The Key to Relationships When You Have Depression

Earlier on in our relationship, I pulled Kevin aside when we had a moment alone together in the kitchen. Friends were over.

“I need you to be extra touchy-feely, babe. Can you rub me on the back and check in to see how I’m doing? You do already do those things but I’m feeling anxious and I need them a bit more than usual tonight.”

“Sure, boo,” he said. My anxiety was at about a level 8ish. (How does one even measure feelings, anyway?)

These are the things that are good to relay to your partner regardless of your situation, but when you live with depression, this is particularly important. There needs to be explicit communication about how you’re feeling and what you need from your partner.

Carrying anxiety (or depression) by yourself becomes a habit when you grow up in an environment that enables you to carry the baggage solo. You forget that there’s an option or you’re not yet aware that there’s an option to practice vulnerability and trust. There’s an option to reach out. A healthy, sound relationship requires it of you to reach out to your partner.

I used to think that if my partner’s love for me was authentic, he would notice when I’m feeling out of sorts and that would cue him to reassure me in some way; if he didn’t catch on and offer care and support, I would get upset. Your partner can’t read your mind — and really, would you want them to? — and regardless of how obvious you think your situation is on the outside, it’s best to be upfront and proactive. Help your partner support you by telling them what you need of them. I assure you, they want to know. Your partner wants to support you. Depression tells you that no one wants to support you. Don’t listen. You and your partner will take turns leaning into each other. That’s how it works.

Clinical Psychologist and author Dr. Sue Johnson wrote in her book “Hold Me Tight,” “When safe connection seems lost, partners go into fight-or-flight mode… Most fights are really protests over emotional disconnection.”

I know it can be difficult when depression is visiting because the depressed partner, by nature of the illness, is unable to give as much to the relationship as they are able when they’re feeling OK. That’s OK. Kevin and I have acknowledged that and it (along with his kind and gentle soul) has given me permission to give myself permission to not feel guilty about the temporary imbalance.

woman and man selfie smiling wearing sunglasses with dog in background

When I’m not under depression’s spell, these are some things that Kevin and I do to stay connected:

1. Take walks together with our dog, Fuzz, after breakfast. I try to force myself out of bed to do this when depressed. It may only be a 10-minute walk, but it makes a huge difference.

2. Leave surprise love notes for each other around the house. Sometimes I sneak something into his lunch box.

3. Enjoy a weekly date night together. We met on a Wednesday, so those days are our “weekiversary’”days. (You don’t need to go out. Sometimes we veg at home. It’s the time investment and being present with one another that matters most.

4. Massage each other. Sometimes the massage is a 2-minute shoulder massage in passing but any length of time is wonderful. Our favorite is trading foot massages facing each other on the couch.

5. Pick up something from the grocery store that we didn’t put on the list but know the other likes. For Kevin, it’s Sour Patch Kids or bleu cheese; for me, it’s La Croix or gummy cherries.

6. Kevin has my medication reminder on his phone as a backup in case I forget or miss my reminder alarm. He sends me reminder texts if we’re not together when my alarm goes off.

7. I refill or top off his water bottle if I see he’s running low.

What are some things you and your partner do to stay connected?

Follow this journey on Odawni’s blog about depression and relationships, xo, O.

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