Depression can affect many aspects of a person’s life, including their relationships. Whether it’s with lovers, family, or friends, it can be a struggle to maintain healthy relationships when battling mental health issues. On top of that, common depression symptoms, like irritability, low energy, and loss of interest in activities, can make it even harder for a person to connect with their loved ones.
If you feel like depression is negatively impacting your relationships, it’s important to try to address it. There are many different things you can do, both alone and with your loved ones, to explore and manage its effects on your relationship.
Below, we discuss how depression affects relationships, including romantic relationships and general relationships with family and friends. We also look at several ways that you can reduce the negative effects of depression on your relationships.
How depression affects romantic relationships
Clinical depression can influence a romantic relationship in several ways, leading to isolation, frequent misunderstandings, lack of intimacy, and communication issues. All of this creates a growing emotional distance between you and your partner, changing the nature of the relationship you once had.
Below, we explore some ways that depression affects romantic relationships and how you and your partner can try to manage them.
1. Losing interest in activities
When you have depression, activities that once made you happy can suddenly feel overwhelming, uninteresting, or like a burden. This can affect your romantic relationship as you find yourself losing enthusiasm for activities you once enjoyed doing with your loved one.
Whether that’s date night, hiking, or watching movies, your partner might not understand why you seem uninterested in spending time together. This can create frustration and disconnect between you.
If you feel this happening, communication is key. You might want to tell your partner how depression is changing the way you enjoy certain activities. You could also brainstorm together to find new activities that better align with how you’re feeling. The idea is to share your perspective so your partner understands where you’re coming from and why certain activities are no longer appealing to you.
2. Isolating yourself
Another symptom of major depression is feeling low self-worth and low self-esteem. This can make you feel self-critical, worthless, or like a burden to people around you, including your loved ones. You might feel unworthy of love and affection or worry about being rejected.
As a result, you might withdraw from certain interactions or intimate moments with your partner, creating emotional barriers and misunderstandings. You might be feeling increasingly isolated and they could be left wondering if they’ve done something wrong.
If you feel like low self-esteem is creating a distance between you and your partner, sharing your struggles can help them understand what you’re feeling and why you’ve been behaving a certain way. It can also remind you that your partner cares deeply about you, helping dispel notions of unworthiness or fear of rejection.
3. Frequent misunderstandings
Depression can make it difficult to express your emotions, often resulting in miscommunication and a sense of being unheard or misunderstood.
It’s also common for people with depression to feel ultra-sensitive and irritable. This makes it easy to misinterpret your partner’s actions, words, or behavior. A cheeky joke can feel like an insult when you’re not in the right headspace, and all of this can lead to frequent misunderstandings in your relationship.
If you and your partner are having a lot of misunderstandings, try to acknowledge this together and remember that disagreements are normal even in the most healthy relationship. If you’re able to recognize the misunderstanding, make up, and move on, then it’s best to do so in the heat of the moment.
4. Lack of intimacy
If you feel like depression is affecting physical intimacy in your relationship, you’re not alone. It’s common for depressive symptoms like low energy and emotional disconnect to impact sexual desire in a romantic relationship. On top of that, some antidepressants can also lead to low libido, erectile dysfunction, or difficulty reaching orgasm.
It’s important to express this to your partner so they realize that it’s not coming from a lack of love or attraction. The two of you may choose to explore new ways to express intimacy, like with non-sexual physical affection, deep conversations, or a fun shared experience.
How depression affects other relationships
Depression doesn’t just affect romantic relationships, it can also influence the relationships we have with our friends and family. This can happen in various ways, including:
- Less interested in spending time with friends & family
- Turning down invitations
- Withdrawing from communications
- Harder time at work
- No desire to connect with loved ones
- Difficulty having conversations.
This can make the people close to you feel shut out or unsure of how to support you, leading to growing emotional distance and increased isolation.
It might feel difficult, but communicating how you feel to your friends and family can help you both move through the challenges of depression together. Having support from loved ones is an important part of managing depression and the last thing you want to do is isolate yourself from your network.
It might be a good idea to explain to your loved ones that withdrawing from relationships is a common symptom of depression – it doesn’t mean that you’re not interested or don’t care about them. This might help them better understand your perspective and take it on less personally.
How to manage the effect of depression on romantic relationships
If depression is having a negative impact on your romantic relationship, there are some things you can do that might help. Below, we suggest a few different ways you can try to work through its negative effects.
1. Understand your depression
The first step towards managing the effects of depression is to learn about its symptoms and how they might be affecting the way you experience your relationship. Remember that depression is one of the most common mental illnesses and not a personal flaw.
You may find it helpful to externalize your depression and imagine it as a separate entity. You might even want to give it a name or refer to it in the third person. This can help you place a distance between yourself and your condition so you can better recognize how it’s influencing your thoughts, behaviors, and emotions.
2. Speak to your partner
Many people with depression struggle to share their feelings. Maybe you feel too embarrassed to share your emotions or worry about burdening your partner. But initiating a conversation with them about what you’re experiencing can help you work through it together. It opens up the channels of communication for both of you to express what you’ve been feeling and eases any pressure that depression might have placed on your relationship.
If you’re ready to start a conversation, try to choose a time of day when your energy is at its best. Make sure your partner is also in a good headspace to listen. During the conversation, try to be honest and open to your partner’s perspective. If they have any questions, try to respond as well as you can and make their feelings just as important as your own.
This kind of open and honest conversation can help strengthen a waning connection between you and your partner, ease the burden you’ve been facing privately, and illuminate ways you can both support each other.
3. Express your needs
Sharing your experiences and feelings is important, but so is communicating your needs. While you might not want to trouble your partner, asking for help can actually strengthen your bond. Most partners would be happy to support their loved ones in any way they can.
Before you have a conversation about your needs, think about what kind of support you need from your partner and when. It could be anything like:
- Being left alone when you feel overwhelmed
- Help with daily tasks when you feel low energy
- A good joke when you’re feeling down.
The key here is to clearly express what you need so that your partner knows how they can support you without having to guess or assume.
4. Seek treatment
Whether it’s medication, TMS therapy, or something else, don’t overlook the value of professional treatment. Speaking to an expert in mental illness can help you find the right treatment to overcome the depression symptoms you’re experiencing in your personal and romantic life.
You might even want to involve your partner in your treatment journey. If it’s feasible, you can attend couples’ therapy sessions together. This can give both of you a chance to express your thoughts and feelings in a supported space and learn how to support each other.
5. Plan time together
Sometimes, the best thing you can do for a relationship is spend some quality time together. If you feel a distance growing between you and your partner, try to plan some time to spend together.
Think about the times of day you feel your best – is it morning or evening? Brainstorm together some activities you can do that cater to both of your needs and interests. Try not to pressure yourselves into adhering to conventional relationship expectations and keep your plans simple and doable.
Maybe you want to cook a meal together, go for a walk, or watch a movie. Or maybe you want to sit together in the same room and do your separate activities. Whatever it is, make that time intentional and focus on fostering a connection.
6. Avoid unhealthy coping mechanisms
It’s common for people with depression to turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms to numb their feelings. Whether that’s substance use or eating junk food, if you start leaning on unhealthy coping strategies it can create even more distance between you and your partner.
Instead, try to choose healthier coping mechanisms wherever you can. Things like exercise, creative outlets, hobbies, or mindfulness can go a long way in easing depression symptoms. You can also consider speaking to a mental health professional to seek medication or therapy for depression.
7. Practice self-care
Sometimes you have to take care of yourself to take care of your relationships. While you might not feel like practicing self-care when you’re depressed, it can go a long way in improving your relationships.
Focus on cultivating your mental, emotional, and physical health with simple activities like movement, good sleep habits, and healthy eating. Something as simple as dressing up and styling your hair can make you feel better about yourself and allow you to be more present in your relationship.
How to reduce the effect of depression on other relationships
If depression is negatively influencing your relationships with friends and family, we have some suggestions that might help.
1. Find support
Depression might make you want to withdraw and isolate yourself, but building a strong support system may be what you need to feel better. Don’t be afraid to reach out to friends and family members you trust and feel safe around. Share your experiences with them and explain how depression is affecting your life and your relationships. Most of your loved ones will be happy to provide support, whether it’s with a conversation, a comforting presence, or help with daily tasks.
2. Don’t be afraid to say ‘no’
Sometimes saying ‘no’ is better than saying yes or saying nothing. It’s OK to decline invitations or requests if you’re not in the right emotional space to engage with others. Saying ‘no’ to social gatherings or commitments can be an act of self-care and doesn’t mean you’re neglecting those around you.
If you do decline an invitation, try to be honest and explain to the person that you appreciate their gesture but need time alone. Respecting your boundaries and prioritizing your mental health when you need to means you can engage with others from a more sustainable and authentic space, minimizing the pressure to maintain relationships when you don’t feel like it.
3. Respond to invitations
While setting boundaries is important, so is communication. Try not to fall into the habit of ignoring invitations and make an effort to respond, even if it’s just to say thank you. If you feel too overwhelmed to attend a social gathering, maybe you could suggest alternative activities like a phone chat or hanging out one-on-one.
Making sure to respond to invitations means you can respect your boundaries while still maintaining respectful connections with your loved ones. It lets people know that you value them and are making an effort to connect despite the challenges you’re going through.
How we can help
Depression can already be an isolating experience, and when it starts to affect your relationships you may feel even more alone. But it doesn’t have to be that way. If you’re looking for support with managing your depression, we can help.
We work with licensed psychiatrists, certified physician assistants, and advanced registered nurse practitioners to deliver the best care for your mental health goals. Whether that’s improving your relationships or managing your depression symptoms is up to you. Contact us to book an appointment and be evaluated for treatment.