I’m often asked on the road how someone can cope with a partner that is experiencing anxiety or depression. 14 million Americans, or 6.8% of the population experiences depression while 40 million Americans, or 18.1% experience anxiety. This is clearly affecting many couples and I think it’s relevant to write about.
I work with couples who experience this on a daily basis and while challenging, I find that these couples ultimately have a stronger and more unified bond because they have learned to problem solve together. Here are my first five thoughts that come to mind:
1. Don’t take it personally: We often assume that a partner’s down demeanor is because of us. It’s not. Depression and anxiety can be either situational or biological but we are never the sole cause of either symptomatology. It’s tough enough as it is to go through these experiences so do your best to not shame your spouse. Remind them that you are there to support them but also give them some space to breathe so that they don’t feel added guilt.
2. Seek help: It’s good to enter your own therapy to process how the relationship is affecting you. Entering couples therapy is also extremely helpful as it gives couples a space to process the dynamic between them and understand how to communicate effectively. More than anything, a therapist can normalize the experience, as many couples feel very much alone in this experience when in truth, millions of couples endure this on a regular basis.
3. Educate yourself: Learn about what the symptoms of anxiety and depression really are. We have so many myths about these diagnoses. Even reading the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual 5 (DSM5) can help clarify symptomatology. The more you learn, the more empowered you will be and the less scared you will feel about the symptoms you are seeing.
4. Don’t enable: Spouses often want to ameliorate anxiety by giving into the demands. This is the worst thing you can do. If your spouse is wanting to check a locked door (for the third time) or is asking you to drive back a half hour to see if the stove is on, you cannot give in. This reinforces the anxious behavior. It can be difficult to do in the moment but you have to say no to your partner when they are asking you to take part in their anxious behavior. The best thing you can do is to be a calming presence that holds a boundary in their life. While counterintuitive at the start, this ultimately helps an anxious partner learn to trust himself or herself.
5. Be patient: Depression and anxiety can ebb and flow but a couple can learn how to manage the symptoms. There is hope! Even though it may feel like it’s going to last forever, this too shall pass. So long as you can be compassionate and patient with one another, a couple can endure the challenges that depression and anxiety brings into a relationship. Ultimately, a couple can connect to an even greater degree because they are learning to truly be vulnerable and open with one another through a trying time.
If you or someone you know is experiencing anxiety or depression, either within yourself or with your partner, I invite you to seek help and support. You are not alone in this experience and with a concerted effort, your relationship can not only stabilize, but also improve.