How Do I Deal With My Partner’s Depression?

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Reader’s Question

My partner recently admitted to me that he suffers from depression. I’ve done some reading and although he doesn’t have many of the classic symptoms (loss of sex drive, trouble sleeping) I do see that he has some symptoms. He has told me he is seeing a counselor. He says his biggest problem is that he has a serious fear of the future.

He feels unable to move forward in life because he is afraid he will ruin it. We’ve been dating for 12 years, and he says that his depression/fear are preventing him from proposing to me. He broke down yesterday and said that he knows that he wants to be with me but is extremely fearful of the future. He feels devastated by what he perceives as “leading me on”. He also feels terrible that “he’s playing with peoples lives”. He has a great, successful career. What can I do?

Psychologist’s Reply

Your partner may be suffering from depression or from a combination of anxiety and depression. Recent research is discovering that many people experience both depression and anxiety so it is often difficult to separate the two. For example, his overwhelming guilt sounds like depression, while his fear of the future sounds like anxiety.

I find it interesting that he has a “great, successful career” but seems unable to move forward in his personal life with you. While there is a difference between personal and professional lives, many of the dynamics are similar. I assume that he has to make decisions about the future in his professional life, so it seems as though he is able to overcome his depression and anxiety to succeed in that arena. If that is indeed the case, it may be worth a discussion about how he can generalize his decision-making abilities with work to his personal life.

Whatever his situation, what matters most is how it is affecting you. Twelve years is a long time to be dating. If you are fine with where you are in your life, then I suggest letting him work out his issues and see what happens. If however you are not fine with the situation, you may consider giving him a reasonable deadline by which he has to propose. If he does not, then you may need to seek another partner who is healthy enough to give you what you need.

Depression and anxiety are extremely difficult disorders to manage. However, the cure for both is usually action even in the face of discomfort. Depression makes people want to do nothing, so treatment involves pushing them to engage. Similarly, anxiety makes people avoid things, so healing includes having them do the feared behavior and then manage the anxiety. Thus, your partner needs to make a decision. If he makes the wrong one then he, like the rest of the world, will have to deal with the consequences and learn from it.

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