• You can still have date night when your partner suffers from depression or anxiety–just change your expectations.
  • Meet your partner where they are by taking their symptoms into account.
  • You can take a walk, cook a meal at home, or engage your senses with music.
  • With this guide to romancing someone with a mental condition, you can still experience emotional connectedness and reinforce your bond.
  • It’s vital to practice self-care when you’re coping with a spouse with depression or anxiety.

If you’re expecting tips on what medium-priced champagne to buy in order to sweep your lover off their feet this Saturday night, you’re in the wrong place. Sorry. It’s not going to be that kind of a date night. You probably won’t end up in a Jacuzzi, or on a bearskin rug. But marriage isn’t just about romance. Marriage is also about friendship and supporting someone when they’re not feeling 100%. Sometimes you have to meet the people you love exactly where they are. 

It’s date night, but your spouse/partner/lover has a mental condition and their symptoms are flaring up. Perhaps this preempts a Bennifer-style weekend getaway to the Mediterranean. (But so do a lot of things!) Can you still reconnect with your spouse when they’re in mental distress? Yes, you can. Your date may not be of the highest quality, historically. It may not generate sexual desire. But it can fulfill the ultimate purpose of date night, which is to enhance the quality and security of your relationship. 

Emotional Connectedness in a Different Way

When your spouse suffers from a serious mental health condition, it affects you too. At times, you may feel that you’re keeping the ship afloat all by yourself. And that can be incredibly stressful. So how do you cope when you love someone with depression or anxiety? According to experts, you have three options. You can choose to stay, to walk away, or to stay “in a different way.” 

This Saturday night, change your expectations. Instead of focusing on the mental health issue, try to remember the whole person and the love you share. Don’t ignore what your neurodivergent spouse is going through, but don’t take on the role of therapist either. Put on the date night outfit, but go ahead and take the sex option off the table. (As for the dozen red roses? Still okay.)

Loving Someone with Anxiety: Date Night Ideas

Many relationship experts advocate inserting “novelty” into date nights. Do something new together. Rediscover your love by parachuting into the Grand Canyon! But for someone with anxiety, the idea of doing something new can cause a flash flood of fear and worry. 

Anxiety is often about anticipating worst-case scenarios. In the words of the author Brene Brown, it’s about “dress-rehearsing tragedy.” So it may be a bad idea to introduce a new element into your marital routine when your spouse is already feeling anxious. Your surprise tickets to the opera may cause a legitimate panic attack

So what can you do instead?

  • Watch a funny movie at home on the couch. Laughing can reduce anxiety and decrease stress hormones. And humor can aid in resilience. But make sure you vet the comedy first so you don’t accidentally trigger more anxiety with, say, a tarantula scene when your spouse is arachnophobic. 
  • Go for a walk. If your spouse is comfortable leaving the house, try taking a long, relaxing stroll together. Physical activity can be grounding when someone is experiencing anxiety. And everyone knows long walks are romantic (just don’t pass through Times Square or anything). 
  • Engage your senses together. For an anxious person who feels surrounded by potential threats, mindfulness can help neutralize the fight or flight response. So cuddle up in bed and listen to an entire music album from start to finish. Or get some markers and do coloring books across the kitchen table. Run a soothing bath or shower and take turns loofah-ing each other’s skin. Any of these sensory-based activities can help prevent overthinking.

Even if you know your partner better than anyone and you’re hyper-aware of their anxiety patterns, it never hurts to check in with their wants and needs. Date night is supposed to foster communication. In this incarnation of your partner’s anxiety, they may want a calm home environment, or they may want to release some inner tension in a game of one-on-one basketball. Just ask. And if they’re too overwhelmed to answer, err on the side of peace, quiet, and soft candlelight.

Loving Someone with Depression: Date Night Ideas

People with depression tend to isolate themselves from their support system. Even their spouses may find themselves on the wrong side of a closed bedroom door. But if your depressed partner feels capable of spending time together, you can suggest a few activities that can help nurture mental health, and reassure both of you that your relationship can survive psychological setbacks. 

  • Take a drive in nature. A depressed person may not feel energized to venture out on a long walk, but you could both benefit from seeing the horizon. If you have a car, get in it and go. Cruise around the nearest lake or forest. Human minds–evolved on the savannah–tend to respond positively to the great outdoors, with lower stress levels and improved cognitive functioning.
  • Do something new together. Though novelty may have a detrimental effect on an anxious person, psychological studies show that new experiences can stimulate cognition, create positive memories, and activate dopamine neurons. Just keep it low-key and in your partner’s comfort zone. No sky-diving. 
  • Do something physical. Propose an activity that will get your significant other out of their head and into their body. You could dance around the house or take a swim–anything that gets them moving. 
  • Cook a meal at home. Cooking and baking are small, creative projects that can cultivate positivity

What Are the Sweetest Words You Can Whisper in Your Anxious or Depressed Lover’s Ear?

They may be called sweet nothings, but the following words could mean everything to someone experiencing anxiety or depression. 

  • You’re not alone.
  • I’m not going anywhere.
  • I’ll always be here for you.
  • I’m not mad at you.
  • These thoughts and feelings are temporary. 
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
  • You will feel better.
  • It’s not your fault that you’re not feeling well.
  • It’s okay to feel that way. 
  • I don’t understand everything you’re feeling, but I’m here for you. 
  • What can I do to help you?
  • I’m here to listen.
  • I love you I love you I love you. 

Your Own Mental Health May Need Some TLC, Too

It’s okay if spending time together is too much for your depressed or anxious spouse. Whatever you do, don’t take it personally. You can find ways to remind someone of your love even if they need to withdraw. You can write a love letter, listing all the wonderful qualities you see in the person. Or describe a favorite memory to remind the person that joyful times are possible, and that you’ll experience peace and happiness together again. 

You can also make a date night with yourself to practice self-care. It’s hard worrying about your loved one’s psyche all the time. As long as your partner isn’t in acute crisis, you can give yourself a night off. The bearskin rug (synthetic of course) can accommodate one person just as well as two. It’s not the door in the movie Titanic. Your partner isn’t going to sink into the North Atlantic if you snuggle on the rug alone sometimes. Read a book, go out with friends, do whatever you need to recharge your batteries.  

And if nothing else seems to reignite your spark–or allay your spouse’s symptoms–you can always schedule a date night with an online counselor at Thriveworks