Take it from me, someone who’s had to navigate dating as a person with depression: it’s not easy. I won’t sugarcoat it.
Depression, and mental illness in general, are still very stigmatized, which can mean that depressed people are often judged or misunderstood when meeting new people, being vulnerable, and opening up about their condition. Judgement can be especially harsh from people who don’t suffer from mental illness themselves. Not to mention, dating is hard for pretty much everybody, mental illness or not.
While you don’t want to place pressure on your partner to make you happy or rely on your partner for all of your happiness, there are definitely some qualities to look for in a partner that can make for a happier, healthier relationship.
Qualities to Look for in a Partner
Talkspace therapist Elizabeth Hinkle, LMFT, suggests using the acronym “LOVES” for the most important qualities in a partner if you have depression:
We’ll break these qualities down for you below.
1. They’re loving
Of course, love is the pillar of any romantic relationship, but when you’re depressed, you really need a partner that can love you unconditionally — whether you’re having a good mental health day or a bad mental health day. Hinkle says the ideal partner will be someone who can be “non-judgmental with their love and consistently respectful and kind.” The last thing you need when you’re in a relationship is someone who is going to judge you or be any less kind because you’re depressed.
A lot of people feel unlovable because of their mental illness. You want a partner who is going to prove you wrong and show you that you are loveable, maybe even more lovable because of how strong you are.Your partner should never make you feel like you’re a burden.
2. They’re observant
According to Hinkle, your partner should be observant of both your emotions and their own. Sometimes, actions speak louder than words. Your partner doesn’t have to be a mind reader (and it isn’t realistic to expect that of anyone), but they should be observant. If they’re observant they can take clues from your actions to know if you’re having a bad mental health day or feeling extra low, so they can know whether to give you space or extra loving, depending on your preference when you’re dealing with a depressive episode. They should also be mindful of their own emotions. It’s important for a partner to be in touch with their own emotions, not just yours, so they can take care of themselves and ask for what they need as well.
Additionally, on a more serious note, they should be observant of (and knowledagble about) suicide warning signs —just in case. This way, they can get you the extra help that you need if necessary.
3. They’re validating
Sadly, a lot of people who’ve never been depressed do not fully understand the condition or know how severe it can be. If you’re depressed, you know very well that depression isn’t just “having a bad day” or “being in a bad mood.” If a partner thinks that depression is something you can just snap out of…it’s probably not going to work out. Hinkle says you should want someone who “hears and understands your emotions — and also knows or comes to learn that depression is a medical condition.”
They should be able to validate your feelings, even if they have never experienced depression. It may be helpful to send them some articles about depression, and explain to them how your own depression manifests, since not everybody’s experience with the condition is exactly the same. The more open you can be about your experience and the way you feel, the easier it will be for them to understand where you’re coming from.
4. They’re encouraging
Many people with depression know how hard it can be to find the motivation to do even the smallest tasks. It can be really helpful to have a partner who is encouraging in general — whether they’re just motivating you to get out of bed on a rough morning or they’re pushing you to take the next step with your career. Sometimes, when you’re depressed, it really can take an extra push from somebody else to get you moving in the right direction. If your partner can help push you to be the best version of yourself, that’s a bonus — for you and for the relationship.
That said, everything should be in moderation. You don’t want somebody who’s going to be encouraging to a point of being pushy. Again, it comes down to being able to understand and validate you — encouraging you without forcing you to do anything you don’t want to do.
5. They’re supportive
Having someone’s full support when you’re depressed can mean the world. Hinkle says you should find someone who “supports your moods, your goals, and your journey.” This can mean support in recovery or help chasing your dreams. Support may also mean encouraging you to get the proper professional help when your partner can’t provide the care you need. After all, your partner isn’t your therapist. Being supportive of someone with depression is one of the simplest, yet most meaningful “gifts” that a partner can offer in a relationship.
Another way a potential partner can be supportive is by assisting you in your recovery. This means you should avoid a partner who is going to be negative about your treatment plan — like if they tease you about going to therapy or pill shame you. Thank you, next!
So, if you are currently in the dating game, be on the lookout for people with these traits —and avoid those who don’t. You deserve no less than a partner who is going to treat you right and love you passionately, depression and all.