One of the most popular topics members wish to discuss here on MyDepressionConnection is about their relationships. We hear from partners who suffer from depression as well as boyfriends, girlfriends, and spouses who are at a loss as to how to help their depressed partner. Let’s face it. When pre-existing depression is a third party in your relationship, things can get rocky and fast. But can your relationship actually cause depression? Isn’t depression biological in origin? Would the individual diagnosed with depression be depressed whether or not they were in a "good" or "bad" relationship? These are not easy questions to answer. It is true that a lot of depression is biological in nature. Yet it is also true that our environment, which includes other people, can play a huge role in our mental wellness. People who feel loved and supported fare better with their mood disorder or mental illness than those who do not feel supported or cared for by their partner. Most people will confess that an unhealthy relationship can contribute to symptoms of depression and emotional distress. In this post we are going to discuss some of the signs of a depression-inducing relationship.
1. Do you feel trapped in your relationship?
Feeling trapped and without choices is depression fodder. The individual who feels a lack of freedom to make decisions within their relationship may feel resentful. Over time this anger may turn inward and manifest as feeling unworthy and insignificant, precursors to depression. A healthy relationship is a partnership where both people feel that they have a voice and a say in making decisions.
2. Do you feel unsupported by your partner?
Do you feel that your partner is attentive when you speak? Can you show emotions or share when you are feeling depressed? Is your partner dependable to be there when you need him or her during both the good times and the bad? Does your partner show empathy, care, and affection? Support means different things to different people but usually you know in your gut whether or not someone is being supportive of you. If you answered "no" to most of these questions, you are likely to be in an unsupportive and unhealthy relationship.
3. Does your partner frequently criticize you?
We all have different opinions and biases but criticism is different. Criticism often involves making accusations of the other person’s character and blaming. Instead of saying, "I was worried when you came home late" the partner who criticizes might say, "You don’t care about anyone’s feelings. You are so undependable." John Gottman, a researcher of marital relations,reports that the use of criticism is what he calls one of the "four horsemen of the apocalypse" or a predictor of future divorce.
4. Does your partner show contempt for you?
Contempt comes from a place of superiority and condescension. Contempt can manifest as insults, sarcasm, put-downs, and hostile humor. Contempt is displayed in body language through sneers and rolling your eyes. The partner who is the recipient of contempt may feel that they are being emotionally abused.
5. Is your partner defensive?
It is a natural instinct to wish to defend oneself when you feel under attack both physically and emotionally. Yet if this tactic is used too much during any type of discussion or conflict, there is no listening or compromise going on. The defensive partner will not take responsibility for their behavior, they will make excuses, interrupt, make counter complaints, and even whine. Extreme defensiveness pretty much communicates, "I am not listening to you" and "I choose not to change."
6. Does your partner avoid talking about important issues?
Along with defensiveness, contempt, and criticism, avoidance or stonewalling, is another predictor of divorce according to relationship expert, John Gottman. The stonewaller believes if they just don’t respond to their partner’s communication, that the problem will just go away. But in fact, this tactic simply makes things worse. This is a passive aggressive way to gain control in a relationship and it usually makes the other partner escalate in their attempts to be validated or recognized.
7. Can you be yourself in this relationship?
If you ask happy couples what makes their relationship work so well, many will tell you that they feel accepted by their partner and free to be themselves. This acceptance includes flaws and all. If you feel like saying, "I cannot be me in front of this person" because you feel that you may be criticized or ridiculed then this is a huge problem. If you feel that your partner is trying to mold you or change you into someone you are not, this is also a warning sign that your relationship may not be sustainable.
8. Do you feel badly about yourself when you are with your partner?
Your partner should make you feel safe, loved, respected, and cherished. But if you are feeling inadequate, unworthy, sad, distrustful or fearful, there may be a problem.
9. Can you laugh and have fun with your partner?
The foundation for any long-lasting romantic relationship is friendship. Sex may be the element of relationships most people talk about, but over the years sex is like icing on the cake. Icing (sex) is great but it is not as good when you don’t have the cake (friendship, emotional intimacy, shared interests, and the ability to have fun together.) Do you enjoy spending time with your partner? Do you enjoy talking, laughing and sharing activities together? If the answer is no, then a huge chunk of your relationship is missing. This loss of friendship within your primary relationship can cause feelings of loneliness, isolation, and depression.
10. Is there abuse in your relationship?
Recently we have been discussing domestic abuse and how it can affect both men and women. Abuse can be physical, sexual, or emotional. Women and men who are abused in their relationship are at great risk for developing depression. If you are currently in an abusive relationship we have many resources for you to get help.
We would like to hear from you now. Do you feel that being in an unhealthy relationship can cause depression? What are some of the elements of an unhealthy relationship that you feel can contribute to symptoms of depression? Tell us your story. We are here to listen
For more information about this topic please refer to our Depression and Relationships Resource Guide.