Relationships and depression can be linked. Sometimes, the relationship itself triggers someone’s depression. However, people can also experience depression even if their relationship is a happy one.
People may use the term “relationship depression” to describe depression that develops due to relationship difficulties. However, this is not a distinct medical condition.
This article will look in more detail at relationship depression. It will explore how relationships can affect depression and vice versa.
Although some people use the word “depression” informally to describe feeling sad, depression as a medical condition is different.
People with depression can experience a number of persistent mental and physical symptoms, including:
- feeling sad, worthless, or guilty
- feeling irritable or angry
- low self-esteem
- tiredness and fatigue
- difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- eating more or less than usual
- sleeping more or less than usual
- loss of interest in enjoyable activities, such as hobbies or socializing
- loss of libido, or sex drive
- suicidal thoughts
These symptoms can range from mild to debilitating. To receive a diagnosis of depression, these symptoms must occur most of the day or all day, nearly every day, for a consistent period of time.
There are several types of depression. Some are related to physical health conditions, such as endocrine disorders or premenstrual dysphoric disorder, which is related to the menstrual cycle.
However, other types can be caused or exacerbated by events happening in a person’s current life or events that affected them in the past. Sometimes, relationships can be a trigger.
Although relationships can be a source of contentment, they can also be a source of dissatisfaction or conflict. This can have an impact on people’s mental health.
Some examples of situations that may contribute to relationship depression include:
Infidelity is one potential cause of relationship-related distress. People who are in exclusive relationships can feel humiliated and betrayed if their partner is unfaithful to them. This can be emotionally traumatic.
One 2020 study found that all forms of intimate partner abuse are positively correlated with new cases of depression in females. Males who experienced abuse were more likely to develop new cases of anxiety.
Although abuse can seem rare or extreme, it is actually very common. This is especially true of emotional abuse, which can include:
- controlling, possessive, or manipulative behavior
- behavior designed to subdue, punish, or break someone down
- isolating someone from their friends and family
Long distance relationships
Although many long distance relationships are fulfilling, they can also be challenging. People can miss their partner during long periods apart, or they may experience anxiety about the relationship and its future.
The breakdown of a significant relationship can cause major upheaval in a person’s life as well as difficult emotions, such as anger, loneliness, or grief.
It can also mean that a person has to move out of their home, which, in some cases, means living separately from their children or pets.
There are also many ways in which depression can impact relationships. For example, depression affects:
The person who is experiencing depression may feel tired, less interested in socializing with their partner, or less interested in activities that they previously enjoyed together. Depression may also cause emotional changes, such as an increase in irritability.
This can cause people to feel guilty or ashamed due to the impact that depression is having on their relationship. They may blame themselves for their symptoms or feel as though they are a burden on their partner. This could make it difficult to talk about how the person feels.
The partners of people with depression can also experience changes to their mental health. For example, they may feel:
- shut out
- worried for their partner
- anxious around them, as though they are “walking on eggshells”
- that the depression is their fault
- responsible for their partner’s happiness or recovery
Over time, this can impact a person’s emotional health.
Sex and intimacy
Depression can result in a loss of interest in sex. It can also play a role in sexual dysfunction, such as difficulty having an orgasm or getting or maintaining an erection. Some medications for depression can also affect this.
These effects can lead to challenges within relationships, including feeling less connected to a partner or feeling less attractive or desirable.
If the individual and their partner care for children, a parent’s depression may also affect them.
For example, parental depression can affect bonding and nurturing as well as practical aspects of parenting, such as meeting healthcare and academic needs.
It can be difficult to tell whether or not a relationship is contributing to emotional difficulties. This is because depression can also cause difficulty in relationships, so sometimes, the two problems are interrelated.
However, in cases where a relationship is healthy, treating the depression may improve someone’s relationship with their partner as well as their own quality of life.
If a person begins treatment for depression and still feels unhappy in their relationship, it may be a sign that the relationship itself is having an impact on their mental health.
A mental health professional such as a therapist or relationship counselor can help a person understand whether or not their relationship is healthy or beneficial.
Some signs that a relationship is harmful include:
- being blamed for having mental health difficulties
- feeling insecure or unconfident as a result of the partner’s behavior
- feeling trapped, alone, or isolated from friends and family
- being prevented from making one’s own decisions
- experiencing frequent drama and conflict
- feeling threatened or unsafe in any way
People who recognize these signs may be experiencing abuse.
Depression can cause someone to feel that there is no hope. However, depression is highly treatable, and there are steps that individuals can take to begin healing.
The first step is to make an appointment with a mental health professional or doctor. They can help diagnose depression, test for any conditions that could be contributing, and talk through treatment options.
Treatment for depression can vary from person to person, depending on what works for them. It
- talking therapy
- medication to reduce symptoms
- self-care strategies
Talking therapies are useful for understanding the factors that could be contributing to the person’s depression. For example, a therapist may help them identify adverse experiences or thinking patterns that may be involved.
The person can then start to work through this and begin new thinking patterns or habits. They may also wish to make other changes in their life, including those relating to their relationship.
Some other things that may help include:
- learning more about depression
- keeping a journal where someone can express their feelings freely and start to identify their triggers
- setting small, achievable goals that benefit mental health, such as taking short walks, spending time in nature, or talking to a friend
- practicing mindfulness through breathing exercises, meditation, or yoga
- asking for help from a partner, trusted friend, or family member
- joining a support group, either in person or online
Keep in mind that healing is not linear. Even while undergoing treatment, it is normal to have both good days and bad days.
People with depression can maintain a connection with their partner by:
- sharing how they feel with them, if it is safe to do so
- explaining how depression affects them and what they need from their partner
- acknowledging that this is impacting their partner too, and encouraging them to share how they feel
- allowing time for both people to take care of themselves
- maintaining physical intimacy in ways that feel more comfortable, such as by holding hands or cuddling
If talking about depression feels difficult, speaking with a couples counselor may help.
For partners of people with depression, it is important for them to understand that they cannot treat someone’s mental health condition. They also cannot make someone seek help if they do not want to.
What partners can do is offer understanding, love, and compassion. If someone feels that they are in a loving and secure relationship, they may feel more supported in seeking treatment.
Some other things that partners can do to help include:
- Learning about depression: People can educate themselves about depression, how it affects people, and its treatment options to gain a better understanding of what their partner is going through.
- Providing a safe space: Give the person with depression space to share their thoughts and feelings without judgment. Validate these thoughts and feelings.
- Offering practical support: When necessary, partners can help with tasks that the person finds difficult, such as cooking meals or going to appointments.
- Setting boundaries and expectations: Although support is essential, there are limits to what partners can do to help. It is important to ensure that both people understand this and that limitations in support are not due to a lack of care.
It is also important that partners look after their own mental health when caring for someone with depression. They may wish to consider speaking with a therapist themselves.
Depression and relationships can be interlinked. However, some people may also experience depression even if their relationship has no problems. In all cases, depression can have a significant impact on people and their loved ones.
Recovering from relationship depression is possible with treatment. Until treatment begins to take effect, people in loving relationships can help support each other.
If a person cannot get any support from their partner, they may need to consider if that relationship is causing harm.