When an individual suffers from depression, feelings of isolation and a general sense of unworthiness can infiltrate their thoughts, making relationships difficult to manage.  Relationships are put to the test and sometimes unravelled when depression takes hold.


Depression Wears a Disguise


There is a common belief that depression is a sense of overwhelming sadness.  In movies, we often see the signs of depression portrayed as a grief-stricken person, who sits alone, staring out a window, often crying and looking lost.   In movies, there is usually a clear trigger for the onset of depression.


In reality, depression does not appear suddenly like the flu.  It builds over time, making it difficult to recognize.  There is rarely a single event that leads to depression.  Nor does it wear such an obvious face.  Depression is cleverly disguised with masks of anger, distance, criticism and seclusion.


While the person suffering from depression might indeed feel sad, it is more accurate to say they feel negative.  Feelings of hopelessness and inadequacy manifest themselves as a consistently negative perspective.  In fact, grumpiness and irritability are the earliest symptoms of depression.


Depression Fallout Among Couples


A person who suffers from depression will exhibit irrational behaviour and reactions.  This puts a strain on even the strongest of relationships.  Since the depressed individual feels their outlook is warranted, their partner is often left feeling alienated from the relationship.


A person who was once open and engaging will experience a sense of desolation and unworthiness.  They will honestly believe they are not loved or cared about.  The person becomes withdrawn emotionally, convinced their partner will not understand or care about how they feel.


Living with depression often results in constantly negative interactions.  Couples who truly enjoyed one another's company may find themselves living two separate lives.  The depressed person becomes withdrawn, preferring to be alone in a different room.  Their partner interprets this behaviour as being ignored.  This leads to arguments and accusations.


Communication Breakdown


It's more than a little difficult to engage someone who seemingly has no interest in participating in their own life.  Partners begin to feel like they are being pushed away, as their partner builds an emotional barricade.  Repeatedly asking “What's wrong?” is categorically met with “Nothing.”


Partners begin to feel a sense of rejection, stemming from their inability to reach their loved one.  Frustration mounts and the relationship becomes strained.  Eventually, the spouse may give up trying to communicate altogether.


Uncoupling of the Couple


It is important to remember that depression skews and distorts a person's perception.  When asked by a loving spouse to explain what's wrong, it may be impossible for the affected person to even find words to explain their feelings.  The illness may have quietly eroded the person's sense of trust.


Partners can easily become guilt-ridden, wondering if they have done something to cause their loved one to withdraw.  Depression may cause their spouse to become argumentative, and it's very easy to be drawn in by this antagonistic behaviour.


A devoted spouse may go out of their way trying to make things better: Taking on household chores, preparing meals, running errands and taking on the bulk of the family responsibilities in order to show their commitment and support.  When all efforts fail to improve the situation, the partner develops their own feelings of doubt, anger, shame and insecurity.


Couples are frequently torn apart when mental illness joins the relationship.  Even when a diagnosis of depression is confirmed, it's difficult to build a new bridge to draw the couple closer together.   Add children to the equation and the partner of the patient may feel they have no other choice but to break up the family unit.




Depression is traumatic for the entire family.  The role of supportive, loving partner requires more than compassion and understanding.  It requires a distinct set of coping skills to withstand the fallout of depression.


The damage caused by depression extends to partners, family members and close friends.  Being the pillar of support is not a role many can endure on their own.  Support groups and individual therapy will help those with depressed partners better manage their own feelings of loss, inadequacy or confusion.


Counselling will also help the spouses understand and cope with the changes in behaviour and mood that depression has caused in their partner.  Children of the patient may also need professional counselling to deal with the unpredictable turmoil.


There is no quick cure for depression, nor is there an instant solution for partners or spouses of those diagnosed.  In spite of all good intentions and efforts, a loved one will undoubtedly find themselves living with a stranger, whose habits and moods are foreign and unwelcome.   As a supportive partner, you simply cannot be expected to take care of anyone else, unless you take care of yourself first.

Author's Bio: 

Canadian psychologist Dr. Tali Shenfield is a well known researcher, clinician, and mental health blogger. For more information re effect of depression on family relationships please visit marriage counselling and family therapy page. You can read more articles by Dr. Shenfield in her "Advanced Psychology" blog.