It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to conclude that relationships aren’t easy. Maintaining trust, conflict management and helping each other grow requires serious effort and healthy communication.
However, when you add mental health issues such as depression into the mix, it becomes infinitely more difficult to keep your relationship on the right track.
Depression is one of the most common mental health issues, affecting approximately 3.8% of the world population. Imagine 28 crore people having to deal with negative thoughts, disinterest in social interactions, sleeping and appetite problems.
It tends to consume a person’s entire world and consequently ends up affecting their caregivers as well. Relationships wherein one has been diagnosed with depression costs both individuals.
28 crore people neglecting their own needs because they don’t have the energy to navigate life. It is far more likely for you to cross paths with a person living with depression than an astronaut during your lifetime, and you won’t even know it.
To live with depression is to constantly be in a fight against your mind. Depression runs deeper than just sadness. It is not possible for people to just stop feeling depressed. The crippling hopelessness that plagues them makes even basic tasks difficult.
Movies like Silver Linings Playbook and Little Miss Sunshine have made very brave attempts at capturing the reality of mental illnesses in real life, but all they can do is provide a brief glimpse into a very bleak world.
While it is true that people with depression are not always sad and do not ‘shut down’ as we say, they do tend to be more affected by simple events, sometimes catastrophizing little problems into big issues.
A study indicates that depression takes an emotional toll on couples and their relationship, strains romantic and sexual intimacy and leads to a lack of communication.
Such relationships are built on a foundation of codependency; the individual with depression becomes highly dependent on their partners, while their partners start feeling like giving care to them is their sole purpose.
The partner is further subject to social ostracization and stigma and has to bear the burden of people’s judgement. Trust issues develop, leading to a sense of frustration for the non-depressed partner as they cannot figure out how to help overcome their depression.
When you cannot help but see your loved one suffer in such a manner, the seed of guilt embeds itself into your mind. This guilt and trauma then manifest itself in being too helpful and agreeable, often making decisions without much thought.
While it is okay to worry about your partner, it just isn’t fair if you start compromising on your own space is it? In a country like India, and all around the world, in fact, most caregivers are women.
In addition to the trauma associated with caregiving itself, they also have to deal with stringent gender norms and sexism. It then becomes highly likely that the partner living without depression will agree to do things out of their comfort zone if only to bring temporary relief to their loved one.
Their lives become so entangled that when you think about ending the relationship, you cannot figure out how to. The trauma and guilt turn into a pit, sucking you both in.
What results is a highly non-ideal situation; both the partners become so dependent that it becomes difficult to separate their identities.
Dr. Anju Thakral, a Clinical Psychologist working with the Department of Psychiatry, DIMHANS S.P. Medical College, Bikaner, feels that honest communication is the key to handling such relationships.
Not Anyone’s Fault
People with depression tend to have a negative thought process and often show disinterest in their relationships. In such a situation, it’s hard not to guilt-trip yourself into believing that you’re being inadequate. However, their behaviour is a result of negative appraisal and should not be taken personally.
Boundaries Are Important
Caring for someone is a full-time job and people often don’t find enough time for themselves. It is important to know your own limits and lay down boundaries in the relationship; don’t let your guilt force you to do things that you’re not comfortable doing. Additionally, steal some time for yourself and meditate if you can.
Having A Support Network Helps
Seems ironic, doesn’t it? To build a support network for someone who is already a part of someone else’s support network. But it’s just as important nonetheless. Taking care of someone with depression takes its own toll on one’s mental health.
Having your own support group ensures that you are not burdening yourself with your partner’s problems and have people to take care of you too.
Therapy May Be The Answer
Don’t hesitate to seek help if your mental distress starts overpowering your life. Therapy will help you come to terms with your needs and take necessary precautions. Couples counselling too could help resolve some of the strain caused on the relationship and could turn out to be a great way to mend the bond.
Leaving Is An Option
Depression can be very scary for both the people involved. And in some cases, the partner living without depression has no choice but to leave for their own sake. However, ensure that your partner is emotionally independent enough to not take any drastic measures after you end things.
The Fear of Ending a Relationship: “To stay with a person because we wish to avoid a few hours of unpleasantness is no favour to them – if we then go on to be bitter, mean, snide, unfaithful and depressed around them for the next few decades.”
— The School of Life (@TheSchoolOfLife) November 14, 2019
An optimal way of doing this is by slowly giving them responsibilities and small tasks that help boost their confidence and separate their identity from yours.
While ending the relationship is purely an individual decision and depends on one couple to another, your partner should have enough stability to take care of themselves after you leave.
It takes two to be in a relationship and both the people must work in tandem with each other to help their relationship flourish. Depression may be very crippling, but it can be handled well if the couple succeeds in keeping their identities separate while helping each other heal from their traumas.
Medical professionals thus continue to highlight the importance of focusing on the mental health of both the individuals involved, with treatment for the one dealing with depression. It is only when one receives adequate care and professional help that one can foster healthy relationships with others.
All said and done, there are multiple facets to navigating a relationship and the list of suggestions cited above are not in any way medical advice or exhaustive in nature.
The author is part of the current batch of the Writer’s Training Program.