do you get them to understand the severity of your feelings? How do you tell them without worrying them?
Learn how to communicate your emotions and struggles with your partner so they can help support you.
Outline Your Goals and Intentions
“Maybe you’re looking for support, compassion, or understanding,” says Jennifer Mann, LCSW, a New York City-based psychotherapist. “Once you identify why you are engaging in this discussion, you can then think of how you want to go about introducing the topic.”
Here are some questions you’ll want to consider as you prepare for the conversation:
- How much does your partner know about depression?
- What type of reaction are you hoping for?
- What type of support do you want from your partner?
- Do you want to talk about this on a regular basis?
- Do you want your partner to have an active role in your treatment plan?
- What do you not want from your partner?
There’s no right time to tell your partner. If you’re feeling hopelessness, experiencing suicidal thoughts, or contemplating self harm, then you should notify your partner and contact a mental health professional right away.
If your situation isn’t urgent, then you can set aside time that works for you both.
Ask your partner for at least thirty minutes of their time. You want them to be fully focused on the conversation at hand, so choose a time when the two of you can be alone without distractions. This could be in the evening after your children go to sleep or on the weekend when you don’t have other plans.
You can begin the conversation by saying, “Right now, I’m not looking for advice, I’m not looking for you to problem solve. I just want to connect with you emotionally and I just want you to understand what I’m experiencing,” says Michael Wheaton, PhD, a licensed psychologist and Assistant Professor of Psychology at Barnard College of Columbia University.
It can be helpful to give your partner directions, letting them know your intentions in advance.
If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911..
Bring Resources to the Conversation
“Educate yourself as much as you can about depression, says Dr. Wheaton, and offer to share this information with your partner.
Depression looks and feels different for everyone, so one of the best things you and your partner can do is learn about the many aspects of depression and understand the signs, symptoms, and treatment options available.
Depression can also coincide with many other health and mental health conditions, so this is worth exploring, as there may be an underlying cause that needs attention.
Dr. Wheaton recommends that if you’re worried your partner won’t understand or will be invalidating, bring reputable information to the conversation. This could include statistics about depression or medical resources that explain what depression is, what it looks like, and how it feels.
How you bring up the conversation and how you continue the conversation depends on the dynamic of the relationship, but giving your partner information allows them the opportunity to better understand what you’re going through.
Incorporate Your Partner Into Your Treatment Plan
Maybe you’re experiencing a relapse or maybe this is the first time you’ve felt depressed. Regardless, make sure you keep your partner informed of your feelings and your plan to address the depression. You may feel you can handle the mental health disorder on your own, but you shouldn’t.
If you’re working with a mental health professional, such as a therapist or counselor, consider ways in which your partner can participate, especially if they’re struggling to understand the depression and how it’s impacting your daily habits and behavior.
If positive activity scheduling or behavioral activation is included in your plan, then Dr. Wheaton suggests asking your partner to support you however possible. Your partner can accompany you on morning walks, for instance, or help you schedule regular meals and establish a routine sleep/wake cycle.
You could also ask your partner to attend a couple’s therapy session, which could be beneficial for both of you. At the very least, this joint session would allow the partner more insight into your experience.
Keep the Conversation Going
If your partner is not offering support, this is not a reflection of you or your experience. They may not understand the complications of depression or how to help you, or they may think they’re helping you when in reality they’re making the situation more difficult.
Talking to your partner about your depression can be a powerful way to not only increase your communication with your partner, but also strengthen your bond.
— JENNIFER MANN, LCSW
However, every relationship is unique. What works for one couple might not work for another, which is why you need to maintain strong levels of communication.
Telling your partner shouldn’t change the relationship, says Dr. Wheaton, but your partner might not know how to respond. If they’re saying, “I don’t know how to act around you,” or “I don’t want to say the wrong thing,” following the discussion, then you can let them know, “I don’t necessarily feel supported,” or “I wish we could connect better around this.”
A negative response or lack of support could cause problems in the relationship, but this isn’t because of the depression. This may be a sign that the relationship isn’t as strong as it could be. For healthy couples, the conversation will likely bring you closer together.
“Your health should be the top priority,” says Ankur Desai, MD, Medical Director at AmeriHealth Caritas, so regardless of your partner’s response, you should still consider seeking mental health treatment for your depression. “Healthy emotional functioning is needed to successfully manage life’s demands.”
A Word From Verywell
Your depression has a direct impact on your partner. Your partner may be wondering why you’re irritable on occasion, why you haven’t been engaged in your favorite activities, or why you’re struggling at work.
Talking about your feelings may not be enjoyable, but it’s beneficial for your mental health. You may be surprised by how much better you feel when your partner knows about the feelings you’ve been harboring.
Best of all, your partner can act as your support system when you seek and undergo treatment for depression.
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