Depression can create a vicious cycle within a couple in which both partners withdraw and isolate themselves from each other. For the partner diagnosed with depression, there is a myriad of physiological and emotional underpinnings that can negatively affect sexual desire and intimacy. Generally speaking, feelings of sadness, lack of energy, and negative side-effects from medication can make the thought of sexual desire seem impossible. However, just like it takes two to tango, we must also consider the experience of the partner who is not depressed. Many loving partners would be concerned about their partner’s emotional health and try to do everything they can to make them happy and feel better. For a couple with a healthy and vibrant sexual life before depression, the non-depressed partner may seek to cheer their depressed partner up and either initiate sex more often than usual or do something a little more special that may only be reserved for special occasions. This act of love, however, can often backfire when the depressed partner feels unable and unwilling to engage the other partner sexually. In times of vulnerability—sex being no exclusion—a rejection hurts. For the non-depressed partner, being turned down after trying so hard to make the other happy can sting and result in a withdrawal from intimacy to protect one’s feelings. For the depressed partner, the inability to engage sexually with one’s partner may fuel depressive thoughts of being ‘worthless’ or ‘not good enough.’ Together, both partners feed a cycle of hurt that slowly pulls them away from each other. As far as tactics go, here are some things to consider:

Talk, talk, and talk some more. Depression is debilitating to an individual and a relationship. To prevent significant relationship problems from developing, communicating with each other from a place of emotional vulnerability is so important. Using the example above, imagine how different things would be if the depressed partner said how much they appreciated the act of love, but feel unable at the moment to express love in that way. Or, the non-depressed partner shared their feeling of rejection and sense of hopelessness to help their partner feel better? Such conversations, though challenging, build the foundation for a stable love life that can weather troubling times. Sex is amazing, but sometimes an intimate conversation can be just as exciting.

Don’t lose sight of each other. Depression can often become a very inward-focused experience. When people are depressed, they can become so lost in their sadness and hopelessness that they forget about how others whom they love are feeling. If you are suffering from depression, ask your partner how they are doing and what this has been like for them. Even if you may not be in the sexual mood, don’t forget that the same may not apply to them. Offering a ‘helping hand’ so to speak can make a world of a difference in communicating with the partner that they are still loved and desired.

Don’t lose sight of yourself. We are all responsible for ourselves, our feelings, and our actions. If you notice that you are feeling sadder than usual and worry that you may be entering a depression, getting the proper help from a mental health professional is critical. For the non-depressed partner, taking care of one’s emotional and physical health during these times is also necessary. It is easy to become lost in helping a person that you love. Take care of yourself first so you can take care of them.

Thanks for reading!

-Dr. Dan