My Partner Is Grieving and Depressed. Is There Hope for Our Relationship?

Is there hope in a new relationship when one person is experiencing unresolved grief and depression? I met my boyfriend socially back in January 2011. We are close in age, both have worked in the human service field for years, both have college aged children, come from very similar cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Views about therapy, respect, strength based theory, embracing of individual and family narratives co-inside. Our values and views are quite compatible. When we began dating in February, we laughed a lot, communicated honestly and openly and enjoyed each others' company. Then he experienced several losses at once which contributed to his severe depression. He pulled away, but called me frequently on the phone. I told him I needed more of a commitment to spend time together if we were going to continue, which he agreed to. I have invested a lot into this relationship because and am in love with my partner; yet, do a lot of care-giving and don't seem to get the support I need. He says he loves me very much and when I feel that he falls short of showing up, or making efforts, he is apologetic and attempts to be more empathic. I have pulled back at times, he is one of the kindest people I know; yet, his depression (even treated) has made him often self-absorbed. I am patient, I am trying not to be co-dependent, bottom line I love this man. It's been 6 months of him being depressed most of the time. He is on medication and sees a therapist weekly. I have had my own battle with depression for years and manage fairly well with medication, ACOA and a supportive group of women. I no longer stay deep in the depression, but rather live in the day. Am I setting myself up for disappointment because we met at a sad time in his life? Any suggestions as to whether there are ways to balance this relationship? Am I being too idealistic, although I know from fiends that my partner was a very happy person before the multiple losses this year? I appreciate any feedback. - Idealistic Partner
Dear Idealistic Partner,

It was a pleasure to read your thoughtful, beautifully expressed letter. I’m impressed by the depth of your knowledge and understanding of yourself and your partner.

Clearly you both have a great deal in common; your shared values, backgrounds and experience provide a solid basis for a relationship-yet you fear setting yourself up for disappointment if the relationship does not last.

Your partner, whom you love, has had several losses in the last six months and is pulling away but trying at the same time to say in touch, revealing his ambivalence about being close, while caring for you too; you say that you have also retreated at times. Is this in reaction to your partner, or are you, too, feeling ambivalent about the risks that go with deep connections? Maybe you’re both frightened by past sad memories. You may fear this relationship will pull you back into ways of living that you have happily left behind, perhaps after a great deal of trouble. You’re afraid of being co-dependent- you both have depressive tendencies, and as we know depression can be contagious. I think ACOA has helped you; you might consider pursuing another therapeutic connection as well.

Six months is not a very long time to grieve multiple losses, and his friends report that before these events he was a very happy person. If you are indeed in love, perhaps you could give yourself and your partner a little more time. Sometimes the experience of loving is in itself intensely frightening. I deduce you’ve had some difficult relationships in the past and you don’t want to go through that kind of terrible pain again- I can certainly sympathize with that. But you’re a mature person who can sort through the good and the bad, and I trust that you will be able to care for yourself appropriately, especially with the help of your women’s group. The best advice, of course, always comes from within, and I wonder what your deepest self is telling you.

You could simply take a chance on this love, at least for a bit more time.

Take care,

Lynn Somerstein, PhD, NCPsyA, C-IAYT is a Manhattan-based, licensed psychotherapist with more than 30 years in private practice. She is also a yoga teacher and student of Ayuveda—the Indian science of wellness. Her main interest is in helping people find healthy ways of living, loving, and working in the particular combination that works best for them, connecting to their deepest energic source so their full range of abilities can be expressed. Lynn's specialty is understanding and alleviating anxiety and depression.
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  • Amanda

    July 31st, 2012 at 4:05 AM

    Taking care for others and understanding where they are coming from is a critical skill to learn in a relationship. Give your partner time and discuss when he feels like discussing.

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