Depression: A Downer for Sex and Relationships

Discover how depression effects relationships, your sex life and how depressed people can help themselves and their relationship. Included: how to help your depressed partner.

Depression adversely affects every aspect of our lives - including our relationships - and when one partner is depressed, the relationship may suffer very badly.

This is a great shame as a good relationship is very therapeutic for somebody with depression, because when we're really low we need love, support and closeness more than ever - even if we're not very good at showing it.

What is likely to happen if your partner has depression?

Depressed people usually feel withdrawn. They don't feel they can raise enough energy to pursue their normal routine, do things with the family or even notice when their partners are being attentive.

This can quickly lead to the non-depressed partner feeling that he or she is in the way, unwanted, or unloved. It can be easy to misinterpret the low moods as hostility, or as evidence that the depressed person wants out of the relationship.

Frankly, it's really hard to stay calm and confident when the person you thought you knew is acting strangely and appears to be so unhappy. So if you're finding your partner's depression a real pain, try to take heart from the fact that this is natural.

Being the partner of a depressed person is very, very difficult. So, even if you're at your wits' end because your loved one has lost the ability to concentrate on what you're saying, or to raise a smile, or to appreciate any of the good moments in life, try to accept that all these things are part of the illness.

Sex and performance

We don't know enough about the chemical changes that occur in the brain during depression and little research has been done on how these changes affect sex.

From a clinical point of view, however, it's clear that a depressive illness tends to affect all the bodily systems, dislocating them and often slowing them down.

This effect is most marked with regard to sleep, which is invariably disrupted. But there can be adverse effects on any activity that requires verve, spontaneity and good co-ordination - and that includes sex.

So many people who are depressed tend to lose interest in sex. Admittedly, this isn't always the case, and some depressed people manage to maintain normal sex lives - sometimes even finding that sex is the only thing that gives them comfort and reassurance.

  • In men, the general damping down of brain activity causes feelings of tiredness and hopelessness, which may be associated with loss of libido and erection problems.
  • In women, this diminished brain activity tends to be associated with lack of interest in sex, and very often with difficulty in reaching orgasm.

All these problems tend to diminish as the depressive illness gets better. Indeed, renewed interest in sex may be the first sign of recovery.

Sex and antidepressants

It's not just the illness that affects a person's sex-life - antidepressant medicines such as Prozac can interfere with sexual function.

One of the most common side-effects is interference with the process of orgasm so that it's delayed or doesn't occur at all. If this happens - and you are keen to have and enjoy sex - you should ask the doctor about changing medication.

How depressed people can help themselves and their relationship

Some days will seem better than others. On your better days, try to make an effort to show love and appreciation to your partner.

  • Try to go for a walk every day, preferably with your partner. Walking not only gets you out in the fresh air, which will give you a bit of a lift, but like other forms of exercise it releases endorphins in the brain. These are 'happy' chemicals that rapidly elevate your mood.
  • Even on your worst days, try to spot happy moments like a bird singing or a new flower blooming in your garden. Try to train yourself to notice three of these heart-warming moments per day.
  • You may have an odd relationship with food while you're depressed (you could have little appetite or constantly comfort eat), but try to eat five pieces of fruit per day. This is a caring thing to do for yourself and is good for your physical and mental health.
  • Listen to music that matters to you.
  • Have faith that the depression will pass, and that you will enjoy your life again.
  • Even if you don't feel like full-on sex, do make the effort to have a cuddle. If you are worried that cuddling will project you into full sex when you don't want it, just tell your partner that you're not feeling like having sex, but that you would really like to cuddle up. If you do this, you may both feel a lot better. Touch and closeness can keep a relationship intact.

How to help your depressed partner

  • Don't keep saying that you understand what your partner is going through. You don't. Instead say: 'I can't know exactly how you're feeling, but I am trying very hard to understand and help.'
  • Many people who are depressed lose interest in sex. Try to remember that this loss of interest is probably not personal, but connected with the illness.
  • Don't despair. Some days you'll feel your love for your partner doesn't seem to make any difference to them at all. But hang on in there. Your love and constant support should be of great help in persuading your partner of his or her value.
  • Do encourage your partner to get all the professional help available. Nowadays, there are plenty of alternatives to anti-depressants. Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), for example, is becoming much more readily available on the NHS. In fact, the government is committed to providing 10,000 extra therapists. Many GP practices can also provide CBT by means of Internet programs. These can have a good effect quite quickly in many cases.
  • Try to act as though your partner were recovering from a serious physical illness or from surgery. Give plenty of tender loving care. But don't expect improvement to be rapid.
  • Do something nice for yourself. Being around a depressed person is very draining, so make sure you look after yourself. Have some time alone, or get out to a film or to see friends. Depressed people often want to stay home and do nothing, but if you do this too, you'll get terribly fed up.
  • Remember that this period in your life will pass and that your partner is the same person underneath the depression that he or she was before.
  • Try to take some exercise together. Most depressed people feel an improvement in their spirits if they do something active. And doing something that will raise the heartbeat - for example, sport or dancing - may well help you too.

About the author: Christine Webber LNCP, MNCH Dip PHTA, Dip Cognitive Approaches to Psychotherapy (London) is a popular columnist and qualified psychotherapist and life coach. She is also the author of numerous books including Get the Happiness Habit, Get the Self-Esteem Habit and How To Mend a Broken Heart.

APA Reference
Staff, H. (2021, December 23). Depression: A Downer for Sex and Relationships, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 22 from

Last Updated: March 18, 2022

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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