3 Ways to Cultivate Healthy Relationship While Navigating Depression & Anxiety
BY CHRISTINE VEE
He gets in the car, and I can tell he’s frustrated. I don’t know what’s going on, but I fear the worst: it’s my fault. “What did you do, Christine?” Fear seizes the self-talk microphone. “You honestly suck.”
I should give you some context: my boyfriend and I were talking about my mental health sending up loud signal flares and how it was affecting our relationship. We sat around the table, and my emotions spilled out— I was overwhelmed, felt shame for still walking through it, and felt extremely disappointed (I’m hard on myself, but that’s another story).
He looks at me and says, “I’m not angry at YOU—I’m angry on your behalf. I see the way your mind works against you. But I know who you were created to be, and this won’t stop you. I’m fighting this with you.”
This is our ongoing conversation, three years in the unfolding, and I’m grateful.
I was diagnosed with depression in July 2015, the day after my 20th birthday. I didn’t believe the doctor at first because I don’t fit the profile. I’ve always been extremely high functioning and productive. I’m a Christian, a high achiever, and a natural leader.
People still don’t believe me when I tell them I’ve wrestled with depression and anxiety.
That should tell you something— I’m great at wearing masks and people-pleasing. So, for that next year, I dragged my butt out of bed and put on my best-dressed smile. Have it together, Christine. Don’t let anyone in. Don’t be messy. You’ll be fine.
Fast forward. Enter, my boyfriend (and hands-down my favorite human). The first individual to get close enough to me that I couldn’t get away with the “yeah, but it’s all good – I’m dealing with it” line.
As we’ve navigated our relationship, we realized all people have their own set of bruises, open wounds, and jarring scars. They just look different.
Our wounds don’t disqualify us from being vulnerable, loving our partner well, or doing relationships in a healthy way. Facing off with depression and anxiety together simply provides a path to cultivating a healthy connection. No victim mentality here. We’ve learned to see mental health issues as a gift, an opportunity, and we both give and receive. It's not about me; it’s about we.
I’m no expert, but with a few years behind us, I can share strategies we’ve learned so far. Whether it’s messy and dark, or light and breezy—we’re always better together.
1. You can’t “fix” it, and that’s not the point
It doesn’t matter who’s dealing with mental health issues, this truth is paramount. There’s no magical flip switch, and if you believe you’re your partner’s cure— you’ll prove yourself wrong real quick.
Some truth bombs:
When you don’t know what to do, ask your partner what they need in that given moment.
Remember: you’re in a relationship with a whole person, not just their “baggage.”
Sometimes, your inadequacy to fix-it is a gift. Spot the beauty and hope in this.
Both women and men have a “fix-it” mode. If you’re the one in the supporting role or on the front lines— take care of yourself. It matters so dang much. You can’t pour from an empty cup.
2. Focus on the journey, not the destination
Highs and lows are my norms. I also fall into the category of belief that things shouldn’t take as long as they do. So of course, when both do happen (AKA: looong roller coasters), I’m frustrated as heck.
We need a mind shift: the focus of our fight isn’t to eliminate the struggle; it’s about embracing the ride and focusing on intimacy through it. Your relational success isn’t defined by “good” or “bad” days – it’s about the intimacy, connection, trust, and love developed along the way.
Some truth bombs:
There’s a fine line between casting expectations and planting hope. Communicate. Lots.
Remember: the highs aren’t a measure of success, and the lows aren’t a measure of failure.
Think of each moment as the opportunity to prove you’re in this together, that you’re here for the journey, and that you can be trusted to stay.
Yes, we face the hard stuff together. Yes, we believe this won’t be the forever-story. But, we also know this: if we put all our focus on the future, we’ll miss out on everything happening right now.
This moment matters. The little joys are everywhere.
3. Be rooted in community
Isolation is a trap. At times, it feels like the most rational thing to do, but it’s anything but healthy or productive. As a chronic “withdrawer” myself, I know the pull well. The battle can feel polarizing, so it takes a double dose of intentionality to be found in community— together as a couple and separately as individuals as well.
We can’t do it alone. Becoming each other’s worlds is a lonely and dangerous place to be. A relationship isn’t a replacement for a healthy community; it’s healthy soil to grow together.
Some truth bombs:
You need to and are worthy of being known, and others need to be known by you too.
A support system isn’t comprised of one person—you need people. Plural.
Let your partner know they can share their experiences through this battle with trusted friends.
Get over the stigma of mental health. Take small steps.
The unexpected gift of being rooted in a community is one of my favorites: when you realize your story has the power to alter someone else’s, and that you aren’t too broken, messed up, or too “in progress” to have an impact. Your process matters more than you know. Let others hear it so they, too, can heal.
Let’s do this thing. Together.