Need you to be extra touchy-feely.

Earlier on in our relationship, I pulled Kevin aside when we had a moment alone together in the kitchen. Friends were over.

“I need you to be extra touchy-feely, babe. Can you rub me on the back and check in to see how I’m doing? You do already do those things but I’m feeling anxious and I need them a bit more than usual tonight.”

“Sure, boo,” he said. My anxiety was at about a level 8…ish. (How does one even measure feelings on a Likert scale?)

These are the things that are good to relay to your partner regardless of your situation, but when you live with depression, this is particularly important. There needs to be explicit communication about how you’re feeling and what you need from your partner.

Carrying anxiety (or depression) by yourself becomes a habit when you grow up in an environment that enables you to carry the baggage solo. You forget that there’s an option or you’re not yet aware that there’s an option to practice vulnerability and trust. There’s an option to reach out. A healthy, sound relationship requires it of you to reach out to your partner.

I use to think that if my partner’s love for me was authentic, he would notice when I’m feeling out of sorts and that would cue him to reassure me in some way; if he didn’t catch on and offer care and support, I would get upset. Your partner can’t read your mind (and really, would you want them to?) and regardless of how obvious you think your situation is on the outside, it’s best to be upfront and proactive. Help your partner support you by telling them what you need of them. I assure you, they want to know. Your partner wants to support you. Depression tells you that no one wants to support you. Don’t listen. You and your partner will take turns leaning into eachother. That’s how it works.

Clinical Psychologist and author Dr. Sue Johnson wrote in her book, “Hold Me Tight“, “When safe connection seems lost, partners go into fight-or-flight mode… Most fights are really protests over emotional disconnection.”

I know it can be difficult when depression is visiting because the depressed partner, by nature of the illness, is unable to give as much to the relationship as they are able when they’re feeling OK. That’s OK. Kevin and I have acknowledged that and it (along with his kind and gentle soul) has given me permission to give myself permission to not feel guilty about the temporary imbalance. When I’m not under depression’s spell…

…these are some things that Kevin and I do to stay connected:

  • Take walks together with Fuzz after breakfast (I try to force myself out of bed to do this when depressed – it may only be a 10 minute walk but it makes a huge difference)
  • Leave surprise love notes for each other around the house (sometimes I sneak something into his lunch box)
  • Enjoy a weekly date night together – we met on a Wednesday, so those days are our weekiversary days (you don’t need to go out – sometimes we veg at home – it’s the time investment and being present with one another that matters most)
  • Massage each other (OK, sometimes the massage is a 2 minute shoulder massage in passing but any length of time is wonderful) – our favorite is trading foot massages facing each other on the couch
  • Pick up something from the grocery store that we didn’t put on the list but know the other likes – for Kevin, it’s Sour Patch Kids or bleu cheese, for me, it’s La Croix or gummy cherries
  • Kevin has my meds reminder on his phone as a backup in case I forget or miss my reminder alarm – he sends me reminder texts if we’re not together when it goes off
  • I refill or top off his water bottle if I see he’s running low

What are some things you and your partner do to stay connected?

***

Side note: I watched a video on The Mighty today that does a pretty good job of illustrating the experience of a depressive mind; the dizzying and self-deprecating internal world of a person with depression. (It looks like it’s not share-able. You can watch it below my most recent story about depression posted on The Mighty. I didn’t set up a plug for myself, I swear.) Share it with your partner, if you need. Reaching out means reaching out for resources, too. The internet is rife with stuff.

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And then you give.

More often than not (in my love life), I have been in a relationship. I’m the friend who engages in serial relationships, the one who always has to be with someone. It’s true. While I have had spates of enjoyable stretches of singledom, being in a relationship is something I have always sought. It feels good to have a someone. It’s nice to be looked at in that way that someone looks at you when they think you are the most wonderful thing in the world. It feels nice to gaze at the person you think is the most wonderful thing in the world. Now, this is not the entirety of relationship. I know.

I’ll be the first to tell you I have been in some messy messy ones. I’ll be the first to say that navigating a relationship has been a lifetime of trial by blazing fire. Many, many fires. I’ve peeled my rain-soaked clothes from the sidewalk where my ex threw them in a fit of anger. I’ve dumped a glass of iced-water on an ex’s head at a club after seeing him dance too close to another woman. I’ve confronted an ex together with his other (secret) lover, only to be told, “I love her, I don’t love you.” I’ve cut my wrist with a kitchen knife amid a fight with an ex, when I couldn’t express my apology and regret after kissing another guy. Woah, now. Heavy stuff, I know. My life has been an anthology of Modern Love essays.

Of course, I’ve listed a few of the most dramatic instances. My relationships have not all been rife with such acts, but I share these to expose these bits and to unravel my understanding of these experiences. You can chalk it up to my exes or me being “crazy,” but nary is “crazy” a choice. And really, that explanation is a cop out from attempting to understand human nature, from attempting to understand someone and their unique circumstances. There are reasons. And the quality, care, understanding of and practice in interpersonal relations are a foundational aspect of these reasons.

In any relationship, there are a total of three at play: the relations between two people and the relationship each person has with themselves. You know the cliché of not being able to love others until you are able to love yourself? Wait, before you roll your eyes, let’s explore. What does this mean? What does this mean for you?

It’s easy to focus on each other. It’s easy to point your finger in the opposite direction when something in the relationship has gone awry, but is this easier in the long run? Does it feel good to blame others? Is it fair to place assumptions on another’s actions or to conjure private interpretations of another’s words or gestures? Is it caring to not be curious about the other? Especially when they are hurting and reacting based on fear. Especially when it is the person with whom you want to build a trusting and unconditional connection? Are we resolving anything within ourselves by looking outward?

We must look inward. We must care for ourselves first. In case of an emergency, we’re told to put on our oxygen masks before placing them on kiddos, because if we can’t take breaths and remain conscious or aware, how are we to perform CPR? How are we to hold others in comfort when we’re unconscious or unaware? We don’t blame children for not reminding us that we need to care for ourselves first. We don’t blame our friends or partners for not reminding us that we need to look out for ourselves first, but when they do, we express gratitude.

The quality of care and support you are able to give to others is directly correlated with the quality of care and support you dedicate to yourself. In a relationship, it’s your responsibility to look inward before looking outward. In a relationship, it’s up to you to discover and determine how much of yourself you are able and willing to give. And then you give. You give freely and without condition. And you are able to hold whatever you are left with regardless of how the other person responds because you care for you. You love you first – so that you can love another.

I leave you with a couple of quotes by Schnarch (2009) and the time and space to think on this and ponder.

“Intimacy is an interpersonal process, involving confronting yourself and disclosing yourself in your partner’s presence.” 

“Intimacy is not designed to make you feel one particular way; it’s designed to make you grow.”

xo, O.