Jack is a delightful older gentleman who loves sailing and beautiful women, but who has also been wrestling with depression for a year or more. We recently had a fascinating conversation about how romance and depression relate to each other in his life.
He has a loving girlfriend who’s been very supportive to him during the past year, during which time he has been gradually extricating himself from a pretty severe depression (he had to go to the hospital when he became very suicidal), but I’ve been curious about how, sometimes, after he spends time with his girlfriend, his mood takes a dive.
Is she sabotaging things consciously or unconsciously I wonder? Maybe my assessment of her is wrong. Perhaps she isn’t as supportive as she seems.
Today I got an idea of what may be going on during those visits.
Jack has been filling out a daily mood chart which allows me to get a clearer picture of events affecting his mood. Two weeks ago his mood took a dive right after a phone call with his girlfriend.
I asked him what happened during and after the call. He said, “She is so expressive of her love for me… and yet I don’t feeling loving in return.”
His first thought after the call was, “I’m not feeling love when I’m talking to Jill and this must mean I have big problems.”
We explored this some more and another thought came up, “If I don’t feel it. That means I shouldn’t be in the relationship since I’m not genuinely in love with her. And yet because she is so loving, if I have to leave this relationship it means I’m never going to be in one again. I’m not lovable.”
All of this reminded me that when we first got together many, many, years ago he was also in a very severe depression, and at that time his one focus was on getting into an ideal relationship with a woman (a “true love”) because he believed that the only way out of his depression was romantic love.
It occurred to me that, as his mood, improved his “romantic” nature gradually became replaced by a more realistic appraisal of relationships, and he had much more success in relationships, as a result.
A dramatic sign of this change (the more realistic view of relationships) was when a few years ago, in a previous relationship, he was able to feel good about himself and even good about his relationship despite the fact that he and his girlfriend were arguing about how he dressed and interacted with her rich friends. At that time he understood that the experience of being “in love” is not always present in a long-term relationship and the fact that loving feelings go away for a few days doesn’t necessarily mean that one does not love a partner.
But in his depressed state he became a “romantic” again in the classic fairytale sense of romance. He dreams again of a “Princess Charming” to rescue him from his depression and anything that suggests that that won’t happen causes him great grief.
We talked some about how his mood changes his view of relationships, and how this unrealistic to be rescued by a “true love” interferes with his recovery from depression and also makes his relationships less satisfying and he was able to recognize this as a pattern in his life over the years.