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When It’s Not Just “A Bad Day”: Understanding Your Partner’s Depression

You Can Be FreeYou come home from work and he’s lying on the couch, much in the same position you left him eight hours ago.

She doesn’t want to go with you anymore to do the things you used to enjoy together.

You find yourself making excuses to others as to why s/he isn’t with you at the party.

Nothing you do seems to help to bring a smile to their face, despite your best efforts, time and time again.

This is the face of depression.

Depression affects not only the person who is struggling, but everyone else the person interacts with as well. As the partner of a depressed person, you can easily wear yourself out, both physically and mentally, trying to make the situation and relationship better. Not only is that not healthy for you, but it is not healthy for the relationship. So how do you keep things in balance?

  • Remind yourself that depression is a chronic disease, just like heart disease or diabetes. Your partner cannot simply “get over it.” It can be tempting to blame your partner for their feelings or actions, but these are symptoms of the illness, not personal attacks on you. That can be hard to separate, so that’s why I always recommend that partners get their own therapy to learn the difference.
  • If your partner is not already receiving treatment for depression, encourage them to speak to a mental health practitioner. For some people, they will want to start with a psychiatrist, who may prescribe medication. For others, they will want to try talk therapy first. Be supportive of whatever treatment your partner wants to try. If they are reluctant, offer to make an appointment for them and/or accompany them to the first appointment. If that doesn’t help, try these tips for helping a partner who refuses treatment.
  • Especially during the early stages of treatment, your partner will need a supportive person to remind them of following through on their treatment plans, whether that’s taking their medication, going to therapy, or doing anything else they’ve been asked to do. Lack of energy, hopelessness, and forgetfulness are all symptoms of depression, which can make it hard to follow through with treatment. You may need to take the reins for a while until the treatment begins to work.
  • For most people, improvement takes time. Medications often do not begin to make a difference until six weeks of consistent, appropriate dosing. With talk therapy, change takes time as well. Don’t give up before the treatment has a chance to work. Conversely, encourage your partner to continue taking their meds even though they are feeling better. Let the psychiatrist decide when it’s time to start tapering the dosage.
  • Spend time with your partner. It is definitely challenging to be around someone who is not feeling well, especially when you’ve got your own stuff to deal with. However, interaction with a loved one is very important for the depressed person. They are already feeling alone and unlovable: spending time with them reinforces the message that they are still valuable and important. I also love this list of best things to say to someone who is depressed.
  • Take any talk about suicide seriously. Women are more likely to attempt suicide, but men generally die at higher rates from suicide. If your partner is talking about suicide, take them to the nearest emergency room or call 911 for help.
  • As with any illness, self-care for yourself is important as well. As I said at the beginning, burning yourself out mentally and physically does no good for anyone. Depression is a long haul back to wellness, and you need to be able to go the distance.

If you have a depressed partner, what has been helpful for you? If you have depression yourself, what else should partners know?

Creative Commons License photo credit: kelsey_lovefusionphoto

When It’s Not Just “A Bad Day”: Understanding Your Partner’s Depression

Kate Thieda

Kate Thieda, MS, LPCA, NCC, is a patient advocate for Women's and Children's Services at Duke University Hospital in Durham, North Carolina. She is a licensed professional counselor associate and a National Certified Counselor who specializes in cognitive-behavioral and dialectical behavior therapies. Her book, Loving Someone With Anxiety, will be published by New Harbinger in the spring of 2013.

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APA Reference
Thieda, K. (2019). When It’s Not Just “A Bad Day”: Understanding Your Partner’s Depression. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 25, 2020, from


Last updated: 31 Mar 2019
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