Depression is a common mental health problem. Your relationships with others is an important area that can suffer when you’re depressed. Learn what to look out for, and what you can do.
How Depression Affects Relationships
Depression can affect many aspects of your life. It can deprive you of the energy or interest you need to stay in touch with people who are important to you. It can convince you that others don’t want to spend time with you. Depression can even make you think that you don’t deserve to see your friends or loved ones.
Each of these impacts of depression can fray relationships in your social, romantic, work, or family life. And the weaker these relationships get, the harder it can be to improve your mood. Why does that happen? Because isolation can accelerate depression as well as other health problems.
Many of the activities that help people overcome depression can be done alone. However, many of them are more effective when done with others. For example, going out to see a movie can boost your mood, but doing it with someone you care about can be a richer experience (if you pick the right person).
Unfortunately, the more your relationships weaken when you’re depressed, the harder it can become to find someone to do things with. This can become a vicious cycle.
When you’re dating someone
If you’re romantically involved with someone who doesn’t live with you, depression can make it nearly impossible to keep things going. You may think, the relationship is destined to fail anyway, so what’s the point? Or you might think that the other person doesn’t really want to spend time with you. Either way, reaching out to them can feel pointless and painful when you’re depressed.
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The types of unhelpful thinking that often happen in depression can hide the real truth. For example, not hearing from you can actually drive the other person away. If they don’t hear much from you, they may conclude you’re rejecting them, even if this isn’t your intention. In this way, depression can destroy relationships that otherwise might have worked out.
When you and your partner live together
In some ways, when a couple cohabitates, depression can have less of an impact. If you’re depressed and live with your partner, you may end up being forced to do things that help reduce your depression. For example, if the two of you go out every Friday night, having this in your weekly schedule can improve your mood.
However, living together can also make one person’s depression feel like it’s a relationship issue instead of an individual one. People respond to living with a depressed partner in different ways. Sometimes they blame themselves, which is often inaccurate. Sometimes they will take over the responsibilities that the depressed person can’t fulfill — keeping social obligations, doing household chores, or planning activities. This sometimes helps, but can also inadvertently prolong the depression. Sometimes they can have a negative response to the depression and get angry at their partner. This is never healthy.
See below for more on how you can help if your partner is depressed.
Relationships Take Work — Depression Makes This Work Harder
Whether you’re living with your romantic partner or not, depression is a threat to your relationship because it can undermine the everyday things you need to do to maintain relationships. It might be hard for you to have the kind of supportive interactions with your partner that keep things going smoothly. If your partner feels like you’re withdrawing, they may internalize that and assume you’re dissatisfied with them. Or they may assume that your depression is their fault (sometimes they’re not 100% wrong, of course).
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Relationships, especially more serious ones, sometimes require serious conversations. Depression can make these conversations much more challenging. Whether you’re discussing where to go on vacation, how to parent your child, or whether to get married, depression can make you distrust your own intuitions and absent your voice from the decision-making process. The difficulty is that in a healthy relationship, both voices are necessary when it comes to important decisions. When that doesn’t happen, it sets the stage for resentment and future problems.
When You’re the One Who’s Depressed
If you’re worried about your relationship, there are several helpful steps you can take. One option is to speak to your partner about your depression. If they’re not aware, and respond supportively, then you’ve got an important ally! This kind of conversation can also help your partner support you if they know more about what’s on your mind.
Another option is to seek professional help. Don’t assume that by getting a consultation with a mental health professional that you’ll end up on medication or doing years of therapy. There can be many outcomes of such a consultation. They may recommend something for you that you weren’t aware of.
A third option is to take steps yourself to improve your depression. If your symptoms are moderate to severe — i.e., significantly affecting your mood or your ability to enjoy things, or leading to you missing work, school, or other obligations — we recommend getting a professional consultation.
If your symptoms are mild, consider some of the self-guided evidence-based depression treatment programs. These programs typically involve elements of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). For example, Mind Over Mood is a self-guided book that draws directly from CBT.
What typically doesn’t help is to change nothing. When you’re depressed, making changes feels challenging. But if you’re concerned about your romantic relationship, now may be the best time to try something different.
When Your Partner is Depressed
Relationships are where depression can sometimes have the biggest impact. If your friend or romantic partner is experiencing depression, it can raise a host of different questions and reactions for you. Many people with depressed romantic partners feel frustrated at not knowing quite how to help; others wonder if they’re inadvertently contributing to the problem.
The most important thing you can do if your partner is depressed is to show you support them despite the depression. Excessive self-critical thinking is a common feature of depression. If your partner knows you’re in their corner, it can be a big help.
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If their depression is significant enough, consider encouraging them to seek professional help. They may or may not be receptive to this idea — but it can be helpful since people with depression can lose sight of how much happier they were in the past or could be in the future. Without this perspective, seeking help is often not an obvious choice for a depressed person.
You can also encourage them to do the things that generally contribute to good emotional health. Sometimes you can improve depression by resuming some simple activities that have fallen by the wayside, like exercise or seeing friends.
If you think that depression is threatening your romantic relationship and would like to speak to one of our therapists, please contact us.