Depression and your relationship

Opening up about your depression with your boyfriend or girlfriend doesn’t mean it’s ‘game over’. We explain how your mental health condition may impact your love life and what you can do to help it along.

Couple in shadow

How to find light together, through the dark.

Telling your partner about your depression

It’s hard enough having depression without having to discuss it as well, but the couples who survive periods of depression tend to be the ones who actually talk about it.

“A successful relationship can help you through a period of depression,” says Emer O’Neill, CEO of Depression Alliance. “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 remember it’s not the most important thing about you.”

When should you tell them?

Emer recommends raising the subject on one of your better days if possible. “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 condition.'”

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

What if they can’t handle it?

Depression has a sneaky way of putting worrying thoughts in your head. It sits inside your brain, insisting that your partner can’t possibly understand how you’re feeling and they’re probably going to leave you.

“This is a lonely condition,” says Emer. “It causes loneliness and it can be triggered by loneliness. Talk to your boyfriend or girlfriend. Say: ‘This is what’s happening to me right now.'”

You may feel like you’re completely alone, but depression is very common. “We say one in four people will have depression at some point, but really a lot more people have it and don’t realise,” 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.

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 doing all the talking inside your head.

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.

Do say: “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 to be honest, or post on The Mix’s noticeboards.

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.

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.

How do you handle the situation as a couple? By talking about it (however excruciating that may seem) as not talking about it will be far worse in the long run. Don’t leave your partner wondering if you’ve stopped fancying them – take the initiative and let them know it’s a medical issue.

If possible, keep doing some tactile things like holding hands and hugging. Be aware that your partner could feel sensitive and they may ask for reassurance that it’s not about them.

However, 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.

What if they just don’t get it?

You didn’t choose to have depression. If you could just decide to get better, you would. Not everyone understands that though – especially if they’re from a family that’s not so good at talking about problems or feelings.

You could try giving your partner information from Mind or Depression Alliance. But if they really don’t understand, you might need to question whether you want to keep seeing them.

“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.”

Photo of shadow couple by Shutterstock

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By Anne Wollenberg

Updated on 29-Sep-2015