Navigating Mental Health in A Relationship: A Guide

Medically reviewed by Katrice Hollins, LCSW, LICSW
Updated June 10, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Depression is a mental health condition that can feel difficult to live with. According to the Cleveland Clinic, there are several types of depression, including major depressive disorder and dysthymia. Depression is also one of the main states that occurs in bipolar disorder. Depressive symptoms such as withdrawal from others, irritability, and a loss of interest in activities are all common in those living with depression. It may also affect a person’s life, well-being, and relationships. 

When one person in a relationship struggles with a mental health condition such as depression, there may be unique obstacles, and what affects one partner will likely affect the other. It may feel challenging to recognize if symptoms are attributed to a person’s mental health or the relationship itself. Learning about depression and how it can impact relationships can help a couple maintain a healthy connection.

Coping with depression in a relationship can be a challenge

Navigating depression in a relationship

Navigating relationships on top of depression or mental health symptoms can feel challenging. On your own, you may only worry about yourself. When you partake in intimate relationships, you may also find yourself concerned with their well-being. 

You may worry that your depression is negatively affecting your relationship. However, there are some steps you can take to effectively navigate depression while being in a relationship, including the following: 

  • Take care of yourself
  • Find support outside of your partner
  • Help your partner help you
  • Avoid arguments or discussions when you’re not emotionally stable
  • Find coping mechanisms that work for you

Can depression affect relationships?

While depression is a common mental health concern, not everyone knows how it can impact interpersonal connections (relationships). Since people are now aware of the vitality of mental health, there are movies about depression that attempt to explain depression and its effects on relationships. It may impact relationships with friends, romantic partners, family members, and even yourself. You may notice a few socially related symptoms if you’re living with depression.  

Feeling less excited

Often, depression affects one partner’s ability to enjoy themselves around the other. People with depression often experience a loss of interest, referred to clinically as anhedonia. You might struggle to initiate plans because of symptoms of depression. Losing interest in activities might also mean you feel less excited about dates and other modes of quality time with a partner when they happen.     

Distancing from others

Symptoms of depression can cause individuals to withdraw from others, including those closest to them. You may feel disconnected from others or want to isolate yourself in general due to low mood or feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness. You may also want to isolate yourself so that others don’t notice your symptoms or know how you feel. 

Lacking energy 

You may lack energy. Fatigue and sleeping too much or too little are two notable and frequently experienced depression symptoms that can contribute to this. General self-care and participating in interpersonal relationships can feel challenging.

Libido changes

Symptoms of major depressive disorder may change your libido and cause a low sex drive. If you’re in a relationship where your sex life is a factor, it may bring up new challenges. 

Is it my mood or my partner?

Depression may affect someone at any age or phase of life. If you haven’t had a depressive episode before, you may wonder what’s going on or might not recognize it as depression immediately. 

Since many people with depression stop feeling excited over things that would typically make them happy, you might feel disinterested and mistake it for falling out of love. In turn, you might wonder whether your mood or relationship is at fault. 

How can you tell which one is the real culprit? Knowing the signs of depressive episodes may be helpful. If you notice the signs in yourself, you may wish to pursue a diagnosis or medical advice from a doctor. You can also reach out for the help of a counselor or therapist. 

Common symptoms of depression can include:

  • Sadness, hopelessness, or consistent low mood
  • Eating substantially more or less than usual 
  • Change in sleep habits
  • Not enjoying activities that you previously enjoyed
  • Restlessness or fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling worthless
  • Feeling numb
  • Having low self-esteem
  • Excessive crying
  • Agitation or increased irritability
  • Thoughts of self-harm, death, or suicide*

If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or urges, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988. Support is available 24/7.

If the symptoms listed are chronic and ongoing and last for more than a few weeks, you could be living with a diagnosable mental health condition. 

Facts about depression

Many individuals live with mental health conditions, including about one in five people in the United States. Experiencing symptoms of any mental health condition doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t maintain healthy relationships.

Mental health stigma exists, and people may have inaccurate assumptions or beliefs. However, depressive mental illnesses are among the most common mental health diagnoses, and many people know at least one person living with depression, whether they know it or not.  

Romantic relationships

Navigating an intimate relationship with depression may be similar to navigating needs in any relationship. It can require open healthy communication, effort, and honesty on both sides. 

For example, if you live with depression, it might be helpful to communicate with your partner directly. You might say something like:

  • “I’m feeling irritable today and need time to myself to use self-care/journal/take a walk/etc.” 
  • “I’m sorry I seemed withdrawn last night; I’m struggling and want you to know it’s not you.” 
  • “I’m having a rough day and feel like crying. Can we sit next to each other and watch a movie?”

You might also choose to give your partner a book on depression to help them learn more about how your symptoms affect you. If your partner struggles to read, consider a quick YouTube video or having a conversation with them. 

You can also explain to your partner that depression isn’t your defining feature. You likely have a multitude of interests and characteristics outside of depressive symptoms that shape who you are as a person and partner. Sharing the facets of your life that have nothing to do with depression—while still addressing its presence—can help you avoid identifying with your diagnosis too closely. 

Is major depressive disorder treatable? 

There are effective depression treatments, including forms of talk therapy, medication, and other interventions. Please consult a mental health professional before starting, changing, or stopping medication options.

It can take time to find the proper treatment for you. Learning how to navigate various concerns in an interpersonal relationship can also take time. Try to be patient with yourself and extend compassion to you and your partner throughout the process.

Supporting a partner in a healthy way

Maybe you don’t have depression, but your partner does; dating someone with depression could be challenging if you don't know what to do. If you have a partner who is living with depression, is about to start depression treatment, or is currently undergoing depression treatment, there are a few steps you might take to support them. 

Attend therapy together 

Offer to attend a therapy appointment with your partner to learn more about the condition and its symptoms. If applicable, you may also decide to see a couple’s counselor. Couples therapy may help you increase your understanding of your partner’s condition. Relationships often focus on working together, so attending a session together can be one way to learn new relationship skills. 

Practice patience 

Try not to tell your partner to “get over it” in reference to their depression, and consider not offering unsolicited advice. Depression may feel frustrating for the person living with it, and they may feel shameful, embarrassed, or upset if you try to act as a therapist or “fix” them. 

Take care of yourself 

One of the tips for dating someone with depression is to not forget to take care of yourself. Self-care can be important for anyone, including you. There are support groups for loved ones of people living with depression and other similar conditions, which might be helpful if you feel lost, unsure of what to do to help your partner or need a place to talk to people who understand.

Enjoy the “little” things

Enjoy fewer overwhelming activities together. For example, you might watch a movie, cook a meal, or clean together. If your partner struggles with these activities, you might plan a self-care night, spa day, or something relaxing. 

Care for your relationship 

Continue to care for your relationship as you would care for any. Whatever makes you and your partner feel loved, try to achieve it. For example, if you enjoy spending quality time together, consider spending a night watching movies and eating snacks. If your partner’s love language is words of affirmation, you might create positive interactions by writing them a letter or telling them all the reasons you appreciate them. 

All couples may go through rough patches. Even if your partner did not struggle with depression, you might still experience stressors or life difficulties. Try not to pin all struggles on your partner’s mental health, as struggles can be expected. 

Have I fallen out of love, or are there external circumstances?

When two people fall in love, the feeling of “butterflies” or affection may run high. At times, these feelings may hide a lack of compatibility or other concerns that wind up showing themselves later down the line. Feelings can fade over time, and love can change or dissipate.

If you’re unsure if you’re depressed, you may want to look at your relationship. People can fall out of love. Over time, one or both partners may feel ambivalent toward each other. They may not necessarily dislike one another or have issues. It could be that love or romantic feelings have diminished to the point that one or both partners want to move on.

In some cases, depression may cause you to worry about not loving your partner or feel guilty for your emotions. Perhaps you feel so down that you struggle to experience positive emotions, including love. If this is the case, time or treatment may be in order. 

Depression and relationship issues can have serious consequences but are often treatable. If you wish to work on managing depression, speaking to a professional may be the most beneficial choice. 

Coping with depression in a relationship can be a challenge

Talk to a mental health professional

Relationships can be complicated, and the same is often true for other areas of life. Even under the best of circumstances, relationship concerns may arise. Whether you want to address feelings of depression, interpersonal relationships, life stress, or something else, consider seeking professional care in individual, couples, or family therapy when you need it. 

How online therapy can help with depression?

Depression may make it difficult for you to get out of bed or prepare to drive to a therapy session, and it could be a sign of a range of mental health conditions, including clinical depression or bipolar depression. If you relate, online therapy may be an option. Online therapy often allows you to get care sooner than usual, and you may not have to worry about driving long distances to get to your sessions. 

One study on online therapy found that adults using an internet-based intervention experienced a significant reduction in their depression symptoms. This finding was equal across people of different genders, financial statuses, physical health statuses, and histories of psychotherapy. If you’d like to participate in this type of counseling, consider an online platform such as BetterHelp for individuals or Regain for couples.

Takeaway

Being in a relationship when you are diagnosed with depression can feel challenging. It may impact both partners. Although a partner may not be able to support you professionally, a counselor can be an effective option in treating the symptoms of your condition. Consider reaching out to a therapist independently or with a partner to discuss your treatment goals further.

Depression is treatable, and you're not alone
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