Sue and Bob have both been single for 15 years. Sue, a divorced mother of two and Bob, a widow with three grown adult boys of his own, met last year on an online dating site. When they decided to meet face-to-face over lattes and espresso, they both admitted to feeling instant heat…and it wasn’t due to what was coming from the hot drinks in their hands. They had a lot in common including a love for tennis, hiking, watching Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” and Caribbean cruises. In fact, Bob and Sue were such active adventurers that their own children could not keep up with their energy.
Six months into the relationship, Bob lost his job as a hotel manager. It was a position that he had held for 20 years. He would soon be approaching his 60th birthday and with the economy in a downturn, it was difficult for him to find work. Bob began losing interest in the things he once enjoyed. He stopped going out of the house, and preferred lying in bed to walking in the park, something that he did almost every day after dinner. As a registered nurse, Sue knew immediately that these were the signs of depression.
According to Mental Health America, depression affects an estimated 19 million Americans each year and countless numbers of loved ones. Bob and Sue are not alone; many couples confront this condition every day. Unfortunately, while some relationships make it through, others do not.
Alisa Ruby Bash, a marriage and family therapist in Beverly Hills, California, recently named one of the country’s top 50 relationship therapists, says in The Complete Marriage Counselor, that many partners tell their depressed lover to “snap out of it” or “cheer up.” Unfortunately, this approach doesn’t work.
“What most people don’t realize is that once depression sets in, it isn’t under their control,” says Bash. “Biological and chemical changes take place in the brain.” She adds that depression is a treatable medical condition, much like diabetes or heart disease.
If you’re in a relationship with someone who has depression, there are ways you can keep the relationship together. Bash offers the following advice to Bob and Sue, as well as the millions of couples going through the disease.
Seek Treatment: More than 90% of people with depression respond positively to therapy and medication. It may take some experimenting before you find the right doctor or dosage, but it is well worth the result of feeling better and being able to live life again as a functioning human being and partner.
Show Support: The healthy partner must be the advocate for treatment. Set up necessary appointments and accompany your loved one to the doctor’s office. Remember, it’s a medical condition. Showing support will let them know that you care even when they can’t love themselves.
Encourage Activities: Encourage your lover to try mindfulness meditation, a Buddhist tradition. Go for walks or play a game if they feel up to it. Expose them to self-help videos, CDs, and books. Read the paper together while lying in bed, and make sure to work in the comics for a good dose of laughter.
Reflect on the Positive: When you’re together, casually point out certain things that you like or make you happy. Say things like, “I love the way the flowers are blossoming” or “I like your hair.” Then, encourage your partner to comment on something they like too. It may feel funny at first, but it encourages them to begin looking for the things that they do like vs. the things that they find wrong. You can also have them make a list of the things that they are grateful for in life.
Be Patient: Remember to stay patient and nurturing. It may take time for the person to heal. If they aren’t in the mood for sex, or they don’t feel motivated to go out and do the things they used to do, be the stronger person by giving them as much affection and support as you can.
Share their Feelings: Many people believe that depression is anger turned inwards. Encourage your partner to express their emotions in a healthy way and not let it fester inside of them. Emote and explore your own feelings alongside of theirs. Be upset at what’s made them upset. This can help shift the energy.
For Sue and Bob it took months of hard work, treatment and patience before Bob started to feel a little better again. However, by taking in some of this advice, they were able to resume the relationship where they left off. Remember that depression has been around for centuries and it’s nothing to be ashamed of if you or your partner does have it. The good news is that it is treatable. How two people handle its impact is the secret to making a relationship last.
Lori Bizzoco is a writer living in Brooklyn, NY. She is working on a memoir detailing how she found love in less than a year.