Rosa, 35, has been in a relationship with Nick, 42, for five years. Nick was diagnosed with depression three years ago.
“Nick had always been that melancholy, quiet guy,” says Rosa, “and actually, that’s one of the things I so loved about him. He seemed so introspective and reversed, and didn’t say much unless he had something profound to say out loud.”
Over time, Rosa realized that the reason for Nick’s quiet way was partly due to mild social anxiety. Although he never came right out to Rosa about his insomnia, mood swings and at times, inconsolable sadness, as the couple got closer, Rosa saw it all firsthand.
“With the sleeplessness, I just thought he was one of those people who could sleep three, four hours a night and be okay,” she says. “And you know, sometimes he would get grumpy and then be okay an hour later, but he comes from this huge, loud, very passionate Italian-American family so I thought, okay, that’s genetic.
“What was harder to explain was when he would get in these extremely low moods, like someone died. One time I came by and he opened the door and his eyes were bloodshot, like he’d been crying for days, and he just dismissed me, waving his hand angrily and going, ‘Leave me alone, Rosa!’ It was really hard.”
We’re human – at one point or another, someone we know and love is going to feel negatively. They might be angry. They might be sad. They might withdraw.
But when those feelings are constant, when they seem to take over the person we thought we knew – we might start to wonder, as Rosa did: what is going on?
Depressed partners have been known to push their loved ones away. It’s a defense mechanism; it could be because they just feel better being alone or because they just don’t have it in them to explain themselves.
But the person who loves the depressed partner doesn’t always know how to respond to such reactions.
“Sometimes I’d get angry,” shares Rosa. “Sometimes I’ve wanted to say, ‘Just get over it already!’ Other times I have total compassion and I know how bad sadness can feel, and I don’t even have depression, so I do everything I can to love him and be there however he wants to be, whether it’s just sitting with him or leaving for the day and letting him be alone.
“What Nick doesn’t realize is that then I get terrified when I leave him alone. I don’t know how serious this is… I don’t know, if I leave, that he’ll be there when I come back.
“And that scares me so, so much.”
It’s important to realize that our depressed partners push us away for a number of reasons.
Sometimes, our depressed partner thinks they’re letting us down, that they’re a burden. They might feel as though they’re being inauthentic if they’re smiling and joking around with everyone when deep down, they’re in pain. They might feel like they’re being an awful person, lying to you and telling you everything is okay, when it really isn’t.
Other times, our depressed partner might just not have the energy to talk about things or take care of another person; they don’t have it in them to even just talk about the day.
We know how tough this is; you probably want to wrap your arms and energy around your partner and just magically make things go away. And while you can gently encourage them to find the road to recovery through therapy and self-care, you have one really important job here, and that’s to take care of you.
Your partner, of course, is deserving of your love and support, but when you’re in love with a depressed partner, you’re likely forgetting yourself and your own mental health. So when your depressed partner is pushing you away, instead of chasing after them, embrace yourself – and be ready and whole for when your partner needs and asks for you.