Breaking up is never easy. Breaking up when your partner is struggling with a psychiatric disorder can be downright painful. But there comes a time in every relationship when it may be necessary to evaluate your options and make difficult choices.
No one wants to be accused of abandoning a loved one at their time of greatest need. But neither should you remain in a strained relationship with no conceivable future out of a sense of duty or guilt. Sometimes there’s nothing more you can do but say goodbye — for the sake of your own mental health.
Before it comes to that, for your own sake and the sake of your partner, you should be sure you’ve done all you can to salvage the relationship. Otherwise you may be consumed by guilt or self-doubt, wondering if you did all you could do for your partner — and your relationship.
Check your ego at the door
You are not the cause of your partner’s depression. People who are depressed may say or do things they normally wouldn’t. Their illness may cause them to lash out at others. As the person closest to the patient, you are an easy target. Try not to take it personally.
Recruit outside help
Share your concerns with trusted friends and family members. Ask for advice and support. Take an occasional breather. Realize that your needs are important, too.
Don’t make any hasty decisions
Ultimately, you may find that you simply cannot continue living/dealing with a depressed person. If you feel they’re dragging you down too, it may be time to consider distancing yourself. This may mean anything from taking a brief respite, to a permanent parting of ways.
In any event, take time to weigh your options carefully before making any decisions that you will have to live with permanently. While the decision to leave or not will undoubtedly be emotional, keep in mind that decisions made in anger are rarely wise ones.
Set a deadline
If things seem unbearable, consider setting a timetable for change. For example, you might decide to give it three more months. If your loved one has not sought or begun treatment by then, or has not improved despite treatment, or refuses to follow treatment recommendations as instructed, only then will you allow yourself to walk away.
Consider the practical implications
Trying to sustain a relationship with a depressed person can make the healthy partner feel helpless and more than a little hopeless at times. If you feel you simply can’t go on, it may be time to sever ties. But walking away may be easier than it sounds, especially if you’re in a marriage. Where will you go? What will you live on? What will your spouse live on? Are children involved?
Sometime depressed people may use drugs or alcohol. If this is the case, walking away may be your only choice. Your children’s emotional well-being and physical safety must be your first priority. It may be necessary to take a hard look at these and other practical considerations before you say goodbye and walk away.
Sometimes, your partner may threaten to commit suicide if you leave them. This is a serious situation, one that requires immediate attention, but the right kind of attention. The threat of suicide during the breakup should not compel you to stay in the relationship.
You cannot be the one who makes your partner decide whether or not they want to live or die. That is up to them. Attempting to “save” your partner by staying with them can only make the relationship more dysfunctional and could ultimately result in you resenting them.
Seek couple’s counseling
If your partner is well enough to participate, consider getting couple’s counseling so you can address your relationship issues before throwing in the towel. A therapist may be able to provide perspective that neither of you can manage on your own.
You may find that, despite depression, the relationship is worth saving. Counseling can provide the tools you need to heal and move forward as a couple. If counseling fails, at least you can walk away knowing you gave it your best shot.
Finally, if you’ve tried everything and your relationship seems hopeless, or worse — toxic — it may really be time to walk away. Try to make your partner understand that you still care. Wish them the best, but say that you need to make a clean break for your own sake.
Say goodbye and leave without regrets, or excessive drama. Remind your partner to continue with his or her treatment. If you’ve made the effort to improve your relationship, and see to your partner’s health, but things still aren’t working out, you can walk away without guilt. You deserve a chance at happiness, too.
If you think someone is at immediate risk of self-harm or hurting another person:
- Call 911 or your local emergency number.
- Stay with the person until help arrives.
- Remove any guns, knives, medications, or other things that may cause harm.
- Listen, but don’t judge, argue, threaten, or yell.
If you think someone is considering suicide, get help from a crisis or suicide prevention hotline. Try the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.
The breakup of a relationship, or a marriage, can be a traumatic event. It’s even cited as one of the events that often trigger a bout of depression in the first place. While it may be painful to say goodbye, keep in mind that breaking up can have positive results, too.
Research shows that keeping a journal, in which you express your feelings about your breakup, may help turn a potentially negative experience into a positive one.