How Depression Affects Relationships

Sadness Versus Depression

Lots of people feel sad, and it is a healthy feeling and a normal part of life, and a natural way to respond to such events as losing a job, grief, or a breakup. The sadness onset can present differently for different people, it can just come on suddenly, and it can be triggered by something like a song or a movie. For others, sadness turns into depression and just doesn’t go away, it can’t be snapped out of. 

For this individual losing interest in usually enjoyable activities occurs, mood swings, apathy, general discontent, guilt, feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness, agitation and even anger, fatigue, social isolation, sleep issues, difficulty concentrating, poor appetite or weight gain or loss. There can even be a preoccupation with death or thoughts of suicide. (1) Learn how depression affects relationships and how mental illness can affect your loved one. If you, a family member, or a partner, show depression symptoms it is advised that you seek treatment for mental health.

Depression and Relationships 

If you find your relationship is strained and struggling, you may find that one or both of you is dealing with depression. If one is, and the strain is significant enough, chances are both will experience depression. Depression can become a cyclical toxin in a relationship. When you’re depressed you may not notice, you are paying less attention to your partner, are less involved, more irritable, and have trouble enjoying time together. 

These are examples of what depression does to a relationship, though on the other hand having a relationship full of conflict can cause depression by having a lack of communication, withdrawal, and difficulties in problem-solving. (2)

Strengthening the relationship will assist you and your partner in warding off depression. To begin, you need to find out how depression is interfering…what are the warning signs: (2)

  • Has your sex life decreased or gone away? It’s common to have sex drive ebb and flow but to have long-term loss of connection, is a signal of depression present, and this depression can be fueled by a variety of causes related to depression: resentment, shame about sex, body image issues, tired, medication side-effects and possibly performance anxiety.
  • Hopelessness in your relationship. Hopelessness can be pervasive, in that it may feel that there is no hope for the future and that things will never get better. This is the depression setting in cognitive distortions. 
  • Difficulty managing emotions. When conflict arises, you find yourself less able to deal with the problem and it brings out strong emotions that cause you to withdraw from your partner or push them away. It causes less motivation to see things from your partner’s perspective, and to have less empathy for them.
  • Acting out.  This tends to happen more with men, when they are feeling depressed, they tend to act more overtly and engage in aggression, drinking alcohol, withdrawing from others, shutting loved ones out, and having affairs. Men also experience more difficulties with somatic symptoms such as backache, headaches, and low sex drive.
  • Mixed anxiety and depression.  These are highly comorbid and present with sleep issues, difficulties concentrating, low energy, irritability, worry, expecting the worst, guarded. You can often feel that any conflict in your relationship presents a grave threat and elicit excessive reassurance-seeking, causing more strain and stress, and uncertainty in the relationship.

When these issues are hidden and ignored they can cause irreparable damage. Though many issues can be resolved with awareness and implementing coping strategies. (2)

Supporting One Another 

Be willing to listen and be patient. Share with your partner that you want to understand how they feel. Avoid giving advice, opinions, and judgments. Give positive reinforcement and remind your partner of their positive qualities. Help create a low-stress environment by developing routines, and schedules (3). Make plans together and look at rituals for connection. 

Be aware of 4 conflict styles that hurt your relationship (4): Criticism – being critical of your partner strikes at their character. It can feel like a personal attack. When you are critical, if intentionally or not, you are unleashing your anger from the situation and onto your partner. Contempt – this is mean-spirited, disrespectful, and hurtful language. It usually looks like name-calling, mocking, ridiculing, and bullying.  

Defensiveness – being on the defensive can be a natural response to criticism, but it signals to your partner that their concerns don’t matter. It can come off as self-centered.  Stonewalling – This is a form of checking out or shutting down. It shows resistance to any repairs through no response or even eagerness to end the conversation 

Individual Coping Strategies 

There are many coping skills that can help promote self-soothing or mitigate the symptoms of depression. It is important to note that there are things that increase depression or promote the onset that includes lack of sleep, poor dietary habits, consuming illicit drugs and alcohol, persistent stressful environments, and unhealthy relationships. Below are examples of healthy coping skills and habits. 

  • Regular exercise 
  • Quality sleep regularly
  • Eating healthy and well-rounded meals 
  • Develop proactive and reactive coping. Proactive skills are activities engaged in and practiced daily or weekly to reduce or mitigate the severity of symptoms. Reactive skills are activities an individual engages in immediately to reduce the severity of symptoms.
  • Engage in mindfulness meditation or grounding such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and challenging irrational thoughts.
  • Engage in self-care
  • Educate yourself
  • Get active
  • Build a sense of community and support – join a support group
  • Engage in psychotherapy with a therapist


Depression is treatable and about 80-90% of individuals diagnosed with depression respond well to treatment and at the very least experience a relief in symptoms.  It is considered a medical condition. Often, individuals can manage symptoms with various levels of treatment and intervention. Such as:

  • Individual and Couples Psychotherapy 
  • Psychotropic medications
  • Lifestyle changes 
  • Self-management strategies and education 

There are more intrusive treatments if needed, such as crisis hospitalization, inpatient residential treatment services, outpatient services, and specialty therapies such as Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT).


  2. ; When Depression Hurts Your Relationship: How To Regain Intimacy and Reconnect with Your Partner When You’re DepressedCopyright 2014 Shannon Kolakowski.