As depression can take both an emotional and physical toll on an individual, it can affect their ability to be present in a relationship.
Research shows that depression can have a cyclical effect on relationships. That means someone who is depressed may be emotionally absent and unable to meet their partner's needs. Along with the weight of depression itself, this can bring additional stress to an already-suffering relationship, potentially leading to separation or divorce.
Every relationship has its share of problems, but depression requires both proper diagnosis and treatment. These allow both partners to be well and able to work on their marriage.
How one person's depression affects their partner
Clinical depression may have a serious effect on relationships.
Depression doesn't simply have one symptom or one side effect. As a result, it can be easy to write it off as someone having "a bad day" or "being moody." However, if one partner is clinically depressed, their behavior and actions can go far beyond normal mood changes.
Depression can cause a loss of interest in intimacy and sex. This can then cause the other partner to feel unattractive, body-conscious, rejected, and even unloved.
Similarly, people with depression can become uninterested in socializing or being around others, withdrawing themselves away from even their partners. This behavior can be paired with aggression and even suicidal thoughts, adding more pain and suffering for both partners.
Research shows that people with depression:
- Feel higher levels of distress in their relationships
- Are less satisfied in their marriages
- Become more upset than usual with marital problems
People with depression may then blame their partners for their problems and disconnect emotionally. As a result, their partners are also more likely to become stressed and burdened by depression.
Board certified psychiatrist Dr. Celia Trotta explained further to Medical News Today how depression can place strain on relationships:
"Individuals with depression are often 'not themselves,' sometimes are able to care for themselves less, and sometimes sleep less or excessive amounts during the day. Partners and families of depressed individuals can feel hopeless and stressed by their partner's illness and suffering."
Dr. Celia Trotta MBA
Addressing depression and getting help in a relationship
Depression may be eased with a number of solutions such as counseling.
One of the most important steps people can take to address depression in a relationship is to acknowledge it as a serious medical issue that requires professional help.
Depression may look different from individual to individual, but that doesn't mean it's more serious for one person than another. To treat depression and its impact on a relationship, it's vital to understand depression itself first.
"The etiology and brain chemistry behind depression is still in research stages," explained family psychiatrist Dr. Jared Heathman. "While there are many hypotheses, the science behind the brain is lacking compared to other organ systems."
Dr. Heathman told MNT that the complexity of the brain and its disorders increases the impact that depression can have on a relationship:
"This complexity leads to many people misunderstanding the disorder. Some spouses believe that patients should be able to 'snap out of it.' Frustration and a lack of empathy can worsen symptoms."
Dr. Jared Heathman
"Spouses can help through support, motivation, and engaging in treatment when recommended. Depressed patients can lack the energy and motivation to engage in treatment. An encouraging spouse can help continue proper care and coordinate services," he added.
There is a number of options to help someone dealing with depression. No one solution will work for everyone. For some, it will be a combination of therapies or medications that helps them heal.
Some proven and effective solutions to treat depression include:
- Antidepressant prescription medications
- Professional counseling - individual, couple, or group therapy
- A change in diet
"People who are clinically depressed have a responsibility to themselves and to their partners to seek treatment for their depression," said psychotherapist Beatty Cohan, MSW, LCSW, AASECT.
"Imagine coming home every night to someone who is mostly down and depressed. The good news is that there are a variety of effective treatments for depression...This is a time for self-care including eating well, getting sufficient sleep, and reaching out to supportive friends and family."
Post-divorce depression: How to deal with it
If someone experiences feelings of depression while going through a divorce or afterward, it's important not to blame themselves or feel guilty.
Experts suggest reaching out to a support system for help, engaging in activities that help relieve stress, and seeking professional help. It's especially important to remember that depression after divorce is not uncommon, and it can worsen with time if ignored.
"Divorce can be a very stressful life event, which could lead to feelings of depression, anxiety, guilt, and in cases of individuals who develop major depression, even suicidal thoughts and behaviors," said Dr. Trotta.
Divorce can be very stressful and may increase the risk of depression in one or both partners.
In cases where marriage ends in divorce, whether or not depression played a role, there is a chance that depression seriously affects one or both partners afterward.
A study published in the Journal of Family Issues suggests that recent divorce increases the chance of death by suicide 1.6 times. Experts say that depression and divorce are closely tied.
If someone recognizes that their former partner has become depressed in the time after a divorce, they should alert a close family member or friend, if they don't feel comfortable offering support.
The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance offer the following tips for helping a friend or loved one suffering from depression:
- Learn about depression and mental health disorders to better understand the condition
- Offer unconditional love and support, and reassure them of hope for the future
- Have realistic expectations for their healing process, as it will take some time
- Try to be patient and understanding of their needs
- Encourage them to seek professional help and offer to accompany them to any appointments
- Help them remember to take any prescribed medication on time
Symptoms of depression
Depression has many symptoms, and not everyone will exhibit the same ones or to the same level of severity.
Here is a list of common symptoms to look for if someone suspects they or their partner is depressed:
- Feelings of sadness or hopelessness
- Feelings of anger or irritation
- Loss of or changes in appetite, weight loss
- Increased appetite and weight gain are common.
- Loss of interest in everyday activities, hobbies, intimacy, or sex
- Insomnia or sleep disturbances
- Extreme tiredness and lack of energy
- Feelings of anxiety or restlessness
- Suicidal thoughts or attempts at suicide
- Feelings of guilt, self-loathing, self-blame
- Difficulty concentrating or focusing, slowed thinking
- Physical pains, like backaches or headaches
When to see a doctor
Depression symptoms should be taken seriously. It's best to see a doctor or other mental health professional right away when someone suspects depression. The longer depression goes untreated, the greater the risk that it can worsen for the patient as well as continue to impact their loved ones and relationships negatively.
If someone begins to have any thoughts of suicide or thinks that their partner is suicidal, they should seek emergency help immediately.