Depression on its own doesn’t nuke relationships. It kills communication

Why do the depressed fail at relationships? Communication breakdown. A Stanford psychologist identifies 4 telltale signs

depressionfemale.jpgSOUL’S CODE —  A smattering of reports have linked suicides to people who are losing their homes, or reeling from steep losses in financial markets.

For most of us, depression won’t be a life-threatening issue — but it will threaten the fabric of our marriages and relationships.

The latest research shows that fully one-fifth of all of us in the U.S. will suffer clincial depression at some point in our lives. As the Great American Recession . . . that began in December, 2007 heads into its second year, we may be heading for the highest concentration of mass depression since the United States became a superpower.

bio_wiveka.jpgIt’s not that depression in its own right kills relationships, suggests Wiveka Ramel (right) , a star Stanford psychologist. It’s that depression neutron-bombs communication, which in turn, does-in the relationship. The rule applies equally to work partners and intimate partners.

Given the deep penetration of depression in these times, we are each bound to have someone in our circle who is suffering from the affliction — maybe even ourselves?

Her premise: depressed people inexorably seek out relationships that verify their negative view of themselves.

No one consciously wants pain, so this happens on auto-pilot. The depressed person’s secret self-image often sounds like this:

A) I’m a failure.
B) I don’t deserve attention, affection, acceptance or success.
C) If Barack Obama’s mantra is, “Yes, we can,” the depressed person’s goes, “No, I can’t!” He or she is wracked by self-doubt and a sense of hopelessness.

If that isn’t bad enough, Ramel pinpointed four patterns of communication that are guaranteed to generate negative feedback:

  1. A depressed partner avoids conflict, shies away from clearing the air or acting assertively, and engages in “blame maintenance.”
  2. Even while he or she privately believes that they have failed to live up to expectations, they excessively seeks reassurance over the smallest things.
  3. When you do give them positive feedback, they discount it because it doesn’t correlate to their low self-esteem and unlovability
  4. After a while, the partner or friend of the depressed person will reciprocate that rigidity with a negative view that discounts the afflicted even when he or she does display self-motivation.

Unfortunately, all of these behaviors combine into a vicious cycle that reinforces the subject’s depression, and deepens their isolation. “Common themes across these processes include inflexible views of self and others,” says Ramel, “and rigid preferences for predictability and familiarity at the cost of inquiry and expansion of self-view.”

Or as Franz Kafka (left) said: The sick drive away the healthy; and the healthy drive away the sick.

From meditation groups and one-on-one therapy to church socials and AA meetings, personal connection is the best buffer against depression, says Ramel. These settings promote self-motivation; compassion for oneself and others; and psychological flexibility.

What’s cool about Ramel, who is from Sweden, is that she did her doctoral degree in clinical psych but she is thoroughly Buddhist in her approach.

Her favorite fix for a relationship depressed by depression is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). It invites the depressed to amplify his or her values, expand their capacity for compassion, diffuse circular-thinking and rumination  —  and clarify ways of landing on reality.

Here is a scientific study that Ramel co-authored on one flavor of ACT: The Effects of Mindfulness Meditation on Cognitive Processes and Affects in Patients with Past Depression.

Since we at Soul’s Code declare that everyone’s a guru, turning around depression can be even simpler: hang out with friends and invest time with people who value you.

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9 Responses to “Depression on its own doesn’t nuke relationships. It kills communication”

  1. The Object Relations School of psychology would go a step further. They would say that the depressed person who enters a relationship/partnership with a healthy/normal person will unconsciously bend the dynamic between he/she and the Other to manifest what you describe in this psycho-dynamic profile.

    This is the stuff of D. W. Winnicott, and in secular self-help school, Maggie Scarfe:

  2. I heard Alan Jones at Grace Cathedral on the First Sunday of Advent, and he had a great line:

    People are like, “I am nothing, but I am all that I think about.”

    I once heard a variation from a person in AA:

    “I don’t think much of myself, but it’s all I think about.”


  3. There’s wisdom here from Tolle’s observation of our over-identification with our “Story”. It also is a variation of my article on being perfectly mis-matched. When we pick someone who will reinforce our negatice thinking, its a call to look at our thinking, not at the other person’s behavior. When we learn to love and be interested in a positive way with ourself, A) the other’s negative comments won’t get to us, (and they might even have to look at themselves and their negativity) or B)We’ll realize that we deserve and desire someone who is more positive about themself and us.

    Great observations in this article!

  4. “there is no psychiatrist in the world like a puppy licking your face,” ben williams.

  5. Very interesting website. My husband suffers from depression and I suffer with bi-polar.We both met in hospital and were just platonic friends. All’s well that ends well, we have been together 7 years and married since 2006.

    There is a saying: love can happen out of the blue and it did for both of us. It wasn’t love at first sight though, we were just friends for months. You’re right, it isn’t easy at times, though we really try hard and push through any barriers. We have both relapsed a few times before, sometimes at the same time but somehow override the challenges. Luckily we haven’t had any recent episodes happen.

  6. It does work with the right person. My partner suffers psychotic depression and please remember it’s as hard for those living with someone with depression as it is for the person who has it, but education helped me to understand that the things he was going through hadn’t changed him, just his behaviour. I love him now more than ever despite going to hell and back.

  7. Vincent Martinez Reply 14. Dec, 2008 at 1:40 pm

    It’s difficult, to say the least. My marriage didn’t work out, and one of the reasons was my depression. Oh, sure, there were other things, but my depression would overwhelm me at times. I wouldn’t get angry, just get quiet and turn inward. I wish I could go back in time and change it all.

    I sure do miss her.

  8. Sian Sofia Rathore Reply 14. Dec, 2008 at 1:43 pm

    Depression is surely going to try and take it away from you if you find it. It is like a parasite, and it feeds from all you have and the first thing it will do is zone in on something you are holding very dear. It’s all about cycles.

    You are feeling depressed and numb, and therefore you feel you are scared that your partner will find you difficult and miserable, and won’t want to be with you any more. Most likely, they’ll be thinking that they just want to help you, but you’ll think this more and more until eventually, it’s not your depression that is upsetting them but your constant berating and questioning as to “Do you want to leave me? I know you do, if you want to leave me then just do it”, because you feel so shit about yourself anyway.

    That is what makes it hard, in my experience, having been the depressed one in a relationship and also been on the receiving end. It really does make you wonder, doesn’t it, what the whole point of it is.

  9. Christopher Lunsford Reply 19. Dec, 2008 at 11:22 am

    It’s not a question of if we are able to or not, its whether love is equally felt by the other individual. It’s all about the philosophy of ineffability or knowing that love is inmeasurable and it can only be accessed by the recipient of the love.

    For myself, as an individual who suffers from clinical depression it’s not that I’m incapable of having true love, only the numerous factors associated with the initial question: 1. Mutual interests 2. Personality types 3. Habits……The list could go on and on honestly, but the ultimate issue remains; is there always a right someone for each individual? That’s debatable as well depending on whether someone believes whether or not that soulmates do exist or not.

    As for myself, I’m really starting to ultimately question if there exists someone whom I can love and be loved by equally in return. I’m sure someone might say that’s very cynical of me, but the fact of the matter is I’m a pragmatist about this subject and its very unnerving to think of being unloveable.