How Does Depression Affect a Relationship?

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As anyone who has ever spent more than a week with someone can tell you, navigating a relationship can be difficult even under the best circumstances. However, what if one person in that relationship is living with depression? Things can get really complicated really quickly, and—like many other things in a depressed person’s life—can feel hopeless or all their fault.

When typical relationship troubles pop up in a relationship with a depressed partner (or the DP, for short), s/he sometimes can’t even tell if it is an actual problem or just a manifestation of his/her depression. The DP, as a side-effect of medication or from depression itself, can be withdrawn, sullen, and experience a lack of sex drive. Similarly, someone ready to move on from a relationship can be withdrawn, sullen, and experience a lack of sex drive. That there would be confusion is almost self-evident.

For the non-depressed partner (or the NDP) it is important that s/he strike up a balance between supporting the DP and taking care of him/herself. While it almost goes without saying that one should do all s/he can to support the DP, it is just as important to ensure that the NDP is doing things s/he enjoys in order to keep their own spirits high. It is also important the DP be able to recognize that the NDP’s state of mind is important, too.

Ironically, both partners can grow to resent the attention that living with depression brings the DP. The NDP can feel as if “everything” is always about his/her partner and never their needs. Similarly, the DP can feel shame or great pressure from that attention, as if s/he were not a person but crudely made explosives that could detonate at any second.

Open, honest communication without pettiness is the key to a relationship’s survival whether all or none of the partners have depression. Elucidating one’s needs and the expectations of his/her partner is doubly important when, during depressive episodes, one of those partner’s actions or words are really coming from their illness.

If the DP says, “I want you to leave” to the NDP, it is a legitimate question if that is really the person’s wish or if s/he is simply trying to push people away to either be alone or (even worse) hurt him/herself.

One solution is to find a third party—or a pair of third parties—who can help both the DP and NDP navigate these issues. Typically, you’d most likely not involve someone not in the relationship in the relationship’s biggest troubles.

However when depression—in the more severe cases—is involved, that third party can be a sounding board for both partners. Getting an unbiased opinion from someone else can often provide a kind of clarity that the DP or NDP are “too close” to see.

Relationships are always tricky, so in a sense it just means that being in a relationship with a depressed person is no more difficult than anything else. With patience, communication, and (maybe) a little help from your friends, everything will turn out all right.

Photo by Linda Tanner via Flickr Creative Commons

 
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