Navigating a relationship with, or as, a depressed person can be challenging at times. And with an estimated 1 in 5 adults worldwide living with some type of depression, it’s a fairly common occurrence.
But that doesn’t mean you’re in it alone. In this guide to depression and relationships, we’ll discuss how to spot the signs of depression in a loved one, how it can impact a relationship, and how to best support a partner with depression.
How does depression affect someone in a relationship? Signs to know
There are several warning signs that depression negatively impacts a relationship. While people experience depression differently, here are some common signs that depression is affecting your relationship:
On the inside, those living with depression will often experience strong emotions of sadness and worthlessness. But on the outside, they may seem emotionally numb or withdrawn.
If your partner feels distant or withdrawn in a way that negatively affects your relationship, it could be a sign of depression.
Open communication is the backbone of any healthy relationship. However, depression can commonly make it difficult for someone to express their feelings openly and honestly.
If you’ve noticed that communication in your relationship has started to suffer, it could be that your partner’s depression is simply draining them of the mental energy needed for effective communication.
Reduced interest in activities
Loss of interest in the things that a person used to enjoy is one of the most common symptoms of depression. Commonly, people with depression feel as though they’ve lost all interest in what life has to offer — even the activities they used to really enjoy.
If your partner no longer wants to spend time participating in activities that they once were passionate about, it’s a strong sign that they could be dealing with depression.
Changes in sex drive and sexual desire
Speaking of losing interest in activities, depression can often result in changes in a person’s sex drive and sexual desire. In the same way that depression can rob a person of their joys and passions, it can also cause them to no longer feel excited about sex.
This, of course, can have a serious impact on a romantic relationship, and it’s important to remember that it’s neither your fault nor your partner’s fault that sex doesn’t interest them as much as it once did.
Increased dependence or codependence
Living with major depression is a constant struggle that can leave a person with little energy to care for themselves. As a result, it’s common for people with depression to become increasingly dependent on their partners to take care of their needs.
Dependency (where both partners take care of each other) is a normal part of a healthy relationship. In contrast, codependency (where the give and take only goes one way and one partner is wholly dependent on the other) is a more troubling (yet not uncommon) element of many relationships where one partner is experiencing depression.
In either case, noticing that your partner has become more dependent or codependent could mean that their depression is forcing them to rely on you more to take care of them.
Irritability or restlessness
There are a lot of emotions that depression can cause a person to express, but irritability and restlessness are two of the more common symptoms. If your partner seems short-tempered, on edge, or restless on a regular basis, depression is one possible cause.
Depression can commonly cause a person to experience a number of physical symptoms, including:
- Muscle aches
- Trouble sleeping
- Joint pain
- Digestive issues
- Changes in appetite or weight
If you notice that your partner is experiencing one or more of these symptoms (with no other readily apparent explanation), it may be possible that their depression is the cause.
The negative effects of depression in a relationship
Depression can place a relationship under a lot of strain in many ways:
Depression may cause conflict in a relationship to grow more frequent or more intense. The irritability and other mood changes that depression is prone to cause are one common source of conflict. All of the other changes and challenges that depression creates can often be sources of conflict as well.
If you know (or suspect) that your partner is depressed, it’s important to be as patient as possible with them and avoid escalating conflict — even if it isn’t always easy to do.
Depression can commonly cause a person to seem withdrawn and emotionally distant. This can make it difficult to maintain the kind of communication and bonding that a healthy relationship requires.
When people in a relationship notice that their partner is emotionally distant, it’s sometimes interpreted as their partner is no longer interested in them or the relationship. For people living with depression, however, emotional distance is just another symptom.
Depression commonly causes people to lose interest in the activities they enjoy — including sex and intimacy. This can lead to one or both partners feeling frustrated and can weaken their emotional bond.
People commonly settle into ‘roles’ in their relationships. These roles can include divisions of labor, emotional roles, leadership roles, and numerous other roles that one or both partners fill.
But when depression impacts a partner's ability to fulfill their roles, it can place a lot of strain on the other partner, who suddenly finds themselves having to fill in the gaps.
Less participation in shared activities
Participating in activities with your partner that both of you enjoy is one of the most enjoyable parts of being in a relationship. And when depression diminishes your partner’s interest in these activities, it’s a loss that you are almost certain to feel.
How to support a partner with depression
Supporting a partner with depression can be challenging and can often cause a lot of relationship anxiety. However, if you love them and want to see them get better, you, as their partner, have an important role.
Here are eight important ways to support and assist a partner with depression:
1. Educate yourself
The more you know about depression, its symptoms, and how it can impact relationships, the better positioned you are to navigate this difficult chapter with your partner.
If you’re reading this article, you’re off to a good start! But continuing to educate yourself about what your partner is going through is key.
Research additional information from reputable, medically-reviewed sources like the American Psychological Association (APA) or the National Institutes of Health (NIH). These groups can provide a wealth of information about mental illness and depression risk factors, and offer additional support resources.
2. Offer support and listen (practice active listening)
People with depression often struggle to communicate their feelings. But when your partner does communicate their feelings, it’s important to engage in active listening (listening intently with the goal of understanding what your partner is trying to express) and offer unconditional support.
This will show your partner that you’re there for them without judgment and encourage them to remain open and honest about their feelings.
3. Encourage treatment
According to a study published in the National Journal of Medicine, 41% of people who receive therapy for depression respond positively to their treatment. If you want to help your partner improve their mental health and get support for their depression, encouraging them to seek treatment from a mental health professional is one of the best things you can do.
Likewise, couples counseling may also be a valuable resource for helping the two of you navigate the relationship challenges that depression creates.
Convincing someone who is struggling with depression (or any mental health condition, for that matter) to seek professional help isn’t always easy, and it’s something that you will want to do carefully and with respect for your partner’s feelings. Focus on gentle and kind encouragement and understand that they may not be receptive right away.
4. Be patient
Healing from depression takes time and effort. It may take several different treatment approaches that could include antidepressants, therapy, or a combination of both.
While there’s no denying that symptoms of depression can absolutely put a lot of strain on a romantic relationship, it’s important to remain patient and realize that treating depression (whether it qualifies as a major depressive disorder or not) can be a marathon rather than a sprint.
5. Communicate openly and be understanding
Communication can fix a lot of problems in a relationship. Open communication might not cure your partner’s depression, but it will be vital for helping the two of you work through the relationship challenges depression can cause.
6. Check in with your partner
People with depression don’t always take the initiative when it comes to communicating their needs and feelings. This means that you will want to check in with your partner regularly and encourage them to be open and honest about what they’re struggling with.
7. Avoid blame
Depression can affect anyone. In other words, your partner’s condition is not their fault. This can be difficult to keep in mind when your partner’s behavior is negatively impacting you and your relationship, but it’s essential to continue supporting your partner and avoid blaming them for their condition.
8. Engage in self-care techniques
Supporting a partner (or any other family member or loved one) living with depression can easily take a toll on your own mental health. To help your partner get better and maintain a healthy relationship, you must also prioritize your health.
To maintain your own mental well-being while supporting a partner with depression, be sure to engage in healthy self-care techniques. Eat a healthy diet, stay active, get plenty of sleep, and allow yourself time for the things you enjoy.
When you commit to taking care of yourself, you’ll be in a much better place to support your partner.
Start your path to overcoming relationship hurdles with SonderMind
One of the most effective ways to treat depression as well as navigate the relationship difficulties that it creates is to work with a mental health professional. Whether you’re interested in individual therapy for you or your partner, couples therapy for the two of you, or both, SonderMind can help.
At SonderMind, we match therapy seekers with therapists ideally suited to their individual preferences — whether they need online or in-person therapy.
Get matched with a therapist through SonderMind today.