There is no question that illness can be hard on a relationship. After all, there’s a reason that a traditional wedding vow includes the phrase, “...for better or for sickness and in health...”

That vow hints at the potential strain that illness can impose between two people in a relationship, and serves to remind couples to stick things out when the going gets tough.

Caring for someone who is struggling with an illness is not a glamorous task—it’s hard work. This is perhaps never truer than in the case of major depression.

Depression is an illness that by its very nature undermines many of the aspects of a loving relationship that make it possible to continue the struggle when things become difficult. Relationships thrive on communication, for example, and a certain amount of give and take, but depression erodes both of these. Meaningful communication is often one of the first casualties of depression, and depressed people simply lose the energy to give or the will to take.

People who are depressed are literally not themselves, and that makes it difficult for both parties to remain committed to working things out. People who are depressed are likely to lose interest in activities that both partners formerly enjoyed. They are likely to lose interest in sex, for example, and may find it difficult to sleep—or to get out of bed. They may lose interest in food or enjoyable activities, etc. 

Depression Takes a Toll on Relationships

Depression can take any number of forms, depending on the individual and the severity of the illness. Some depressed people may lash out at the people who are closest to them, while others lose control of their emotions. Overwhelming sadness, uncontrollable crying, irritability, anger, and other emotions may manifest during an episode of depression.

Some depressed people simply withdraw. Most will exhibit a lack of positive attitude, an inability to enjoy themselves or the people around them, and a dark, negative outlook in general.

Men and women may respond to depression in different ways. Men, for example, tend to display anger and may even become abusive, while women are more likely to sink into sadness and despair. People who are depressed are likely to say or do things they would never ordinarily do or say. 

It’s important for the healthy partner to realize that they shouldn’t take these behaviors personally. Despite what he or she may say, the depressed partner needs his or her loved ones more than ever in order to get adequate and appropriate treatment and recover from depression.

It’s also more important than ever to keep communicating. Offer encouragement but keep your own expectations realistic. Gently encourage your depressed partner to eat a healthful diet, exercise, and socialize occasionally. But avoid criticism and nagging. Neither is likely to be helpful.

Keep in mind, a depressed person is not himself, and he can’t just will his symptoms away. Nor will recovery be quick. Even with drug treatment and psychotherapy, recovering from depression can take significant time. 

Postpartum Depression

Having a baby can put a strain on even the healthiest of relationships. Adjusting to new financial demands, an altered schedule, feeling unprepared and unsure of yourself, and sleep deprivation, parenthood is inarguably challenging, despite its inherent rewards. Dealing with depression on top of that can make things even worse.

Postpartum depression is a form of depression that occasionally occurs after the delivery of a newborn. The “baby blues” are common in the aftermath of the drastic hormonal and physical changes that occur during pregnancy. Sleep deprivation and dramatic changes to parents’ lifestyle can adversely affect mood among both new fathers and mothers. But postpartum depression is more serious than mere “baby blues.”

It lasts longer, for one thing. In some rare cases it may lead to a severe condition called postpartum psychosis, an illness so disabling that the new mother becomes a danger to herself or her baby. Obviously, this form of psychiatric disorder can put intense pressure on the new parents’ relationship.

Women with true postpartum depression may not realize they need help. Again, it’s important for the father to step up and see to it that the mother gets appropriate medical attention and treatment.