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Supporting your depressed partner: Practical strategies and guidance

Supporting your depressed partner: Practical strategies and guidance

Living with a partner who has depression can be a deeply challenging experience for both people. That’s why for those in a relationship, understanding the symptoms and effects of depression is crucial for providing the right support.

This article explores the common signs of depression, offers communication tips, and emphasizes the importance of seeking professional help when necessary. Learn more below.




What Are the Symptoms of Depression?

Here is a quick overview of the symptoms:

  • Difficulty maintaining healthy relationships
  • Engaging in risky behaviors like unprotected sex, substance abuse, and reckless actions
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Changes in eating habits, which may lead to weight fluctuations
  • Restricted activities such as withdrawal from social interactions and a lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness that have lasted for weeks

These symptoms can make navigating a romantic relationship—already a complex endeavor—even more demanding. This means it can be hard to work things out with your partner.

Having low energy can make it harder for a partner with depression to stay productive, which may affect tasks such as helping out around the house with chores or scheduling appointments. It may also be challenging to get them to engage in different activities than the ones they usually prefer.

Communication Tips for Supporting Your Partner

Some of the best suggestions and tactics for communicating with a partner include:

  • Using “I” statements: In an “I” statement, you share your feelings about a clearly observed behavior without assigning blame or guilt. For example, “I feel worried when I haven’t heard from you in several hours.’ 
  • Avoiding the use of “you” statements: “You” statements are the opposite of “I” statements in that they focus on someone else’s actions, rather than your feelings. They can be perceived as aggressive and often imply guilt or responsibility.  An example of  a “you” statement is:  “You never call or text me back.”
  • Making simple requests: Provide a brief explanation of what you want and why to help your partner understand your needs.. For example: “I’m feeling super tired today. Can you take care of walking the dog?” 
  • Using mirroring/reflection skills: Reflection skills, sometimes referred to as mirroring, are when we restate a person’s statements and feelings. Mirroring is a great way to help a person feel validated and heard.

Active listening skills can also be a great way to help a partner feel heard and validated. Some skills are:

  • Reflection skills: Reflecting on statements and feelings show that we are present during the conversation.
  • Asking questions: Asking questions to better understand their experiences.
  • Be present in the conversation: This means limiting distractions and making sure our nonverbal cues show that we’re interested in the conversation

Avoid more aggressive communication strategies such as blaming, belittling, and withdrawing support. Many individuals coping with depression feel like they’re already alone and isolated.

Aggressive communication strategies can fuel negative thinking and damage the relationship.

Expressing Empathy and Understanding

Expressing empathy and understanding to any partner is important, but especially if they’re struggling with their mental health. It is the ultimate goal of using strong communication skills. While it will not cure depression, it can help alleviate some of their loneliness by showing that you are present with them.

Using empathy skills creates a non-judgmental environment which allows others to feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and feelings. It can help them feel empowered to try out different things. 

Furthermore, it provides the space to discuss what’s going on in the relationship and to discuss what each partner needs to be successful.

Providing Emotional Support and Encouragement

Being in a relationship means providing emotional support to one another. When supporting a partner through a depressive episode, it’s important to be present with them in their struggles. Instead of trying to pull them out of it, being there for them can make a big difference. This way, they don’t feel overwhelmed or like they can’t keep up.

Finding the little victories in their recovery can be very powerful as it generates momentum and can then build up to more victories. It can be helpful to identify happiness triggers (things and activities based on our senses). Sending text messages as a happiness trigger throughout the day, even if it’s a little check-in, can help boost their mood.

Recognizing the Limits of Support

Providing support to someone who lives with depression can be very draining at times. There might be limitations on what one partner is willing or able to do. It might be because of their background and having negative experiences caring for others, financial or time limitations, as well as their own challenges that they need to work through. 

It is also important to consider the area that one lives in where having someone visit (or visiting someone) might be challenging due to the distance.

Knowing When to Seek Professional Help

Knowing when to seek professional help can be difficult to identify. The time to seek out professional help is when things feel super difficult. There are more bad or challenging days and the depression seems “out of control.” Medication may also be appropriate.

Think of medication as those automatic doors at the supermarket that close too quickly: medication slows them down, making it easier to get in. In other words, medication can make it easier to use coping skills and manage symptoms. It doesn’t replace the need for these skills or therapy but can make the overall process of feeling better more manageable.

Get immediate Help

If you or your partner are experiencing suicidal thoughts or feelings, call 988 (Suicide & Crisis Lifeline) or go to your nearest emergency room.

Exploring the Impact on Relationships

As discussed above, depression can be difficult for those in relationships. There might be feelings of resentment as one person does the bulk of the household chores while the other is managing their depression. If the depression is severe enough, there might be caregiver fatigue due to constantly supporting and caring for their partner while change is slow.

It can be difficult to do things because one partner rarely feels good enough to do things, especially hobbies that the couple did together. As such, it can create a lot of tension in the relationship because it’s unbalanced, especially if the depression has been going on for a long time. 

Sometimes couples benefit from going to therapy together to work as they learn how to regulate depression together as well as learning how to better support each other.

Encouraging Self-Care and Wellness

Self-care is paramount, whether it’s the depressed partner or the caregiver. If we feel like we are falling apart, we cannot give our partners the support they need or what we want to provide to them. We might make ourselves sick or injured as well. As such, there is no shame in practicing self-care.

How we care for ourselves looks a little bit different depending on the person, including:

  • Physical rest: Getting the sleep we need as well as taking time to relax.
  • Mental rest: Giving our brains a break, as well as things we find interesting.
  • Social rest: Spending time with friends and family that brings out the best in us and we enjoy their company.
  • Spiritual rest: Connecting to our higher power and/or the world around us (volunteer work).
  • Sensory rest: Doing things that soothe our senses, such as being in nature or getting a massage.
  • Creative rest: Expressing ourselves whether we color, draw, or even listen to music.
  • Emotional rest: Accepting our emotions and doing the work to process them.

Depression Counseling at Thriveworks: Individual and Couples Therapy

Choosing the right therapist at Thriveworks can significantly improve your partner’s well-being and your relationship. Consider selecting a therapist with characteristics such as the same race, gender, or other attributes to help create a comfortable and understanding environment.

For instance, women may prefer female therapists, and members of the LGBTQ+ community might seek therapists who share their identity. The first session typically addresses your partner’s concerns and goals, providing a comfortable start.

Thriveworks therapists are welcoming and easy to talk to, easing any nervousness about beginning therapy. Remember, finding the right therapist may take time. It’s okay to switch therapists to find the best match.

Thriveworks’ support team is available 7 days a week to assist in this process. Starting therapy is a courageous step that can lead to significant improvements in mental wellness.

It shows a commitment to oneself and the relationship, paving the way for a healthier, more fulfilling life. If you’re partner is experiencing depression, scheduling mental health services will offer them the extra help and assistance that only a professional can provide.

  • Clinical writer
  • Editorial writer
  • Clinical reviewer
  • 2 sources
Evan Csir Profile Picture

Evan Csir is a Licensed Professional Counselor with over 9 years of experience. He is passionate about working with people, especially autistic individuals and is experienced in helping clients with depression, anxiety, and ADHD issues.

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Theresa Lupcho, LPCLicensed Professional Counselor
See Theresa's availability

Theresa Lupcho is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) with a passion for providing the utmost quality of services to individuals and couples struggling with relationship issues, depression, anxiety, abuse, ADHD, stress, family conflict, life transitions, grief, and more.

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Jason CrosbyMental Health Writer

Jason Crosby is a Senior Copywriter at Thriveworks. He received his BA in English Writing from Montana State University with a minor in English Literature. Previously, Jason was a freelance writer for publications based in Seattle, WA, and Austin, TX.

We only use authoritative, trusted, and current sources in our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about our efforts to deliver factual, trustworthy information.

  • Sharabi, L. L., Delaney, A. L., & Knobloch, L. K. (2015). In their own words. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 33(4), 421–448.

  • Negele, A., Kaufhold, J., Kallenbach, L., & Leuzinger-Bohleber, M. (2015). Childhood trauma and its relation to chronic depression in adulthood. Depression Research and Treatment, 2015, 1–11.

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