Know When You Can and Cannot Help Your Partner

Part One

by Doris Helge, Ph.D., 2019


What does it mean when your partner is vibrant, fun and happy during the holiday season but in January becomes chronically on-edge and exhausted? Over the years, many puzzled clients have complained to me, “I don’t get it! I’m the same person I was during the holidays but comparing life with my partner in December and January is like watching the movie about “The Strange Case of Jekyll and Hyde”.

“I feel like I’m living with a totally different person! In December, we had fun at holiday parties, got some rest and enjoyed friends and family. After the holidays, everything seemed to change. What causes a partner who is normally full of zest to become pessimistic, moody and have such low energy that they don’t even try to have fun?”


Your partner may be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder or “Winter Blues”. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a condition clinically known as SAD. Even though only 6% of the U.S. population suffers from SAD in its most marked form, another 14% of the adult U.S. population suffers from a lesser form of seasonal mood changes, commonly called “Winter Blues.”

When one partner is fatigued or feels down in the dumps for days on end, the entire relationship usually suffers. This is especially true when SAD sufferers don’t understand what’s causing the issue, feel hopeless and withdraw from the kind of social interaction or activities required to solve the problem. Too many people who endure SAD or Winter Blues never comprehend their power to elevate their emotions with simple lighting, activity, dietary and other lifestyle changes.

This article can help you create peace of mind and an effective action plan. You’ll discover why some people tend to be affected by SAD and, most importantly, what you and your partner can do to ensure the quality of your relationship.


Eons ago, humans lived more like animals. We instinctively slept a lot during cold winter months, the season of short daylight. There are good reasons for this. Most people fatigue more easily during winter months. Sunshine is a rich source of physical energy for our bodies. In the old days, when daylight decreased as winter increasingly wrapped the Earth in a series of cold, cloudy blankets, we listened to our bodies. We curled up in our caves and snored blissfully until body sensations compelled us to leisurely stretch into full awakening.

As we evolved, electricity became available and we entered the industrial age, we dramatically changed our habits. We began ignoring more and more of the laws of nature. Today, people are jolted awake by alarms, often when it’s still dark outside and stumble to turn on bright lights so they can stagger to the coffee pot to convince themselves they’re awake. People also struggle to complete computer projects at night and stay up late playing video games, both of which emit light that can stifle healthy sleep patterns. In this modern era, we can even go to the gym at night and perform athletic activities in well-lit areas.

All of these activities can confuse and reset our internal clocks to the extent that our natural, appropriate relationship with melatonin (our naturally occurring “sleep hormone”) is disturbed. When our bodies function in a normal balanced state, melatonin lets us know when it’s time to sleep, wake and eat. With SAD, our melatonin levels are increased and we don’t sleep well.


SAD and the Winter Blues are both associated with reduced sunlight, inadequate indoor lighting and increased melatonin levels. SAD symptoms are not only related to blue moods. SAD can create health problems because common symptoms include daytime fatigue, sugar binges, carbohydrate craving, weight gain, lethargy, lack of interest in normal activities, and social withdrawal. Most SAD sufferers say they hate to get out of bed in the morning because they don’t feel rested.

Since common SAD symptoms include moodiness, trouble sleeping, problems getting along with other people, sexual problems, hopeless feelings, low motivation, difficulty concentrating, withdrawal from social situations and fatigue, it’s clear that SAD and the Winter Blues can potentially attack a healthy relationship.

The good news is that there are many proven ways to disable SAD and the Winter Blues while bolstering your relationship health and happiness. Please remember that SAD is different from serious clinical depression, which can occur all during the year. Although both SAD and serious clinical depression can occur during winter months and some symptoms are similar, SAD is a seasonal, fairly predictable disorder related to the external environment and weather. If your partner is suffering from SAD, awareness and an effective game plan can become two of their best friends.


If your partner’s Winter Blues or SAD is seasonal, design your action plan now. Your geographic area will influence the emergence of SAD. If you are in a northern climate, SAD symptoms may occur as early as autumn. If you are farther south, symptoms may not appear until winter. Either way, a basic guideline for SAD is that symptoms emerge when weather changes signal a seasonal shift toward winter. Most importantly, the symptoms dissipate in spring and summer.

If you think your partner’s symptoms may indicate clinical depression, consult a doctor or a qualified therapist. Although some people require medication, studies show that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and other alternatives often manage SAD symptoms just as well or better, without negative side effects.


Although it’s easy to see how the vibrations of SAD can temporarily rip the glad vibes from your relationship, SAD doesn’t have to control you, your partner or destroy your partnership. Since SAD can be reversed now and prevented before the next SAD season, you two can use your SAD experience as a tool to make your relationship stronger in the long term.

Truly open communication will be essential if you decide to embrace this challenge. You need to thoughtfully consider the roles you’re willing to play and openly discuss this with your partner so you avoid misunderstandings, resentments and other unpleasant surprises as you attempt to be supportive.

Some SAD solutions are relatively simple. Examples include:

  • Selecting the right light box to use as phototherapy at home or work
  • Changing light bulbs proven to alleviate SAD symptoms
  • Planning a winter vacation in a sunny climate.

Other essential strategies can be more challenging. Here are some examples to consider:

  • How do you rate your ability to talk a partner who wants to stay indoors when it’s better for them to go outdoors in sunny, cold winter weather?
  • Do you know how to encourage a partner with an increasingly introverted personality to go to a winter party or family gathering when they want to withdraw from an active social life?
  • If your partner prefers eating sugary junk foods and a high-carbohydrate diet, how do you intend to help them become self-motivated to eat foods that inhibit SAD?
  • What are your skills regarding convincing a partner who normally hides their feelings and doesn’t reach out for assistance to be vulnerable enough to express their emotions and needs and ask for help?
  • Your partner’s SAD will not disappear when they go to work. In fact, symptoms like low motivation, relationship difficulties, performance problems, energy slumps and focus difficulties will usually become more pronounced when your partner tries to work. You’ll both need to be prepared for this challenge because SAD can sabotage a career if your partner is unaware of what is happening and why.

Even though it’s not easy, you can consciously use each SAD challenge in your relationship to strengthen your partnership. You need accurate information and proven strategies. Relationship coaching will help you discover every tool you need to succeed in the adventure of helping your partner graduate from their Winter Blues. Sign up for coaching at

© 2019 Doris Helge, Ph.D. For over 25 years, award-winning, Certified Master Leadership and Relationship Coach Dr. Doris, has helped people like you meet every challenge you’re facing. Contact us for permission to reprint this article intact and with proper attribution.