Postpartum depression and anxiety is not experienced in isolation – it has an impact on everyone in the family. It’s tough for our partners, too. They want to help but don’t always know how.
If you are currently loving someone with PPD/PPA, there a few things to keep in mind while you are braving that storm alongside them.
You can’t ‘fix’ them. But you can help them manage
Watching your partner struggle with their mood is gut wrenching. You want to take their pain away and make things better. This is totally understandable – they are one of your favorite people!
Well, I have some good news and some bad news for you.
The good news is that you can’t take this from them. This is their fight. You’re off the hook, so you can let go of any responsibility you feel to fix things.
The bad news is that you can’t take this from them. All you can do is be in it with them.
Just because you can’t take it from them doesn’t mean you can’t support them while they work through it. I’d start by asking them this really simple question “how can I support you right now“? If you’re lucky, they will tell you exactly what they need, which could be anything from extra sleep, to going into debt for bi-weekly therapy, to holding them when they cry.
But sometimes they don’t know what they need yet. In that case, you can ask them what tools or coping strategies they are working with in therapy and help them practice.
Are they using mindfulness strategies? Great. You can use them too. Give each other reminders and prompts to find mindful moments throughout the day.
Are they using CBT thought records? Cool. Print off some sheets for them and keep them all around the house. If you start to notice them ruminating or having racing thoughts, ask them if they would like to fill one out together.
Are they trying to distract themselves from panic attacks? Right on. You can pre-make a list of distracting and soothing activities you can experiment with when panic starts to set in.
One caveat: It’s up to your partner to take the lead. Gentle reminders of therapeutic tools can be supportive. Telling your partner what to do or nagging them is not.
Reassure them that you love them and you aren’t going anywhere
Living with a mood disorder comes with a lot of scary thoughts. One of the most common thoughts is that you are unlovable or that you will be abandoned. Let’s face it, some of the behaviors associated with PPD/PPA are hard to be around. I bounced between being unable to get out of bed, expressing anger towards my loved ones, and obsessively seeking reassurance that my baby would not die in his sleep. I knew my behavior was difficult at the time, but I couldn’t stop it.
Your partner may have fears that you will stop loving them or leave them – and maybe even take the baby. Those are terrifying thoughts. So, even if they don’t believe you, remind them that you love them. That you aren’t going anywhere. That it will get better. And that you will get through this together.
Sometimes you are going to have to do more than your fair share…
Depending on how your partner’s symptoms present, they may not be very productive right now. They may not be able to do much (or anything) around the house, care for the baby alone, or even get out of their pajamas. But y’all still need to eat, laundry still needs to get done, and babies still need, well, everything done for them.
This probably means that you are going to have to step up. Some days you might have to stay home from work because your partner needs you. Other days you may need to stay up with a fussy baby all night so they can sleep. You might even have to drag that baby around town while you do a bunch of chores because your partner is too anxious to leave the house but needs time alone.
And this sucks. You may feel like you have lost the partnership part of being with your partner. Chances are, they are likely feeling a little lost too, but they are finding their way back. Doing more than your share is not fair and it’s exhausting, but it’s also temporary.
… but your feelings and self care count too
You probably have some strong feelings about how PPD/PPA has impacted your life. It’s really normal to be confused or disappointed. Your day-to-day probably doesn’t much resemble the vision you had for what life with this new baby was going to be like. You may feel embarrassed to tell people that your partner is struggling because of the stigma associated with mood disorders – particularly postpartum mood disorders. You might be angry, be ‘over it’, or wish your partner would just hurry up and get better already. It’s a pretty safe bet your partner has had a lot of those feelings too.
It’s okay to not be happy about the situation and it’s important to find support for you during this time. The challenge is that the person you probably want to talk to is your partner, but you’re worried if you tell them how hard it is for you, they will feel guilty and shame about their mood disorder. Which you definitely don’t want.
This is where ring theory can be helpful. It’s a pretty simple concept: comfort in and dump out. Check out the diagram below. Your partner is at the centre and needs all the support they can get. You are on the next ring, so you send comfort into their ring, but just as importantly, you need to dump out your feelings and frustration to those on the next rung over, such as family or friends. They send comfort into your ring, and then use their own friends and family to dump out to.
So please, take care of yourself. You are just as worthy of support as your partner. And a self check-in regarding your own mood is a good idea because if your partner has a postpartum mood disorder there is a 50-70% chance that you do too.
Rediscover a love for masturbation
I’m going to go ahead and guess that you two aren’t getting it on very much these days. Your partner may not even want you to touch them at all. There are so many reasons for this; most couples aren’t having much sex with a newborn – especially if the baby doesn’t sleep through the night or if they are sleeping in your bed. If your partner is taking meds as part of their recovery, a common side effect is that they reduce libido and negatively impact the ability to orgasm. Lactation can also reduce sexual interest, not to mention that holding a baby all the time can leave your partner feeling ‘touched out’ and wanting some personal space.
Lack of sex is tough, especially if you had an active sex life before the baby. It can feel like rejection and make it hard for you to feel connected to them. But it’s really important you don’t pressure them for sex or make snide jokes or comments. They will come back to you in time. Until then, consider this a journey of sexual self (re)discovery.
It gets better. Although there is no map or timeline, you will get your partner back. So dump out to your friends and family all you need, but hang in there, friend.
Because it’s worth the wait.
And if you need help, I’m here for you too.
Olivia Scobie, M.A., ACC, CPCC, MSP