Seasonal Affective Disorder, often called the ‘winter blues’, is an insidious beast. In my personal experience, it can seem like one grey autumn morning an internal switch just flicks and the whole world feels unwelcoming and flat.
Couples face huge strain at the dark hand of SAD. Imagine how confusing it is when your lover suddenly loses their spark for no apparent reason. Their sunny summer face looks faded and home life begins to feel like hard work.
Gone are the mornings when bright optimism shone through their eyes and you chatted and laughed about the day ahead over a mug of tea. Their motivation to go places together, socialise or have fun becomes a distant memory. Romance and affection are right off the agenda.
The challenge of the sudden, unexplained shift in attitude and behaviour that’s typical of SAD together with the confusion around where it’s all come from causes unbearable tension between couples. Dysfunctional patterns filter to the surface with the negative thinking, second guessing and anxiety that’s in the emotional mix. In my darkest SAD moments, I’ve certainly felt like my partner and I can bring out the worst in each other.
You may even find yourselves wondering if you still want to be together or kick off a very unhelpful, exhausting round of the blame game. It may seem easier to pull away from each other than to tackle the disconnection and sense of loss that SAD injects into your relationship.
If you’re coping with the impact of SAD on your relationship, I’ve come up with three of my most powerful tips to help couples make it to the spring still winning in love.
SAD is real and neither of you are to blame
While even the NHS admits SAD isn’t yet fully understood, their website suggests reduced exposure to sunlight in the darker months of the year alters brain chemistry, resulting in the irritability, low mood and lack of motivation you’re battling. It’s really helped me to acknowledge that what’s going on isn’t anyone’s fault.
Rather than pathologising the seasonally affected partner, choose to come together to tackle the dark cloud as a team.
My partner and I know that while I’m the one who’s affected, the problem impacts us both. It’s our relationship - we value it enough to find ways to reinforce our bond rather than allow SAD to tear us apart.
Stop swimming against the tide
When you’re struggling emotionally there’s nothing worse than having your partner tell you to ‘snap out of it’, making you feeling obliged to accept plans made on your behalf or pressuring you into wearing a fake smile. Just remember that none of these things help or work.
Instead, foster supportive communication within your relationship to navigate the ups and downs that SAD brings.
It feels better to ask each other what we need rather than how we feel. We can then work out how best to respond compassionately to each other’s capacity to engage and manage our fluctuating energy levels.
What’s more, doing this for each other makes me mindful of the fact that my partner has needs and feelings too. Just because I’m struggling with SAD, it doesn’t mean all the allowances have to be made solely for me.
If one of us feels a need to recharge today, it’s okay to postpone more demanding plans until tomorrow. I’m not saying that SAD has to rule life, but minimising stress and nurturing yourselves is a priority when things feel tough. This means that each day with SAD doesn’t have to be an uphill battle.
Take a leaf out of the Danish book of ‘hygge’
One of the most effective choices my partner and I make to tackle my SAD-est moments is to embrace the Danish ‘hygge’ lifestyle and go with the seasonal flow.
Hygge is all about creating cozy feelings of wellbeing, peace and relaxation by luxuriating in life’s sweet, simple comforts. The Danish have proudly claimed ‘hygge’ as part of their cultural identity and in my book, this magic works every time.
Nothing’s more romantic and comforting on a cold, wet day than cranking up the heating, lighting a few spice scented candles and knowing an aromatic soup’s bubbling away in the slow-cooker while we snuggle up in dressing gowns, indulge in our favourite movies or listen to some peaceful music.
Agreeing that we need to slow down and make space for this kind of self care as a couple helps us rediscover the mutual appreciation and connection that’s been elusive while we’ve felt so out of sync with life because SAD’s started knocking at my door.
It’s mid-October and winter is just around the corner. My advice is to do all you can to keep the sun shining in your relationship so that the unwelcome impact of the winter blues doesn’t linger beyond the first day of spring.