Loving your pathetic lump
October 1, 2010 8:35 AM   Subscribe

How do you keep your relationship happy and good when you feel like crap?

I'm heading down ol' depression way. I'm trying different things to nip it in the bud, but am having a hard time knowing how to be a good girlfriend to my boyfriend while feeling really down. I don't want to hold him hostage to my moods or get into the habit of always unloading on him just because I can, Being super sad in front of him makes me feel so much worse about myself. Trouble is, I also don't want to keep him out of what's happening. So how do I balance? I love him and want to stay close to him and involved in what's going on in his life. He's been great so far, supportive and understanding, so I'm trying to figure out how to keep our time together good and not wear him out with my problems.

There are lots of threads from people who have been with depressed partners and I'd like to hear from those people on things their depressed partner did to make it easier to get through. I'd also like to hear from the depressed side on things they told themselves/did to balance the good and bad. Tales of getting through it together welcome. Thanks for your help.
posted by Katine to Human Relations (13 answers total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
Believe your partner when he tells you he loves you. Just because you might be thinking less of yourself doesn't mean he thinks any less of you.

An ex of mine was seriously depressed for a period during our relationship, and while a lot of things were problematic, probably the biggest issue was that he would frequently demand that I'd finally come out and just admit that I'd never loved him to begin with and was just stringing him along to secretly make fun of him behind his back with my friends. Don't do that. If you're not thinking right, please don't try to dissect everything your partner says, because you're going to be wrong and end up hurting both of you in the process.

The antidepressants really helped him. You should explore all of your options.
posted by phunniemee at 8:44 AM on October 1, 2010

Tell your partner how you're feeling, and what he can do to help. As the partner of someone who suffers from depression, not knowing what to do to help is the hardest part for me. It doesn't upset me or make me think less of my partner when he's depressed, but it does upset me when he hides it until it's so bad that he's totally miserable because it makes me feel like he doesn't trust me with his feelings.

Since exercise is one of the great depression busters, maybe you two could join a casual sports team, or have dates that involve some kind of reasonably intense physical exercise (hiking, swing dancing, etc). It's pretty hard to be consumed with sadness while you're chasing a soccer ball around the field, plus exercise has the added benefit of helping to lift your mood and playing together on a team can strengthen your relationship.

Good for you for recognizing that you're starting to get depressed. It's great that you're able to do that. I hope you're feeling better soon.
posted by burntflowers at 8:53 AM on October 1, 2010

Keep doing those things that help keep a relationship together, even if intellectually you don't see the point and you don't feel like you have the energy.

- Plan outings, even if it's just out for a coffee or to a free museum, even if you think you'll hate it, and try to focus on the outing itself or the museum while you're there rather than whether or not you're enjoying it.
- Give him little gifts, or give him a massage, or sort out your pile of paperwork by the sofa that winds him up, or whatever kind of loving things you do in your relationship.
- Tell him you love him, you appreciate him, you fancy him, etc.

If you are still investing in the relationship, then it's a lot easier for him to be happy with you spending some of your "relationship karma savings" on being sad and needing support.

Make sure you are also still looking after yourself and making some efforts towards helping yourself out of the funk. Again, it's easier to look after someone if it's clear they are at least trying to look after themselves. It sounds like you're already doing this anyway: keep it up!

Maintain personal hygiene routines if you can, even if you don't see the point of it. Put clothes on every morning.

If you haven't already, take yourself to the doctor before you get to the point where it's too hard to get there.

If you're going to ask your boyfriend for support, asking for support in (for example) getting to the doctor's, or nagging you to wash your hair every however often, is a good thing to ask for; it's an easy and concrete thing for him to do with a real chance of making a difference.

If you think it may become necessary (hard to tell from your question whether we're talking about that kind of depression), get some numbers for the suicide hotline right now and put them somewhere easy to access. Make a promise to yourself that you will use them if you need to. Committing suicide is the shittiest shitty thing you can do to a loved one.
posted by emilyw at 8:58 AM on October 1, 2010 [8 favorites]

What phunniemee said.

Also, when and if he offers help, suggestions, etc, and it feels inappropriate and not helpful at all, do something like that:

- Thank him and explain calmly that you just want to vent, and that suggestions to get better feel overwhelming, patronizing or condescending, but that you'll ask for help when you feel you can handle suggestions.
-Or thank him and pay honest attention to the suggestions. Generally speaking, if he loves you, those suggestions are coming from a good place, a place of generosity and true willingness to help, not a place of judgment, recrimination and superiority.

Just don't accuse him of those things, it's hurtful.
posted by TheGoodBlood at 9:04 AM on October 1, 2010

Take time to be Depressed You in a way that is separate from Regular You. Repeat after me: "It's the depression talking. It's the disease doing this, not ME."

Try to articulate things out loud if you can, even if they are confusing or upsetting -- "I feel myself winding up into a confused tizzy, so I apologize ahead of time if I'm not very good at responding to you." "Could you pay a little attention to my moods over the next few weeks and let me know when things are a little abnormal [i.e. it's the depression talking]?" "I am not in a position to make decisions today, even stupid little ones like what we're having for dinner. Could you either make decisions for me or give me a very limited number of options from which to choose?"

Set benchmarks or activities that you know you will enjoy together and that will get you out of the house. We have season tickets to hockey games every other Friday or so, so that's dinner out and a couple hours of yelling at refs and just being close and being able to pay attention to each other (or NOT paying attention to each other, if that's what you want). You might say that Friday is Movie Night, or Coffee Place Night, or Walk Through Town Night. You can look forward to those because you know it will be both in your routine (comfort) and out of your routine (rut).

Ask him flat out what he needs. He might not tell you, but he might be really good at telling you the bare minimum of what he needs from you when he's being your support/caregiver. Maybe in some of your less nutty moments [I say that with love!], you can both make some lists of smaller and bigger things that can help you feel better, as well as things you would need and want from your partner when you're down.

Small and tangible: "I like Gail Ambrosius truffles, especially the sea salt caramel."
Bigger and still tangible: "Massages and pedicures from Cinema."
Small and less tangible: "I love quiet back scratches and nuzzling into your chest as you hold me. It helps me feel calm."
Bigger and less tangible: "Hanging out in the bathroom for an hour helps me get away from the world in a place where people can't barge in. Please let me do that, and don't worry that I've fallen in, but please let me know if you have to get in there."
posted by Madamina at 9:06 AM on October 1, 2010 [8 favorites]

My fiancee could have written your post. We have this discussion often as she doesn't want to bring me down or have me take care of her all of the time. I think what you need to realize is you are not a burden. Your moods, as frustrating as they are to you, are part of why he loves you. If he's been supportive and understanding so far it's because he knows that you are depressed and only wants you to be happy.

My fiancee make sure I know how she's feeling. Communication is really, really key in our relationship when she's feeling down. It's important so that we, as "the partner", know that when you are emotional over trivial issues that you would have brushed off a week ago that you are not in your best place.

So my recommendation as the partner is to let him know how you are feeling when you are feeling it and to believe that when he tells you, "it's okay" that it really is okay and he's there for you. Also, try and find the root of your depression and work towards getting out of it. Easier said than done I know but you can do it and he'll be there to support you.
posted by ThomasBrobber at 9:06 AM on October 1, 2010

Agree with emilyw- fake it till you make it. Let him know what's going on and that you are headed for another depressive episode and tell him what to expect, if he hasn't been down that road with you before. If your depression manifests itself in crying and staying in bed, let him know.

Just because you are in a depressive episode doesn't mean you can't stop doing the things you do for him. If you cook dinner for him every night, keep cooking. I was in the same spot you are in just recently and didn't have any energy to do anything. However, my wife works 18 hours a day, 7 days a week (she's a grad school slave currently) so nothing would get done if I didn't do it. We can't afford to eat out, so I cooked. It sucked because I had to do it while I was depressed, but sometimes you gotta do what sucks even when your brain screams at you NOOOOO!!!!

Also, please be careful that if you fall deep into it that you don't start blaming him for not supporting you. I have also been there. I know that I become a black hole when I get depressed and no amount of support can help me out of it. It's something you have to do for yourself and you can't rely on anyone else to help you feel better. Even though they might be supporting you in every way possible, you may not feel that way.

If you aren't seeing a therapist, talking this out with someone who is trained and knowledgeable will probably help you gain a better perspective. I'd recommend it.

And lastly, be kind to yourself. You are going through a rough patch and it's easy to heap a bunch of crap on- just realize it for what it is- the depression, and not you.
posted by TheBones at 9:10 AM on October 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Addendum: of course "tangible" != "things that cost money," and depression cannot be solved by lavishing people with gifts. But little things now and then are good for perking you up, which can sometimes help slow a slide from "I'm having a bad day" to "I am in a black hole and never want to come out."

It is also very tempting to fall back on your partner for the grand majority of your support because he knows you best and most intimately. While he is an important part of your life, coping strategy and possible recovery, he also is not ALL of those things, nor should he be.

Make sure you have at least one other source -- friend, relative, therapist, journal -- in which you can be open and honest about what's going on, both to give him a break and to be honest about what he's doing or not doing. If there's something that bugs you about what's going on between the two of you, regardless of what or who supposedly caused it, you need to have a way to work through it without worrying if your honesty or emotion might hurt him or come out in the wrong way.
posted by Madamina at 9:27 AM on October 1, 2010

When you're thankful about something, be extra verbal about it: "thank you so much for cooking me dinner tonight, I really felt taken care of." This way, your boyfriend will know he's been helpful, even if you're still down. Bonus: looking for things to honestly thank him for keeps you feeling more positive yourself.
posted by wyzewoman at 9:33 AM on October 1, 2010 [5 favorites]

Are you in therapy? Can you do a few sessions of couples therapy? THIS IS THE BEST THING MY HUSBAND EVER DID FOR ME. (I'm the depressed partner.) It may be too early in your relationship for that, that's fine, but he came with me and learned a lot about depression, the stresses of being the partner of a depressed person, our relationship, how to cope with our relationship when I'm depressed, etc. Sometimes I feel like I just need a few therapy sessions myself and I go, but sometimes I feel like my coping mechanisms have come out of balance and then I ALWAYS take him with me a couple times so we can rebalance them together, since he's my biggest coping mechanism and emotional driver, you know? (Like, it's not his fault I'm depressed, nor his responsibility to fix me, but we're a team and how each of us acts affects the other a lot.) Partners of depressed people need emotional support too, and it's important my husband can get that.

Smaller things: I try to be very clear about what I need when I'm depressed when I'm NOT depressed (and therefore, you know, making sense and not being perverse. I'm very perverse when depressed). If I'm fairly functional, I try to do a few things for him that I don't necessarily normally do -- make him lunch, for example, or cook his favorite dessert, or fold all his laundry -- to show him I'm thinking about him and I care about him, even though I'm wrapped up in my own suck and don't have the energy to be Wife of the Year. He's understanding about me coping with my own shit sometimes, but he likes these gestures to know he's still on my radar. :)

I'm sure he could think of more.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:08 AM on October 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

Oh, this is also a longer-term thing, but it's good for my husband that my family and close friends all know about my depression, it's not a big secret, and so he can say, "Yeah, Eyebrows is just kinda depressed this week," the way he'd say, "Yeah, she has the flu." It's good for him to have other people he can share the stress/concern with, if necessary. He ran into a very close friend of mine whom he sometimes sees at work, she was asking where I'd been lately, he said I was feeling pretty down and he was a bit worried, and they conspired to get me out of the house for pedicures and lunch and a child-free half-day with my good friend. AND she brought him cookies when she came to pick me up. So a broad support network that your boyfriend is a part of is also good. It takes a village and whatnot. :)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:13 AM on October 1, 2010 [3 favorites]

Couples' therapy is awesome. I recommend it. You can talk about this in a structured way and it's nice to get validation/support of your goal to maintain the relationship in a healthy way.

There's an idea that couples' therapy is only for people who are miserable and about to break up/get divorced. I don't think so--in fact I think it's probably more helpful for people who have overall good relationships but need help to deal with certain aspects of their relationship, or certain stressful events.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:26 AM on October 1, 2010

I talked about this over lunch with my MeFi-lurking partner, who has weathered both myself and another partner with issues. Here's what he added.

Be prepared to treat your partner like a stranger sometimes. By that, I mean that as the supporting partner, it's hard to watch the depressed partner perk up on command for some people but not you. If she's in a funk and her mom calls, or you run into someone you know at the supermarket, she turns on the charm and everything is cheerful -- genuinely or not -- while they interact. But then it ends, and she can't seem to muster up that enthusiasm for you, even just for a little bit. And you're the one who is supporting her, so why do you not deserve that but other people, people who are less close, do? That's very painful.

It's like a lot of things you put up with in relationships -- the kinds of rudenesses that become okay with a partner, like burping/farting or being lax about taking out the trash. These behaviors are more or less fine if they only occur every so often, but they have to be tempered and not done ALL of the time.
posted by Madamina at 1:19 PM on October 1, 2010 [4 favorites]

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