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How Depression Affects Relationships

Navigating a relationship when you live with depression

The effects of depression can be wide-reaching for both the person suffering and those around them, including their romantic partners. How depression affects relationships is not an exact science, but, in general, it can make managing common relationship problems even more difficult to navigate.

If you or your partner suffer from depression, it’s easy to worry about your relationship. You’re probably managing many different emotions. While every person — and couple — might experience different issues, some approaches might help. Read on to learn more.

What is depression?

Depression is a very common (but treatable) mental health condition, and it’s estimated that around 8% of American adults live with depression. It’s possible to suffer different types of depression — from severe to mild — which can have a very different impact on day-to-day life.

What are some symptoms of depression?

Some of the signs and symptoms of depression can include the following:

  • Feeling inexplicably sad or down

  • Having low energy or fatigue

  • Feeling hopeless, irritable, or frustrated with people and things

  • Feelings of worthlessness or a lack of direction

  • A loss of interest in things that used to bring pleasure

  • Having trouble sleeping, eating, or concentrating on tasks

  • In extreme cases, the sufferer might also have suicidal thoughts.

What are the effects of depression on relationships?

If you or your partner suffer from depression, it can have a massive impact on the wellness of your relationship. Nobody wants to be depressed, but the symptoms of depression can completely change a person’s behavior to the point it impacts others — especially those closest to them.

A 2007 study showed that depression is linked to decreased happiness within a relationship. Exactly how depression affects a relationship depends on the people involved. It might cause conflict, withdrawal, or difficulty managing everyday issues, for example.

Can depression make you unhappy in a relationship?

While a side effect of depressive symptoms can include relationship troubles, it doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. 

“During deeper moments of depression, you might have more negative or worrisome thoughts about your relationship’s health and feelings of security,” explains Moraya Seeger DeGeare, a licensed marriage and family therapist and Paired’s In-House Relationship Expert.

“It can feel hard to move your thoughts back to feeling secure and connected with your partner. Couples that are able to maintain good communication even during times of deeper depression often feel more secure as they navigate it.” Having depression does not mean that you are unhappy with your relationship. It’s a serious mental illness that can impact everything around you.

But depression can make you feel like everything in life is terrible. It’s possible to feel loneliness, sadness, or worthlessness — all of which might make a person think their relationship is in danger.

As there are so many ways depression can manifest, there are also many ways it can impact a relationship. Sometimes things might seem fine. At other times, a depressive episode might make it seem like the relationship is falling apart. While managing depression can be frustrating and exhausting for both partners, there are possible ways to help each other and feel closer.

Can a healthy relationship help ease depression?

We’ve seen how depression can affect a relationship — but what about how relationships affect mental health? Your relationship with your partner is probably the closest and most intimate relationship in your life. It’s bound to have a significant effect on your mental health.

A healthy relationship provides a safe space for each partner to feel loved and supported. In this environment, it might be more possible to act on the signs of depression if they occur.

A 2009 report found that depressive symptoms in a relationship were directly related to feelings of hostility and unhappiness. But the opposite was also true. The more love, support, and warmth the partner showed, the more moderate the depression symptoms in their partner.

As such, creating a loving and warm environment might help ease the depression, helping both partners in the long run. 

“Being loving can be listening when your partner asks for support, showing that you care by encouraging them to do activities that help reduce depression symptoms. That could include going for a walk together or reminding them of a therapy appointment. Keeping in mind a supportive partner does not mean you are taking on the responsibility of moving your partner out of a depressive episode back to a place of calm” says Seeger DeGeare. 

What is it like being in a relationship with a depressed person?

Depression severely impacts a person’s well-being. The effect depression has on relationships — both interpersonal and romantic relationships — might include the following:

  • Worse communication between partners

  • Frustration and general sadness in a relationship

  • A feeling of isolation for both partners

  • A lack of energy or impulse to do things together

  • Feeling like you are not worthy of the relationship

  • Little understanding on either side of how the other partner feels

  • Less emotional intimacy than usual

  • Reduced desire for physical intimacy

  • A feeling of uncertainty about the future of the relationship.

How can depression affect your love life?

For decades, research has shown that one of the most common side effects of depression is reduced sexual desire. This might be down to several reasons. People with depression can lack the energy, self-esteem, and desire to initiate sex. As a couple, it might feel like you’re drifting apart sexually — in reality, it could be down to depression. Equally, some types of anti-depressants can also impact your libido, or make it disappear altogether, especially in women.

How can you help a partner with their depression?

So, how can you support your partner with their mental health issues? It can be a challenge that’s worth it in the long run.

In many cases, your partner might benefit from depression treatment from a mental health professional. Some of the common techniques include cognitive behavioral therapy, support groups, and taking antidepressant medication.

As a partner, you can help further by being patient, understanding, and caring. It’s not your partner’s fault. Some days will probably be worse than others, and there’s no knowing when a depressive episode might hit.

It might be the case that you ask for the support of a friend or family member to fully support your partner — they might look after the kids for an evening, for example. This will help you both have the space to prioritize your loved one’s health.

How to deal with having depression and relationship difficulties

If you feel like you have depressive symptoms and are worried about your relationship, you might try the following:

  • Speak to your doctor or a mental health professional to assess the risk factors properly.

  • If you might have depression, try to accept it rather than fight it. Depression can happen to anybody and isn’t a sign of weakness.

  • Try to communicate with your partner. Tell them how you feel and what you need, and remember that you are not a burden for needing support.

  • Ask your partner if they have noticed your mood changing and if they feel like it is impacting your relationship. Remember they are often the closest person to you and they might offer some powerful insight, even if it is sad to hear at first. 

  • Schedule time together to do things that make you both happy. You both want the best for you and your relationship, after all.

How depression affects relationships can vary — but with a caring and supportive relationship and getting the right help, you can have a bright and healthy future together.

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