Dating can be a fulfilling, healthy, and enjoyable experience, allowing you to feel more confident, happy, and connected when you have a partner. However, like even the things that bring joy, dating can also present specific challenges. You and your partner may communicate differently or have trouble understanding each other's feelings, particularly when dealing with mental health issues like depression.
When dating someone struggling with depression, you might not know the best ways to support your loved one if you don't experience depression yourself. You may feel frustrated, wondering why they feel a certain way or if their emotions have something to do with you.
Below are eight research-based tips, incorporating self care and compassion, that you can consider to ensure you're fostering a healthy and rewarding relationship with a partner experiencing a depressive episode.
Depression’s Effect On Relationships
Dating someone with depression may present unique challenges as you deal with fluctuating moods and social withdrawal. Your partner may have days when they feel happy and energetic and days when they feel hopeless and disengaged, making it hard to know what to expect. They may lose interest in activities they once enjoyed, struggle to complete care tasks, or have days where they're irritable.
The symptoms of depression could impact relationships in different ways. For example, fatigue and a lack of interest in things they once enjoyed could manifest in less affection or intimacy between you. Additionally, irritability might result in conflict.
The following are common symptoms of depression:
- Sadness, apathy, and hopelessness
- Irritability and mood swings
- Loss of pleasure
- Trouble sleeping
- Excessive crying
- Social withdrawal
- Substance abuse
- Slow movements and speech
- Difference in libido
- Urges to partake in self-harm
- Suicidal thoughts
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, help is available. The free 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, an information service, can be reached by calling or sending a text message to 988 and is available 24/7.
Eight Tips For Dating Someone With Depression
Depression may feel overwhelming and challenging for the person experiencing it, so as their partner, consider providing valuable support and understanding. Depression is not your partner’s fault and often has nothing to do with others. Research shows that depression is often a biological condition, and it is treatable.
With some effort, empathy, and the following tips, you may positively influence your partner’s life as you both work to build a healthy relationship.
1. Avoid Trying To “Fix” Them
If you're not familiar with the pain of depression yourself, it may feel tempting to try to help a partner with depression by giving them tips or advice. However, it's important to understand and respect that depression is a mental illness that often requires professional help, such as therapy and medication.
While you may be aware of specific strategies for managing symptoms of depression, your advice might not be well-received by your partner due to its sensitive nature. If you give your partner advice or suggest they can “cure” their depression through your tips, it may make them feel like you’re invalidating their experience. They may also think they’re inconveniencing you when they feel depressed.
Many depressed people are already aware of standard techniques for managing their symptoms and haven't found them helpful. Instead of giving them advice, it's significant to provide love, support, and emotional validation. Be present for your partner and utilize their love language to show them care when they struggle to maintain their mental health.
2. Remember That Depression Can Be Unpredictable
It may feel difficult to understand when you don't experience symptoms yourself, but depression can create drastic changes in mood that aren't always predictable. Highs and lows often accompany symptoms of depression, which can make it hard to anticipate your partner's behavior or stick to plans.
At times, you may know when your partner is feeling down, but you may be caught off guard at other points. This unpredictability may make being in a relationship with adults experiencing depression challenging. For example, you might make plans weeks in advance that must be canceled when the day rolls around because your partner doesn't want to go anymore.
One of the most important things is to understand that they might have tough days that can affect their ability to complete tasks and interact with you. Try to stay as flexible as possible and accept that they may not always be able to participate in activities.
If you're experiencing stress, anxiety, or upset about your partner not spending time with you, you might consider seeking support from a friend, family member, or your support network or going out on your own.
3. Set Healthy Boundaries
When dating someone with depression, setting firm boundaries may help you care for your mental health. You might want to provide support as often as possible. However, giving support 24/7 might not be healthy for you. Consider giving yourself space to care for your well-being when needed.
Additionally, if you’re determined to stick to specific plans and appointments, you might need to tell your partner that you’ll go without them on some days when they want to stay home. You can’t force another person to do anything, but you also may not have to give up things that are important to you.
For some people, depression manifests as anger. If your partner is to the point of directing negative emotions toward you, you can let them know in an empathetic way that you won’t tolerate that behavior.
You might need to remove yourself from the situation or even let your partner know you need some time apart. It can feel hard to set and enforce a boundary, but it can help with your mental well-being. If you’re experiencing conflict with a partner often, you might also try couples therapy or relationship coaching.
4. Try Therapy Together
Therapy can be a valuable part of treating depression. If your partner sees a mental health professional, ask whether you can attend a session with them. Speaking to a therapist together may allow you to educate yourself more about your partner’s depression and how you can best support them.
This action might not be appropriate at the beginning of a relationship, but if you’ve been dating for a while, attending therapy can give you essential insight into the other person and your role in the relationship.
5. Actively Listen
At times, listening may be more beneficial than talking. Studies show that active listening improves relationship satisfaction. Although it may not be your responsibility to manage the symptoms of your partner’s depression, listen to what they’re saying without giving them advice or judging.
Ask them clarifying questions if you need to. Let them know that you care about them and are there for them. It can feel hard to understand what your partner is thinking or feeling, but listening to them carefully may provide valuable insights for supporting them.
6. Focus On Their Strengths
7. Look For Patterns
Specific triggers may prompt or worsen depression symptoms in those who experience it. Depression can be brought on by high-stress situations, substance use, particular physical health concerns, or various other scenarios and catalysts.
As you spend time with your partner, see if you can identify common factors that may lead to depressive symptoms. If you know what to watch for, you may be able to note these things to your partner to help them partake in coping skills when a trigger comes along.
8. Tend To Your Own Mental Health
Your partner’s depression may affect their mental well-being as well as yours. Although this is not your or their fault, you may experience complicated emotions while dating them. In addition to any mental health-related concerns you might live with, this can feel overwhelming.
Consider taking time to care for yourself. There are many ways that you can tend to your mental health, including:
- Self-soothing practices, such as mindfulness
- Expressive writing through journaling
- Alone time
- Physical activity, such as exercise
- Spending time in nature
When you make your mental well-being a priority, you may be able to provide support.
Online Therapy For Support
Studies show that online therapy can improve relationship functioning, in addition to symptoms of mental health conditions. In a wide-ranging survey, researchers found that online couples therapy provides several advantages over in-person treatment.
In some cases, couples said online therapy was more productive because they could focus on their issues more intently. They also reported feeling less judged than they would have with in-person treatment. The study also indicated that online therapy is effective when treating the symptoms of individual mental illnesses, such as depression.
If you have questions about relationships, depression, or similar mental health-related concerns, know that help is available. If you’re ready to seek help, you might consider an online therapy platform like BetterHelp for individuals or Regain for couples. A therapist may give you support and guidance as you address complicated relationship challenges. You can talk to a mental health professional through video, voice, or in-app messaging. A therapist can provide emotional support and valuable techniques for navigating a relationship where one partner has depression.
Although dating someone with depression may present unique challenges, love can be a rewarding, fun, and healthy part of your life. The tips in this article may help you support your partner as they work through their complex mental health condition.
If you’d like further guidance when it comes to your relationship, symptoms of depression, or other concerns, know that online therapy is available. With the right help, you can enjoy a long and fulfilling relationship.
Frequently Asked Questions
For examples of questions that might be beneficial to explore in therapy, please see below.
Can a relationship work if one is depressed?
Should you date someone with a mental illness?
Can depression make you not interested in your partner?
How do you comfort a depressed partner?
Is mental health a reason to break up?
Is being depressed in a relationship toxic?
Can a relationship survive mental illness?
Should a mentally unstable person be in a relationship?
Can depression make you want to leave a relationship?
How do I date a guy with a mental illness?
Can depression cause intimacy issues?
How do I console my depressed girlfriend?
What should you do when your boyfriend is depressed?
How does depression work with relationships?
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