Life Advice



Ask Anna: Supporting a partner through mental health challenges

Anna Pulley, Tribune News Service on

Published in Dating Advice

Dear Anna,

I’m 36 (F) and have been dating my boyfriend (38) for about two years. We have a deeply loving relationship. However, he’s been struggling with depression for most of our time together. He’s a wonderful person — kind, caring and an incredibly talented artist — but his battle with depression has made our relationship challenging at times.

In the past few months, his depressive episodes have become more frequent and intense. He often feels overwhelmed by daily tasks and sometimes withdraws from our relationship, isolating himself for days. I want to be there for him and support him through this, but I’m finding it increasingly difficult to balance my own emotional needs and well-being.

I try to encourage him to seek professional help and to engage in activities that might lift his spirits, but there are days when nothing seems to work. I often feel helpless and exhausted, and I’m starting to worry about whether I can keep doing this. I love my bf deeply and want to support him, but I also don’t want to lose myself in the process. Is this possible? Thank you in advance. — Confused About Revisiting Expectations

Dear CARE,

This is such a tough place to be, and with no easy answers. I want to commend you for your strength, compassion and commitment to your boyfriend — and to yourself. Supporting a partner through mental health issues like depression can be immensely challenging and exhausting — and we don’t talk enough about the toll caretaking takes on our own lives.

So that’s my first bit of advice: Don’t neglect your own well-being. You can't pour from an empty cup, as the saying goes, and maintaining your own mental health is necessary not only for you but also for being able to provide meaningful support to others.

Encouraging professional help is another critical step. It sounds like you’ve been trying this already, and he’s been resistant, so that’s tricky. Keep gently suggesting that he continue or start seeing a therapist, and let him know you’re there to support him in this process. You might offer to help him do therapist research, seek online therapy options or accompany him to appointments if that makes him feel more comfortable (and if you have the bandwidth). Sometimes the biggest barrier to getting help is taking those first uncomfortable steps.

Setting boundaries is another big one. Define what you can and cannot handle emotionally. This might mean setting specific times for self-care activities or taking short breaks when you feel overwhelmed. (Honestly, we should all be doing this, regardless!) Women tend to put everyone else’s needs before their own, and it can be really difficult to take space for you, because society considers it selfish, but it’s not — it’s vital so you don’t burnout or become depressed yourself.


Boundaries aren’t about distancing yourself from him but rather ensuring you both have the space and energy to maintain a healthy relationship.

Speaking of self-care, this is a nonnegotiable. Prioritize activities that recharge you, whether it's exercise, reading, taking long baths, going for short walks or spending time with friends/family. Despite its tendency to be co-opted by businesses that want you to buy things, self-care isn’t a luxury — it’s essential.

Seeing a therapist yourself can be part of this process, if you’re open to it. A good therapist can provide a safe space to process your emotions and develop coping strategies.

Another thing to look into are support groups for partners of those with depression, like those on Psych Central, SANE, or the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), which can offer insights, camaraderie and understanding.

Focus on the progress, no matter how small it seems. Recovery from depression is often a slow process, filled with ups and downs. Be kind to yourself and understand that you’re doing your best in a challenging situation. Feeling frustrated or tired is normal, and giving yourself grace is crucial.

There will be times when you need assistance or simply can’t be everything for your partner. This is OK! You can’t and shouldn’t be all things to him. Encourage him to reach out to his broader support network or professionals when needed. If he doesn’t, that’s not on you. Accepting that it’s OK to take a step back at times will help you maintain perspective and recharge. This doesn’t mean you love him any less; it means you’re taking care of yourself to be able to care for him.

Lastly, it’s OK to acknowledge if this situation is too much for you to handle. Supporting a partner through depression can be trying, and if you find that it’s impacting your own well-being to the point where you can’t cope, it’s OK to walk away. This doesn’t make you a bad person or a moral failure.

Everyone deserves to be supported in a relationship, and it’s perfectly valid to realize you need more balance and reciprocity in your partnership. It’s a courageous act to understand and respect your own needs. Always remember, your well-being matters just as much as your partner’s.

©2024 Tribune Content Agency, LLC.



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