If you think your partner is feeling depressed, learning about depression and how it might affect your relationship can help you better support them — and yourself.

When your spouse or significant other no longer wants to spend time with you, show you any physical affection, or even talk to you much, it can be confusing. Have they fallen out of love with you? Was it something you said or did?

Or are these signs that your partner is depressed?

Depression can cause someone to lose interest in activities and people they love or have no motivation to put effort in. Unlike sadness, depression doesn’t just fade with time but with treatment.

In 2020, approximately 21 million U.S. adults reported at least one significant episode of depression.

If your partner seems to have lost interest and purpose in their life, it’s possible they could have depression.

The more you understand about this mental health condition and its effect on relationships, the better able you’ll be to support your partner while taking care of yourself.

While a doctor or mental health professional will need to assess someone to diagnose depression, you may be one of the first people to notice signs of depression in your partner.

Depression can affect every aspect of daily life including sleeping, eating, dressing, hygiene habits, working, socializing, and sex. If your partner has depression, their behaviors and life will change — and yours might, too.

But is it depression or sadness? A key factor that distinguishes depression from sadness is that this low mood lasts nearly all day, every day, for 2 or more weeks. Depression also involves symptoms other than sadness and is more persistent and severe.

What are the 3 most serious symptoms of depression?

  1. loss of pleasure, or apathy, present within a 2-week period
  2. expressions of worthlessness
  3. suicidal behaviors

You’re not alone. If you need to talk to someone right away, you can:

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Along with a loss of pleasure, if your partner has five or more symptoms lasting for more than 2 weeks, they may be living with depression.

Everyone’s experience with depression is unique to them, but those who identify as women may feel more empty and sad, whereas men may tend toward irritability.

In general, here are some signs to look out for:

Disengaging from family, friends, or favorite hobbies

One sign that a partner is depressed — rather than just upset with you — is little or no interest in spending time with you. But it could be because they don’t feel interested in being around anyone.

If they’re feeling depressed, they may be more likely to:

  • cancel plans
  • numb themselves in front of the TV or other screens instead of engaging in social activities
  • seem irritable or defensive when you or others try talking to them

Having fatigue that’s not typical for them

When you ask your partner what’s wrong, they may complain that they’re tired. A lot.

Depression can make it hard for someone to get out of bed. Other ways fatigue can manifest include:

  • no longer doing chores or tasks normally part of their routine
  • over-sleeping, or showing up late for work
  • having insomnia at night and day-time sleepiness
  • complaining about stomachaches and headaches
  • disinterest in sex

Your loved one may feel guilty about this lethargy, too, but the guilt might just make them feel worse.

Repeatedly showing feelings of helplessness or hopelessness

People who have depression often find it hard to follow through on commitments. Not because they’re “flaky” but because they might not see the point anymore.

Deep feelings of helplessness might cause your partner to lose sight of their purpose. They may:

  • criticize themselves
  • express feelings of worthlessness
  • communicate hopelessness indirectly by mumbling, trailing off, or not standing up for themselves

Suddenly having new behaviors or habits not typical for them

Their typical routines are likely to be replaced by new behaviors and habits.

Someone with depression may:

  • stop caring about what they wear
  • keep up less with their hygiene practices, like brushing their teeth or showering
  • misuse drugs or alcohol
  • eat more or less than usual
  • be persistently irritable, even with children or pets
  • abandon tasks and work

Some of the symptoms your partner has might not necessarily be depression, or it may be a specific type of depression. In some cases, your relationship or marriage could be causing situational depression.

If your spouse is specifically feeling depressed related to marriage, it may look like:

  • withdrawing from activities with you but not with others
  • a lack of interest in showing affection (when they used to)
  • disinterest in fixing things after an argument
  • emotional detachment

Codependency, enmeshment, conflict, and hostility are common boundary issues that you may wish to explore in couples therapy or marriage counseling.

These problems can potentially contribute to depression but they also leave both partners feeling unsafe, filled with mistrust, and unsupported.

Untreated depression can continue to worsen and affect your relationship, but there are ways you can support your partner and yourself.

You may want to try:

  • Asking nonjudgmental questions, such as: “Is there anyone you might feel OK around?”
  • Encouraging low-pressure activities, such as a light movie or a walk — just the two of you
  • Active listening, without interruption or advice
  • Maintaining your own self-care, such as keeping up with exercise and social needs

In a 2013 study reviewing literature on couples dealing with depression, researchers concluded that depression can create communication problems and erode intimacy.

Partners living with someone who has depression can sometimes criticize or unintentionally provoke defensiveness. It can help to remember you’re both under pressure and deserve validation and empowerment.

Therapy

If possible, you may want to encourage your partner to try individual therapy.

If it seems appropriate, you can even offer to:

  • attend some sessions with them, if they need extra support
  • help by reminding them to take any medication
  • be part of their routine strategies to manage their symptoms

You may also want to see a therapist who can help you support your own needs. You don’t need to have a mental health condition to benefit from therapy.

If you decide to go the route of couples therapy, you’ll likely focus on communicating and coping together.

If you or your partner needs help finding support, you can check out our hub on mental health support. You can also learn more about depression at our depression hub.

Mental health conditions in one partner can affect both, interfering with intimacy, communication, and interest in doing things together.

In a 2019 study following five couples, researchers investigated the experiences of partners in a relationship when one partner was diagnosed with a mental health condition.

They found that social roles changed, partners grew distanced, and both partners felt different about themselves.

The partner who wasn’t depressed expressed:

  • not knowing what to do
  • feeling the need to overcompensate
  • feeling insecure

It may take time and effort, but you and your partner can get through this and come out stronger and closer — together.