Suffering from depression is emotionally frustrating. So is living with someone who suffers from depression. Unfortunately, this is more common than you may imagine. In a Reader's Digest survey, 42 percent of respondents said depression was a major challenge in their relationship.

If you're the partner of someone who is depressed, it can take a toll on your relationship and your own mental health. The longer you live with a depressed spouse, the higher your own risk for developing depression. Marriage difficulties are a major risk factor for depression, and marriages with one depressed spouse are nine times more likely to end in divorce.

Psychologist Anne Sheffield calls the result of living with a depressed person depression fallout. Sheffield is the author of Depression Fallout: The Impact of Depression on Couples and What You Can Do to Preserve the Bond and How You Can Survive When They're Depressed: Living and Coping with Depression Fallout. A loved one's chronic depression may cause you feelings of confusion, self-doubt, demoralization, resentment, and a desire to escape. Sheffield says understanding this illness is important to your own wellbeing and to overcoming the sense of helpless you may experience.

The good news is that successfully treating depression often turns around a failing relationship. When couples divorce or end their relationship, it's more often a consequence of not addressing the depression than the actual depression.

If your partner is depressed, encourage him to seek professional help. Depression is highly treatable. Experts advise against trying to resolve marital conflicts before treating the depression. And, don't try to cure your partner's depression; it won't work.

Sheffield recommends three steps for coping with a partner who has depression.

  • Learn to distinguish between what you can and cannot change.
  • Recognize that you can't be responsible for someone else's life, even if that person suffers from a mental illness.
  • You must look after your own needs.

Sheffield writes, "If you are delighted to have an excuse to leave the house each day, put feelings of guilt about abandonment of the depressed [person] aside. Everybody who lives with another's depressive illness needs some time on their own."

Suffering from depression is not an excuse for bad behavior. If you've encouraged your partner to seek treatment and he doesn't take responsibility for himself, you must do what's best for you, free from guilt—even if that means leaving.


Mental Health America. "What to Do When Depression Enters a Relationship."

Harrar, Sari, and DeMaria, Rita, Ph.D. "How to Cope with a Depressed Spouse." Reader's Digest. Web.

Anne Sheffield. "Are you suffering from depression fallout?" Web. 28 January 2008.