Depression and your relationship

Depression can feel debilitating at times but that doesn’t mean you have to face it alone. If you have a significant other it’s vital that you’re able to communicate with them about mental health. We explain how depression may impact your relationship and what you can do about it.

A young couple are reading a paper. They are talking about depression and relationships. This is a wide-angle image.

Telling your partner about your depression

It’s hard enough having depression without having to discuss it as well, but having that discussion is so worth it. Being open and honest about your mental health can really strengthen a couple’s bond and allow them to endure the hardships that come with facing a relationship and depression.

“A successful relationship can help you through a period of depression,” says Emer O’Neill, CEO of Mind. “Whereas your relationship won’t work if you’re hiding your mental health condition.”

“Anyone who’s been through depression knows you need to own the condition,” she continues. “Do that by developing an understanding of it yourself, so you’re prepared to discuss it. But always remember your mental health condition does NOT define you

When should you tell your partner you have depression

Emer recommends raising the subject when you’re in the best possible frame of mind. “Say: ‘If this thing hits me again, this is what it’s like. There may be days when regular things I do are just too hard and I lose my confidence. It’s not about you – it’s the depression.’”

Or you could write an email or letter explaining how you’re feeling and save it until you feel ready. That way you’ll have something to give to your partner if things get tough and you can’t face talking about it.

What if they can’t handle it?

“This is a lonely condition,” says Emer. “It causes loneliness and it can be triggered by loneliness. The key is to talk to your partner and try to let them into your thought process. Say: ‘This is what’s happening to me right now.’”

You may feel like you’re completely alone, but depression is very common. “We estimate that one in four people will have depression at some point, but that’s conservative. In reality a lot of cases go undiagnosed”, says Emer.

Unless your partner’s a saint, they may well get frustrated once in a while. Try to remember that their feelings are really about the condition, not about you. Depression is frustrating and miserable, and it sucks – you can both agree on that. Allow them to talk about their feelings openly, and if they affect you in any way – talk about that as well. We know we sound like a broken record at this point but honest, constant communication is crucial to surviving tough experiences as a couple.

Is my relationship making my depression worse?

Depression also loves to pick holes in your relationships. If something’s bothering you, it can be hard to tell if you’ve got a genuine reason to be upset, or if your depression is the one that’s bothered.

Unless your partner is being abusive, it’s worth trying to discuss the issue. Make sure you keep things neutral rather than hurling accusations at them.

Try something like: “We seem to be arguing quite a lot at the moment. Have you noticed that too? I feel upset about it and I’d really like to talk it through.” Don’t say: “You’re making me argue with you. You obviously can’t handle my depression. You’re upsetting me. You don’t love me anymore.”

Sometimes you need an objective opinion, so try asking a friend or family member you trust, or post on The Mix’s noticeboards if you need someone who’s outside of your life.

My depression has put me off sex

Loads of couples have mismatched sex drives, but depression can kill the passion altogether. If you’re just not feeling frisky it could be down to the condition itself. Loss of libido, erection problems, and difficulties reaching orgasm are also common side effects of many antidepressants.

For some help with any of these issues, see our article on low sex drive here and our article on erection problems here.

Start by talking to your doctor so they can rule out any other medical issues. Embarrassing, we know, but they’re used to talking about these things. Loads of other patients will have had exactly the same issues (and some probably worse than yours).

Be aware that your partner could feel sensitive and they may ask for reassurance that it’s not about them. Try not to loose your cool with them – they truly are just trying to understand where you’re coming from.

Having said this, they shouldn’t try to pressurise you or force you into doing anything sexual – that’s abuse. Nobody is entitled to sex whenever they want it. If you need more help on saying no to sexual advances from anyone, including your partner, then read this article.

What if my partner doesn’t understand my depression?

You didn’t choose to have depression. If you could just get out of bed that morning, you would. Not everyone understands that though – especially if they’re from a family that’s not so good at talking about emotions or mental health.

You could try giving your partner information from Mind. But if they really don’t understand, you might need to have a serious think, and possibly discussion, about the future of your relationship.

“Depression really takes you down and knocks your confidence, but going through it can give you self-awareness you didn’t have before,” says Emer. “You might have a better understanding of who you want to have in your life and which relationships are or aren’t good for you.”

My partner has depression and I can’t cope

Having a partner who suffers from depression can be very stressful, and sometimes you just want to yell ‘My partner has depression and I can’t cope.’.

It might seem like nothing you do can help them, but the support of family and friends plays an important role in the treatment of mental health conditions. Asking them about their symptoms to show them you care can really help. But try to avoid sounding judgmental or like you’re blaming them for depression.

Questions you could ask a depressed partner, include:

  • Can you help me understand how you’re feeling?
  • How are your energy levels right now?
  • Are you sleeping/eating more or less than usual?
  • How can I support you?

Questions to avoid, include:

  • When will you feel better?
  • Don’t I make you happy?
  • Can’t you understand this is all in your head?

Educating yourself on the subject is important, so thanks for taking the time! Your partner is lucky to have you. For more useful info, check out our article on what to do if your partner has depression.

Next Steps

By Anne Wollenberg

Updated on 14-Nov-2021