You know that feeling, the one that leaves you longing for an ordinary day? Suddenly mundane tasks like the morning coffee routine, the ritual of a late afternoon text to make happy hour plans, or the ability to crush a list of errands in one fell swoop feel pretty extraordinary.
When we find ourselves longing for the ordinary, it is often a sign that something in our lives is out of balance. Sometimes the fix is simple: be more present, exercise more, sleep eight hours. But when depression is the culprit, things are rarely so simple.
It can be even more crushing to realize it’s your partner who is slipping. So while ordinary days keep coming, they might feel more lonely without your significant other, like you’re alone watching from the sidelines.
As their partner, you have a unique vantage point to help your significant other notice the early signs of depression, often before they notice symptoms themselves. Here are 5 signs your partner may be experiencing symptoms of depression and tips for how to start a conversation about getting help.
Signs a Partner May Be Spiraling
Altered sleep patterns
From sleeping too much to hardly sleeping at all, dramatic changes in your partner’s sleep patterns can often be a symptom of depression. Insomnia and heightened anxiety may be keeping them up at night, or an overwhelming constant fatigue may be causing them to sleep much more than usual. As the person often lying next to them, the tossing and turning may even be keeping you awake. If this is the case, use this opportunity to ask them what’s weighing on them and how you might help.
It happens to the best of us — when exhaustion and fatigue set in — it’s natural for tempers to become short. However, for those who may be in the early stages slipping back into a depression, or teetering on the cusp of one, mood swings are a daily(if not hourly) battle.
For men especially, this can mean flying off the handle at a moment’s notice or becoming angry over meaningless things. As their partner, there’s a good chance you’ve been on the receiving end of hot and cold moods.
While it is important to listen, it’s also important to set healthy boundaries for yourself if you ever feel a line is being crossed. When tempers have calmed and without excusing the behavior, it is important to let them know how their words made you feel. As you unpack the situation, ask your partner how they are feeling about their moods.
Share your observations — citing examples and patterns — remind them that you want them to feel better and more emotionally stable. If the situations increase in frequency or intensity, be prepared with a handful of professional resources where they might start the journey to feeling more like themselves again.
Loss of interest
An early sign of depression is a decrease of interest in activities that your partner ordinarily finds enjoyable. This can be anything from favorite foods, to friend groups, to the concert they’ve been looking forward to for months. If you notice your significant other is increasingly apathetic about things that they once found fun, it may be a sign they are slipping into depression. The longer this goes on, the harder it is for your partner to start caring again. To help them break the pattern, encourage them to join you in a low-stakes activity. Getting outside for a walk or a coffee, can go a long way just by changing environments, even if it’s just the two of you.
Under the cloud of depression, your partner’s general sense of apathy may lead to withdrawing from social situations in which the energy to feign enthusiasm is just too much. Because of this, you may notice them opting for more nights in and even canceling plans repeatedly. This can be especially frustrating if you feel left to make excuses on your partner’s behalf. While we all have busy weeks, if this starts to become a regular occurrence, you may want to encourage your significant other to join you for low-key outings. It may be tempting to nag your partner, pushing them until they join you, but the results likely won’t be the outcome you’re aiming for.
Loss of sexual desire
Depression causes chemical imbalances our brains, and the chemicals that are responsible for the desire to have sex can also be thrown off. Whether or not your partner is on medication for their depression, they are likely to experience a shift in their sex drive. While antidepressants are notorious for negatively impacting libido, studies show 45% of people with untreated depression experience some sort of sexual dysfunction and 63% of depressed people on medication suffer from it, as well. If your partner is not taking medication for their depression or anxiety, but you are noticing they have less interest in physical intimacy, this may be a side effect of untreated depression.
If you’re the type who always wants to help or fix things, your partner’s depression can be especially challenging.
What You Can Do to Minimize Your Partner’s Spiral
While it may seem like there are not many silver linings as depression wreaks havoc on your partner, you may find that you are able to focus on strengthening certain relationship skills during this time. Communication — especially about physical and emotional feelings — may be especially hard for your partner right now.
However, when you make yourself available and they open up, you’ll be building strong foundations together for your future as a couple. Focus on listening without judgement and use these conversations to better understand if their symptoms are worsening or improving.
The more you understand about what your partner is going through, the more patience, trust, empathy, and kindness you’ll be able to extend to them. Being with someone who is experiencing symptoms of depression can leave you dealing with your own emotions but, having the knowledge and resources to help make sense of what your loved one is going through can be empowering.
Walking alongside your partner as they navigate depression can be straining on you and on your relationship. If you are feeling burned out, it is worth reaching out to a professional. A licensed therapist can support you in your role and ensure you continue to prioritize your own self-care.