Living with depression can impact your relationships with loved ones and friends. But there are ways to navigate interacting with others while managing your condition.
Living with depression comes with challenges, including overcoming barriers to nourish and maintain meaningful relationships.
According to a 2015 study, couples indicated that depression negatively influenced their romantic relationships in the following ways:
- emotional toll
- romance and sexual intimacy
- lack of energy/motivation
- dependence on the relationship
- lack of understanding
Also, the study found that participants who reported how depression affected their relationship varied based on their and their partner’s depression status.
Whether you live with depression or are in a relationship or friendship with someone who has depression, the condition can affect your connection in various ways.
Sarah Rattray, PhD, couples psychologist and founder of Couples Communication Institute, says many symptoms of depression, such as fatigue, low energy, loss of interest in activities, and irritability, make everything harder in a relationship.
“You can quickly feel pushed away from your partner rather than drawn closer together. Relationships take energy and goodwill to maintain well, and that can be hard to come up with when you’re [experiencing episodes of depression],” Rattray tells Psych Central.
When you’re experiencing a depressive episode, it’s common for nothing to seem appealing and lack energy or interest in doing anything with your partner. So when your partner requests something, it may feel like a challenge, burden, or even irritating.
“Sexual interest sometimes disappears as well. You might want to withdraw into yourself and not share with your partner what’s going on. Sometimes you might feel worthless or guilty for how you’re feeling, which makes asking for help challenging,” says Rattray.
During depressive episodes, you may be far less interested in spending time with friends and loved ones and have a harder time engaging at work.
“You may feel like turning down invitations and pulling away from the people you care about… Activities that might have interested you before often just don’t sound appealing anymore, or the effort it would take to participate feels like it would take more energy than you can summon up,” Rattray explains.
While it’s not easy, the following ways can have a positive effect on your relationships.
Understand your depression
Rattray says depression is a symptom of many kinds of imbalances.
“It’s like a red warning light on your own personal dashboard — time to figure out what the warning is trying to tell you,” she says.
Rattray suggests looking into:
- sleep habits
- quality of food
- stress levels
- exercise habits
- hormone imbalances
- the impact of head or spine injuries
- infections that may be affecting you, such as viruses, bacteria, parasites, or mold
“Antidepressant medication shouldn’t be the first choice until you’ve worked on figuring out what knocked you out of balance to begin with,” she says.
Open up to your partner
Share details about your mental health with your partner.
“You’re going to have to quit the conversation going on in your head — part of you will be saying that you don’t want to burden your partner or you feel too embarrassed. Give permission to the other part of you that loves and values your partner and your relationship, and talk to your partner,” says Rattray.
She suggests choosing the time of day your energy is the best, and let your partner know you need them to listen as you share what’s going on.
Ask for what you need
Asking your partner for help can keep you close.
“Far from being a burden, most partners are grateful to be able to help their loved one,” says Rattray.
While your partner may offer some suggestions, you might be tempted to turn them all down. However, telling them the suggestions that seem most possible for you is a good way to keep communication lines open.
“If a suggestion sounds somewhat appealing, but it also sounds too hard, let your partner know the kind of help you’d need to make it happen,” Rattray says.
Set times to be together
Figure out the times and situations when your energy is the best, and plan to do things together at those times.
“Prioritize together what would help you feel close and connected, and put those at the top of your list,” says Rattray.
For instance, if morning is when you feel your best, plan on eating breakfast together or taking a morning walk together a few times a week.
Avoid turning to substances
Rather than turning to alcohol or cannabis to cover up how you’re feeling, it’s may be better to speak with a mental health professional who can help you get to the root cause of your depression and treat you accordingly.
Confide in trusted friends
Figure out which family and friends you feel safest sharing your situation with and tell them how you’re feeling.
“Let the trusted people in your life know what you’re going through — the support and empathy will feel good,” says Rattray.
Know it’s OK to pass up invitations when you’re not feeling well.
“Be prepared to say ‘no’ to anything you can’t take on right now. If you don’t have the energy or interest in participating, or the ability to follow through, take care of yourself and turn down invitations or requests,” says Rattray. “Depression is a symptom that you’re out of balance, and rest and reflection may be what you need, rather than guilt about not being able to do what you agreed to.”
Respond to invitations
While saying no to invites is OK, rather than ignoring invitations to dinners, parties, and gatherings, let people know you want to connect and be involved with them again, but you’re not ready to get together right now.
“You can write out a sample reply and run it past a trusted person to make sure it sounds right,” says Rattray.
Something short and thoughtful, such as “I value our friendship, and I really hope to connect with you when I’m feeling better,” can show the person you care.
Explain your actions
Rattray suggests telling family and friends before or after you see them why you might be behaving differently.
“If you’re feeling irritable or blue, be straight with your friends and loved ones, and let them know you’re not feeling quite right, rather than acting negative without an explanation,” she says.
Sometimes taking actions to manage your depression isn’t possible all by yourself.
“Whether you want to consult an individual or couples therapist, a naturopath or a physician, those are positive steps toward health and growth and not signs of or an admission of failure. Everyone can use more tools in their toolbox, more coping skills, and more healthy habits,” says Rattray. “You don’t have to wait until you feel terrible to get help to live a better life. When you’re aware you’re not feeling the way you used to, or not feeling the way you want to, reach out for help.”
While living with depression can make maintaining relationships difficult, there are ways you can stay close with those you care about most. Understanding and managing your depression is a good way to care for yourself to nourish healthy relationships with others.
Through open communication about your feelings, needs, and possible challenges, you and your loved ones can work together and help strengthen your bond.