Linking Stress & Depression, Part 2: Mismatched Partners

How do depressed individuals choose their partners?

In our previous blog post, we discussed the complex connection between stress and the onset of depression.

One of the known “stress generators” in a depressed individual’s life is the relationships that he/she chooses to start or sustain. It has been observed that depressed people are more likely to “choose badly” because they often end up with partners who are unsupportive or abusive in some way.

To recap, depressed individuals have a tough time making decisions.

Making the right decisions is doubly or triply hard, especially if you’re battling a mood disorder that affects every aspect of your personality. It’s not so much that patients don’t want to get better. Patients want to get better fast. However, without proper intervention and a stable support network, they don’t know where to start.

According to social psychology, people tend to choose partners based on their positive and negative characteristics. We are often drawn to partners with contrary characteristics.

The theory is that we’re always trying to process unresolved childhood issues by contending with individuals who show familiar, negative traits – traits that we encountered in our parents, siblings and peers when we were young.

The problem is that a depressed individual will have no way to protect himself/herself from the mental strain brought about by the re-processing of childhood issues.

The hurt and pain caused by being in a relationship with someone that will likely create childhood issues such as abandonment will be amplified greatly. When the relationship ends, it’s possible that the depressed person will seek personal validation from someone similar or an old flame may be rekindled for the same purpose.

This can be a never-ending cycle if nothing is done to show the depressed individual what has to be done for him/her to find and keep better and healthier relationships.

Unhealthy and abusive relationships can be very stressful and mentally harmful to someone who is already suffering from a mood disorder.

Its sole presence can make clinical depression persist for a long time. Unless the depressed individual is taken away from his/her unhealthy relationships, he/she will remain locked deep in confusing cycle that involves the desire for validation and continually seeking the wrong kinds of people in the process.

How can you help a depressed person suffering from bad relationships?

Before attempting to help someone who has been diagnosed with depression, make sure that this person is being treated for the mood disorder. A depressed person who is not receiving proper medication and psychotherapy will be difficult to help.

Remember that depression is an actual mental condition. It’s not just extreme sadness or helplessness. Those emotions are just byproducts of this mood disorder.

What you see on the outside is just the “tip of the iceberg” – the ‘minor effects’ of the disorder that the depressed individual allows the world to see. What we don’t know and what we don’t see is the relentless battering of the human soul, which is so painful that many clinically depressed people just want to give up the fight.

When you’re absolutely certain that your friend, colleague or family member is receiving professional help for his/her mood disorder, you may use the following strategies to help him/her with his/her relationship issues:

  1. The Give & Take Test – Ask him/her about the balance of give and take in the relationship. Does he/she give more than he/she receives? Often, an imbalance in this area of the relationship signals potential problems down the road. Abusive or unworthy relationships often “take” from one person excessively.
  1. Better Screening – Once the depressed individual realizes that there is a negative pattern in the way he/she gravitates towards new partners, widen the discussion by talking about ideal traits and bad traits in future partners. Emphasize that only a good relationship would be helpful at this point in time – anything else will be harmful.
  1. Monitoring Emotions – Many depressed individuals become desperate for love and companionship, while simultaneously rejecting the idea of reaching out to a support network. This may cause a depressed person to settle for individuals who may not be supportive at all. The person draws some strength from the presence of the partner but at the same time, is weakened by the fact that there is an essential mismatch in the relationship.

Monitoring one’s emotions is key to defeating this cycle. The depressed individual must not rely on his/her emotions alone when deciding on a new partner. If he/she is lonely, he/she has to see that simply having a new partner will not end the loneliness.