For better or for worse, in any serious, long-term relationship, your partner has a lot of power over you. This is true even in the healthiest, most trusting, and most loving relationships in which neither partner would ever willfully exert power to control or manipulate their partner. In these cases, we call that balance, and that means, of course, that you have power (that you’d never exert) over your partner as well. In functional relationships, the power is shared and the partnership thrives.
In lopsided, unbalanced relationships, one partner can have almost all of the power, and in that case, it’s usually best for the party usually feeling disempowered to exit the union. That’s an immensely important topic and one deserving of its own coverage, so we’ll leave it there.
Today, we’re focused on something that occasionally happens even in a de facto balanced and intimate relationship: despite it not being your partner’s intention, he or she has the power to make you depressed, and that can throw off every other aspect of your life, from work to hobbies to friendships to physical and mental health and, indeed, the joy you take from and the strength you find in that very person.
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Again, for our purposes today we’re assuming your partner is a good, caring person who has your best interests deep at heart. Given the way relationships work, they may nonetheless be able to drive you into depression without ever having intended to do so. If you suspect that may be the case, then it’s on you to start taking action to correct course. But if you are in a safe, committed relationship, at least you won’t have to do it all on your own.
Now, let’s look at three signs your significant other may be making you depressed and discuss what you should do in each case.
You have given up on activities you once enjoyed
Depression is a thief not only of happiness, hope, and energy, but of experiences in life, as well. Depressed people find it harder to get up and out the door even to engage in activities they generally greatly enjoy. And conversely, when you are compelled to give up things you like doing, that can lead to or worsen depression – it’s a vicious cycle if ever there was one.
If your partner is depressed and is no longer willing or able to engage in many hobbies, social events, or other types of activities, you may also be giving up on things in order to stay closer to and supportive of your significant other, and you may be doing this whether you consciously realize it or not. Giving up on enjoyed activities can take a terrible toll on your mental health – just look what happened to so many people during the COVID-19 pandemic – so it’s important not to let your partner’s issues curtail your involvement in things you want to do.
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You need to kindly and lovingly but clearly explain to your partner that even though he or she may not have the energy, interest, or desire to go out and hike, shop, take a cooking class, bowl with friends, and so forth, that it’s important that you do so, and you will be doing so with or without your SO. It’s entirely normal and even quite healthy and beneficial for couples to do some things on their own, so don’t feel any guilt about enjoying your own life sometimes.
The happier and more positive you can stay, the better a partner you will be for the other person, so it’s hardly selfish to enjoy yourself some.
Your fitness and physical health have declined
One of the surest signs of depression is a decline in physical health and a reduction in physical fitness – physical health and mental health are intimately related, after all. If you suffer from a history of depression and note a change in your physical health, that’s a red flag you are in a depressive period again. If, on the other hand, your partner’s depression, listlessness, lack of motivation to stay healthy, and lack of support for you to do so have contributed to your physical decline, their issues may be causing you to be depressed.
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Getting sufficient exercise and following a healthy diet are proven ways to improve your mental health along with your physical health. Make the commitment to yourself improve your fitness and wellbeing and then inform your partner of your plans; if he or she is unable or unwilling to support you, find someone who will. Fortunately, there are myriad professionals who can be hired to help in these regards, from personal trainers to Pilates instructors to registered dieticians, so even if you don’t have a friend who loves hitting the gym or the trail, you will find someone who can help you get back to a fitter, healthier lifestyle, and that will help your mental health improve as well.
You feel better when your partner is not around
If you feel safer, happier, and more comfortable when your partner is not around, that is a huge red flag in the relationship, and potentially a warning sign that the bond needs to be broken. If you prefer to avoid your partner because he or she is abusive – be it physically, emotionally, or both – your relationship may not be one worth salvaging. On the other hand, if you avoid them more because they are just no longer pleasant to be around and because you feel worse about yourself when you’re with them, there may be plenty of hope for a shared future.
It’s a hard conversation to have, but it’s one you must initiate if there’s hope for improvement and the sooner the better. Talk to you partner about your feelings, but not as an attack, but rather asking if they ever feel the same way and what you can do to change that; if the feeling is mutual, you may both be able to improve. If it’s not, you can work on identifying the traits, behaviors, habits, and patterns of speech you have been finding objectionable and, assuming your partner wants to change, they will have action steps to do so.
Finally, if your partner is clearly depressed, whether or not their mental health condition is weighing you down as well, it’s crucial they get the help they need by talking to a trained mental health professional. In supporting them to do so, you may well realize you could use some direct help as well.
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