Being in a relationship with someone suffering from depression or anxiety can be challenging. You wish you could turn a switch that would magically make her feel happy again, but in reality, healing takes patience and compassion.
But there’s hope for joy, peace and relief. Here are 11 ways to make your relationship function better by communicating openly and understanding that her illnesses do not define her:
1. Only play the role of the partner.
You’re not the doctor, therapist or parent. There will be many times when she’ll want to cry or vent, and the best thing you can do is be there to comfort her. Let her know everything is going to be okay.
2. Support her healing strategies.
Ask her how her treatment is going and let her share what she’s discovered so far in her healing process. Always know that there are life coaches, therapists, counselors, psychologists and psychiatrists she can lean on who are trained in effectively treating mental illnesses.
3. Turn the conversation to something optimistic.
When she talks about what’s wrong, ask her if she sees any lessons. When she talks about what doesn’t feel good, ask her what does feel good. When she talks about suffering, ask her what she can do to feel comfort again. Give her seeds of hope.
4. Let her know how you love her.
If she’s dealing with depression and anxiety, she’s most likely also trying to strengthen her self-awareness and self-esteem. Although you can’t put these strengths in her, you can help her feel reassured that you’re there for her. Share with her what you love about her talents, humor and beauty. You can never say “I love you” too often.
5. Understand her triggers and avoid setting them off.
She may get upset about things that don’t bother you, like your mother’s politics or where you put your shoes at the end of the day. Pay attention to her body language—when she tenses up and seems upset—and notice when you push her buttons.
6. Be gentle yet honest about how you’re feeling.
Share your thoughts, fears, frustrations, ideas, solutions, dreams and revelations. Discuss what makes you happy in the relationship, and fantasize about things you see the two of you doing together. Talk about what excites you about in the relationship and the methods to finding its full potential.
7. Create direct and clear boundaries between yourself and other women.
What you may perceive as unfounded jealousy is actually fear. It is fear that her illnesses will scare you away or that you’ll leave her for another woman who doesn’t have the same problems. Only welcome women into your life who honor and respect your relationship and love your girlfriend/wife as much as you do. Build and maintain bridges of trust.
8. Surround yourself with people who care about you and your girlfriend/wife.
She’ll need to be surrounded by those who love her and hold a supportive and healing space for her. Someone is not part of your positive community if he or she does not show compassion or does not show the respect she deserves for her courage. Keep the tribe and the drama small.
9. Have productive activities that only the two of you share.
Make art together. Go on hikes together. Take an impulsive weekend holiday together to the beach to make sandcastles. Visit a record store or go to a show together. Drive around and point out houses or gardens that you both like. Establish unique bonding time.
10. Give her space to grow and heal on her own.
Be enthusiastic when she tells you about the cooking class she wants to register for. Encourage her to try a restorative yoga class or join the meditation group. Let her have her own set of hobbies and activities that bring her peace of mind, confidence and self-awareness.
11. Make love to her.
The power of affection and sexuality can express love, give comfort and uplift moods like nothing else. It will make her feel beautiful and desired. It will be a satisfying way to reconnect on spiritual, emotional and physical levels. Be affectionate and watch how even in the darkest of times, the deepest sensation of calming hope is available to both of you.
Recovering from depression and anxiety during my own relationship has been challenging, but it also helped us strengthen our companionship. We ask each other questions when we need clarity and we work to respond to each other with compassion. Ultimately, I learned that effective partnership grows from honoring each other’s needs and treating your partner like the fragile and precious person you fell in love with.
Author: Kiki Dombrowski
Editor: Evan Yerburgh