Various factors in a relationship can lead to depressive symptoms. Here’s what can you and your partner can do to support each other.
Even the happiest or most solid of couples face challenges from time to time. This can include having arguments or feeling stressed about your partner or the relationship.
But what happens when the relationship starts to trigger something more serious — like depression?
When the relationship itself is causing depressive symptoms, it’s often referred to as “relationship depression.”
While relationship depression isn’t an official mental health disorder, it’s a very real scenario for many couples. And a relationship certainly can trigger depression, especially if a person is already predisposed to depression.
So, how exactly does a relationship play a role in developing depression symptoms, and what can you and your partner do to overcome it?
There are several reasons why a relationship might trigger or worsen depressive symptoms. These can include:
Cheating can weaken trust and may cause you or your partner to experience betrayal, humiliation, and anger. It can also lead to feelings of depression.
Research from 2020 suggests that not only is infidelity linked to symptoms of depression and anxiety, but it can also contribute to low self-esteem and confidence. This, in itself, can have a negative effect on one’s overall mental well-being.
Physical, sexual, and emotional abuse can all contribute to depression and other mood disorders.
A 2020 study examined the long-term emotional impact of abuse. In this study, researchers measured the impact of intimate partner violence (IPV) in over 1500 participants, first at age 21 and then at age 30. The study found that experiencing IPV at age 21 was linked to feelings of depression and anxiety at age 30.
The study also found that women were more likely to experience depression as a result of abuse, while men were more prone to anxiety.
The signs can range from subtle (emotional abuse) to more overt (domestic violence). However, abuse in any form is serious.
Dealing with abuse can be difficult, but it’s not impossible. If you or someone you love is experiencing partner abuse, it’s important to seek help. You can call the National Domestic Abuse Hotline at 800-799-7233 or text “START” to 88788.
Trauma is generally defined by a person’s response to a highly stressful (or traumatic) situation, experience, or event. Trauma doesn’t only affect you in the moment; it can also have a long lasting impact.
Past traumatic experiences can even play out in your current relationship.
Maybe your past experience makes it difficult to trust, and you push your partner away or create conflict within your relationship as a result.
Unresolved trauma can also manifest depression or anxiety. This can be caused by feelings of shame, hopelessness, or even a sense that you’re unworthy of love.
Ultimately, in your efforts to protect yourself or avoid future pain, you may be sacrificing your mental health and your relationship.
It may be helpful to speak with a mental health professional to help develop healthier coping skills for your past trauma.
There are many obstacles a couple can face, including physical distance.
Long-distance relationships often present an added layer of challenges that can affect how a couple communicates, shows affection, and experiences intimacy. This can also affect how one or both partners feel about the relationship.
It’s possible to experience depression or anxiety about a relationship when you’re separated from your partner by a large distance. These feelings may arise from missing your partner or worrying about what they’re doing or feeling when you’re not around.
Tension can arise when partners don’t see eye-to-eye on their future, both as individuals and as a couple.
While many couples find ways to make their aspirations and goals complement one another, some have trouble finding this alignment. When two people’s individual plans conflict, it can create problems within the relationship. It may even end it.
When you and your partner are having trouble seeing a combined future and building a path forward together, feelings of worry, sadness, and depression can creep in.
Depression can sometimes feel impossible to overcome, especially when it starts to affect your relationships with others. But all is not lost — there is hope.
There are many steps you can take to improve depressive symptoms and repair your relationships. You can try:
- participating in individual or couples therapy (or both)
- joining a support group
- speaking with a doctor about antidepressant medication
- prioritizing open communication with your partner
- practicing self-care techniques
- keeping a journal
It’s important to also consider and acknowledge your partner’s feelings. By prioritizing both of your individual needs, you can also put the needs of the relationship at the forefront to build a stronger, longer-lasting bond.
While your partner can’t necessarily solve or treat your depression, they can offer support, encouragement, and understanding to help you along your journey to recovery.
They can also:
- Learn about depression. By building their knowledge about depression and its symptoms, they can better understand what you’re experiencing and the role they can play in helping you cope.
- Engage in couples counseling. Actively participating in therapy with your partner not only helps them build a better understanding of what you’re going through, but it can give you both tools and strategies for how to work together to overcome any obstacles.
- Be open and understanding. Be honest and open with your partner about how you’re feeling, and encourage them to do the same. This can help avoid misunderstandings and help your partner discover better ways to help you.
- Offer support. The symptoms of depression can vary. You may find yourself disinterested in or unable to perform certain tasks. Your partner can help by taking on some of these needs themselves or helping you to take care of them.
- Listen. Communication is a key part of any relationship. When depression is added into the mix, it can become even more important. By listening and responding to each other’s needs, you and your partner can work together to ensure those needs are being met.
- Set realistic expectations. There’s only so much your partner can do. While they may wish they could remedy the challenges you face, it’s important to acknowledge that sometimes simply providing support is far more effective than offering solutions.
“Relationship depression” can be triggered by a variety of actions or situations, including infidelity, abuse, distance, and incompatible goals.
Despite the relationship contributing to the development of one (or both) partner’s depression, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the couple should break up.
There are many ways to overcome or cope with so-called relationship depression. A few steps include seeking professional support, prioritizing open communication, and practicing self-care can all contribute to a healthy, happier relationship.
If your partner is experiencing depression due to the relationship, there are ways that you can help them. Consider learning about depression and its symptoms, so that you can understand what they’re feeling and how you can best support them.
This may mean committing to couples therapy, developing ways to better listen to your partner, or offering to help them with tasks they may find difficult.
This type of depression can be difficult to manage, and every couple will navigate it in their own way. While some may be able to conquer depression by working together, others might need outside support or medical intervention. And both are OK.
As with any hardship, standing together and working on supporting one another through the depression may help strengthen your bond in the long run.