When you date a man with depression, it can become a struggle to maintain a relationship with him and protect your own mental health. The experience is not fundamentally different than dating someone without a mental illness, but there are issues that are more likely to arise.
By understanding these issues and knowing how to respond, you can support the man you love without threatening the relationship or your emotional wellbeing.
Note: We discuss the following insights in the context of dating men, but they apply equally to women. Scroll further down to read about behaviors and situations you are more likely to encounter with men only. Also realize you are not guaranteed to encounter these issues when you date someone with depression. Depression simply increases their likelihood. We also wrote an article about issues you are more likely to encounter with women only.
The Depression Coming Out Conversation
Whether you ask or deduce it after months of dating, there will be a point when your partner discloses they deal with depression. It’s a crucial moment in the relationship, so be sensitive and do not judge. Thank him for trusting you with this information he has most likely not shared with many people. See it as the beginning of a discussion you can resurface occasionally.
What You Need to Know About Anyone with Depression
He Might Interpret Neutral Things In a Negative Way
Depression often works like a game of telephone where no one wins.
One person says something nice. The person with depression would love to receive this kindness as it is, but their depression has set up a series of negative filters. By the time the kind words reach the person with depression, the filters have mutated it into something negative such as an insult or affirmation of their negative beliefs. Dating makes the situation even more difficult because there is more vulnerability.
Evgueni Borissenko, who has dealt with severe depression and blogged about it, talked about what this can be like in cases such as his.
“Even if you think you have answers, they can turn your answers around and turn them into problems of their own,” Borissenko said, describing how severely depressed men might respond to positive support.
If this happens, choose your words carefully. Tell him exactly what you mean and explain why what you are saying is positive. If his response seems like an attack, resist the instinct to be defensive. This is vital because attacking back can exacerbate his depression. Stay calm and ensure he knows exactly what you are trying to express.
Depression Might Make Him Feel Unworthy of Your Love
Because depression tends to affect people’s sense of worth, it can make him believe he does not deserve love.
“In this emotional space, dating becomes a chore,” said therapist Paul Hokemeyer. “It’s viewed as yet another problem rather than a solution to free you from depression’s parasitic grasp.”
If you feel the man you are dating is afflicted with this attitude, be patient. Show him he deserves love that will free him and make his life better rather than becoming another burden.
He Does Not Want to Be Depressed
Depression is not a choice. If any man with depression had a choice, he would choose to be rid of it.
One of the most hurtful things you can do to a man with depression is say it is his fault, that he could choose to be better if his will or character was stronger. Men have a responsibility to try to overcome their symptoms so they don’t negatively affect the ones they love. Even the strongest men, however, are not immune to illness and cannot cure it alone.
If the behavior hurts you emotionally, you should know he most likely did not intend to, said matchmaker Cassie Moffit, who has successfully matched couples with mental illness. Knowing this will allow you to be more patient and understanding.
Depression Can Make Him Seem Like a Different Person
Moffit described the effects of depression on dating as a “third person in the relationship,” someone unbearably negative or obstinate. There might be days when it seems like this third person possesses your partner, trying his best to disrupt the relationship or come between the two of you.
Without excusing the behavior, be patient and understand this person is not at the core of who your man is. He wants to be free of this person.
You Don’t Need to Stay With Him
Protecting your mental health is more important than being with him, no matter how much it seems like he has become everything to you. If the relationship is bringing you more pain than happiness — despite attempts to make it healthy — leaving is the right decision.
It might seem like you are abandoning him, leaving him at the mercy of his depression and without your love to protect him. Nonetheless, men have a responsibility to work with those they love to overcome the depression and make it more manageable. You should leave any man who is not doing enough to make the relationship work, and men who suffer from depression are no exception.
Depression and Antidepressants Can Affect Sex
If your partner uses a treatment for depression such as antidepressants, it might affect the sexual part of your relationship. It can make him not want to have sex as often or seem less satisfied with it, psychiatrist Grant H. Brenner told Talkspace.
Remember, this problem does not mean he isn’t attracted to you sexually. It’s the result of a chemical imbalance or side effect of medication. There should be no blame.
Some Tendencies Men Are More Likely to Have
Men with Depression Don’t Want You to ‘Fix’ Them
No one with depression wants a partner to “fix” them because depression does not mean being broken. The intention of fixing someone may be good, but it can make the person with depression feel you are looking down on them or don’t accept them.
This bothers both sexes, but it seems to irritate men significantly more, according to the therapists and men Talkspace interviewed.
“Women who are ‘fixers’ have actually been a trigger for me that makes my depression worse,” said TED talk mental health speaker Mike Veny.
There is a difference between supporting someone’s recovery and trying to “take away” their problems or change them, Veny said.
They Can Be More Irritable
All of the therapists Talkspace spoke to described men with depression as being more irritable on average than their female clients.
They can “fly off the handle or have a short fuse,” said therapist Roudabeh Rahbar. She also used words including “moody” and “touchy” to describe male clients.
Therapist Candice Christiansen said they often had more anger issues and struggled with being “too serious” about the subject of depression or anxiety.
Men often hide depression because they see it as a sign of weakness, Christiansen said, but the symptoms tend to seep out in the form of irritability and fatigue.
They Look for More Distractions and Can Seem Disinterested or Mentally Aloof
Men with depression tend to seek more distractions than women, which can be a problem if those “distractions” include alcohol and drugs. It also means more time might go by before he feels comfortable having the depression “coming out” conversation.
You can help him by encouraging positive distractions and guiding him away from the negative ones. You can even be one of those positive distractions on occasion.
Men also use distractions to remove themselves from the pain of depression. This can make them seem disinterested or oblivious.
CIA Medical Senior Editor Sarah Lisovich deals with depression and has dated a man with the illness. She said their outings often felt emotionally distant because both of them were trying to distract themselves from depression, from talking about it and discussing intense feelings.
His mind was “far away,” she said, and hers was not much closer at times.
Because the depression itself can be a distraction, there are other times when men with depressive symptoms can seem disinterested in those they are dating.
“When depressed, I tend to focus more on myself and why I’m this way than I focus on others,” said author G. H. Francis, who deals with symptoms of depression as a result of his schizoaffective disorder.
Francis warned people who date men with depression to not mistake this lack of attention as a sign the man doesn’t care.
What You Can Do About It (Applies to Men and Women)
When These Things Happen, Don’t Assume It Is Your Fault
When someone says something negative or seems disinterested in the relationship, it’s hard not to think it’s because of you. But remember, you did not cause their illness. It existed before you met him.
Buffer Stress by Making Space for Yourself
Because depression can feel like a third person in the relationship, you might need a healthy amount of space. This can alleviate the irritability issue mentioned earlier.
Ava Strong, who has dated a man with depression, recommended partners practice healthy boundaries and self-love. This means protecting your mental health by giving yourself space when you feel it is at risk, which brings us to the next piece of advice.
Consider Seeing a Therapist
It seems ironic, right? Shouldn’t he be the one seeing a therapist?
It is a good idea for him to see a therapist if he isn’t already, but committing to therapy yourself is much easier than asking him to do it. Working with a therapist helps mitigate the stress of being in a relationship with a man who deals with depression. It will allow you to better understand what he is going through and lead by example if he is resistant to therapy.
It’s also an opportunity to takes steps towards asking him to join you for couples therapy. Again, this might be easier than convincing him to see a therapist alone.
Then the Bigger Challenge: Convincing Him to See a Therapist (And Doing It the Right Way)
The stigma of therapy and mental illness creates a field filled with landmines for anyone who wants to convince a loved one to see a therapist. To walk across without blowing up the relationship, take the steps we outlined in this guide: “How to Encourage Your Loved One to Start Therapy.”
Try Psychological Techniques In or Outside the Context of Therapy
There are many strategies couples can use to stop depression from sucking the joy and fun from their relationship. After all, it can be disappointing when your man suddenly decides he doesn’t feel well enough to go out on that evening you planned for weeks or says your idea for a fun trip sounds unpleasant or not worth it.
Therapist Lynn D. Johnson suggested a “prediction activity,” a technique he coaches his clients on. This involves asking your man to make a prediction about how pleasant or unpleasant he thinks an activity or event will be on a scale of one to 10 — 10 being amazing and zero being horrendous. When the event is done, ask him to rate how it actually was using the same scale.
If the number he offers is higher than than the prediction, it’s a great opportunity to show how depression does not need to stop a relationship from being fun and joyful. It might also chip away at the negative beliefs he uses to maintain the depression.
If he insists on not trying the original plan, there is a way to ensure you aren’t disappointed. Relationship expert April Masini recommended always having a Plan B, especially when dating a man with depression.
“None of us are robots and just because we agree to something in a moment doesn’t mean we won’t feel differently in another moment,” Masini said. “Keeping commitments needs to be balanced with managing depression.”
Regardless of the specific strategy, anything you try should be an effort to reduce stress, maintain a happy relationship and make symptoms easier to manage rather than changing who he is.
If You Love Him, It’s Worth It
When you fall in love with a man, no obstacle seems too large. Depression can threaten a relationship, but couples can overcome it by understanding the illness and knowing how to respond to various situations.
It seems daunting, but these are only situations you should prepare for. They are not guaranteed to happen. Either way, you’ll know how to protect your mental health and do your best to make things work with your man.