How to Support Your Partner Through Trauma and Depression: A Concise Guide

March 14, 2024

In the intricate dance of love and partnership, it’s not uncommon for one’s steps to falter under the weight of trauma or depression. When your partner is struggling with these emotional challenges, that can make the journey tough for you both.  As a couples therapist, I understand how trying it can be and the delicate balance required to support a partner in distress. In this blog post, we will explore compassionate strategies to help your loved ones navigate the storm of trauma and depression, without neglecting your own needs and that can foster a path towards healing and deeper connection for you both. 

Cultivate and Welcome Open, Honest Communication 

Effective communication is a cornerstone of any healthy relationship, especially when dealing with trauma or depression.

Create a safe space for your partner to express their feelings without judgment. Listen without interrupting or problem solving and try your best to resist the temptation to “fix” or “get rid of” their pain.  Sometimes just having someone to share your struggles with can alleviate some of the intensity of the burden.

Encourage open dialogue about their experience and actively empathize and validate their emotion. Yet, if your partner is hesitant to share and resistant to talking, remember not to push too hard, be patient and understanding, recognizing that healing takes time and trust.

Providing consistent and gentle reminders that you are willing to listen, such as telling them,  “I’m here for you when you are ready” or offering gentle physical gestures such as a hug or holding their hand can help prepare the space for them to do so when they are ready.  

Understanding the Impact of Trauma and Depression on Your Relationship

Knowledge is a powerful tool in supporting a partner dealing with trauma or depression. Take the time to educate yourself about their specific challenges. Understanding the nature of their struggles can help you empathize more effectively and avoid unintentional or hurtful behaviors and communications. 

Seek reputable sources, literature, or even consult with mental health professionals to gain insights into their condition. There is a great deal of information about identifying and understanding trauma and coping with depression. 

Gaining such knowledge will not only empower you, but also demonstrate your care for your partner, your belief in their ability to heal and your commitment to their well-being.

How to Encourage Your Partner to Pursue Professional Support 

While your love and support are invaluable, professional help is often necessary for individuals dealing with trauma or depression. 

Encourage your partner to seek the help of a professional and trained psychotherapist near by and remind them that seeking the help of a professional mental health clinician is not a weakness but it is a sign of strength and courage.

A skilled therapist can provide the best tools and guidance needed for healing, offering an unbiased perspective and specific support and strategies for healing. 

If your partner does not feel ready for individual work, starting with couples therapy or offering to attend therapy together with them initially can foster a collaborative approach to overcoming challenges. 

While offering to attend therapy with your partner can seem like a blurring of boundaries, when done so with awareness and clear communication about your intention and your own boundaries, such a gesture can be life altering and quite powerful for your partner and your relationship.

Keys to Healing Relationships

Caring for a partner with trauma or depression can be emotionally draining and can fill you hurt, guilt, resentment and even doubt about the viability of your relationship

That is why it is crucial for you to be able to self-reflect and understand your boundaries. Be clear about what you feel, what you need, what you can offer and what limitations you have with respect to providing support to your partner. 

Establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries for yourself to protect your personal sense of well-being is absolutely essential. If you over-extend yourself beyond what feels reasonable and possible for you, that can create feelings of exhaustion and resentment that will add another layer of challenge to an already difficult time. 

Recognize when you need to take a step back, to recharge or seek support for yourself. Self-care is not selfish. It’s an non-negotiable aspect of sustaining, healthy and functional relationships with yourself and others.

Communicating about your own needs and encouraging your partner to do the same, while establishing respect for each other’s boundaries is vital for long-term well-being.

Cultivate Patience and Understanding

Healing is a gradual process and progress may come in small unpredictable and non-linear steps. Patience and understanding are paramount when supporting a partner through trauma or depression. 

Taking time to celebrate the different victories, no matter how small, such as practicing better self-care, resisting the urge to devalue oneself or saying “no” to an invite instead of saying “yes” out of guilt, is really important. 

Managing expectations of your partner and helping them manage expectations of themselves while working through trauma and depression is essential. Avoid placing unrealistic expectations on your partner or reminding them of “what you used to be like.” 

Focusing instead on creating an environment of love acceptance, and acknowledging the effort your partner puts into their healing and recovery can be growth promoting for them, for you and your relationship. 

Practical Strategies for Helping Your Partner to Get Help  

Working through trauma or depression is far from easy and it can take a great deal of effort, energy, time and courage. 

While it may seem clear to you that your partner would benefit from better self-care and/or seeking professional help, it is not uncommon for people struggling with trauma or depression to resist seeking help, which can be incredibly infuriating, hurtful and scary for you, their partner. 

When your partner resists getting help for their trauma or depression, the first thing you can do is not to argue with them about it or assume to know what they are resistant to.

Instead, try to create a space for them to share more specifically about what they are afraid of – since unusually fear or some form of it, is at the heart of resistance. Be empathic to their feelings of resistance, acknowledging how hard it can be to work on oneself. 

Try to offer words of encouragement and see if you can help them think about what they would like to feel and what they would like for themselves and your relationship for the future to see if they have the propensity to see beyond the misery of they now. 

And of course, there are instances, where sadly, a person is just not ready, willing or able to do the work needed to heal and that can make it extremely challenging for them to continue on in an intimate relationship that has a chance to be functional or thrive. 

In Conclusion

Navigating the complexities of supporting a partner who is dealing with trauma or depression, requires patience, empathy, self-reflection and a deep commitment to mutual growth. 

By fostering honest and open communication, educating yourself, encouraging professional support, establishing healthy boundaries and practicing patience you can create a foundation for healing and connection, and your relationship. Remember, the journey may be challenging, but the shared path can be quite healing and strengthen the bonds of love and resilience for both partners and for years to come. If you are in the NYC area and are ready to get help, let’s get started. 


References:

Gobout, N., Morissette Harvey, F., Cyr, G. et al. Cumulative Childhood Trauma and Couple Satisfaction: Examining the Mediating Role of Mindfulness. Mindfulness 11, 1723–1733 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-020-01390-x

Wagner AC, Liebman RE, Mithoefer AT, Mithoefer MC and Monson CM (2021) Relational and Growth Outcomes Following Couples Therapy With MDMA for PTSD. Front. Psychiatry 12:702838. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2021.702838

Luginbuehl, T., Schoebi, D., Goh, P. H., Miller, J. V., & Davila, J. (2024). Depressed mood and perception of negative partner behavior in couple interactions: A daily diary study. Personal Relationships, 31(1), 242–258. https://doi.org/10.1111/pere.12528

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