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It’s Not Just You

I’m writing with what feels like a complicated question. My partner of four years really struggles with depression. I’ve known about this since early on in our dating. I felt compelled to write you now because over the past few months, he’s not really leaving the house or speaking with friends or family. We spend all of our time together at home, because that’s where he’s comfortable. I’m beginning to feel cut off from people and activities that are really important to me. I’m pretty worried about him, and I’m also feeling quite stuck in this rut alongside him. I have made suggestions for how he might be able to get better—exercising, making social plans, therapy (to name a few), but he shoots them all down. So I’m left adapting to his lifestyle. How can I shake him up and get him to see that he’s giving up and pulling us both down?

Dear Roger:
Depression is a particularly agonizing state, and it is easy to feel compassion for your guy. For people who don’t have experience with depression, it can be hard to understand how someone can seem so utterly paralyzed by it. Your attempts at yanking your fellow out of his state are well-intentioned. But asking a depressed person to snap out of it is like asking a personality like Kanye West to show more humility; it’s just not going
to happen.

Most important, your partner needs to feel that you empathize with his struggle and are there to support him. But having compassion doesn’t mean being muzzled.

His depression is not really your problem to solve and can’t ultimately be your responsibility to resolve. However, you do have a responsibility to be transparent about the impact of his low mood on you and your satisfaction level in the relationship. The more frank you can be about your concern, the clearer the message can be received.

Longstanding depression can be a harrowing experience and usually demands a combination of outside supports. Tell your guy that you are there to cheerlead as he works toward healing, but make sure that you aren’t working harder than he is. What role is he willing to play in finding his way to a better emotional state? Does he recognize how his depression affects you and your connection to each other? Sustained change will be up to him, and you can’t compensate for the self-care that he is neglecting.

The worst thing you can do is match his depression and mimic his sedentary existence. Taking care that you are getting fulfilled is essential, so that you don’t also get pulled under the wave of his blues. It takes energy to live alongside a person who is facing depression.

If you limit your world to the size of his shrinking one, you will be setting yourself up for resentment and a flat-lined relationship. By making sure you are filling your energy tank with meaningful activities and relationships, you’ll be there to see this through.

Adam Segal, writer and therapist, works in private practice in downtown Toronto. Ask him your relationship or mental-health question at relationship@inmagazine.ca.