When a Depressed Partner Falls Out of Love

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John Folk-Williams has lived with major depressive disorder since boyhood and finally achieved full recovery just a few years ago. As a survivor of ...Read More

Depression can have a devastating effect on close relationships. Sometimes depressed people blame themselves for their pain, sometimes they blame their partners.

It’s baffling and shocking to see them turn into cold and blaming strangers. After years of affection and intimacy, how can they suddenly declare that they don’t feel love, even worse, that they have never loved their partners at all?


Depressed partners may refuse to face the inner pain that’s wrecking their lives. Rather than seek treatment, they come to believe that it’s the existing relationship that is ruining them. Their answer is often to leave and find happiness elsewhere. Identify areas to work on to manage your depression with our online depression quiz.

The specific effects of depression will differ in every relationship, but this is the problem I hear about most often and the one I lived with.

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What exactly is the inner pain that can’t be faced and dealt with? Reciting the usual list of depression symptoms and the effects they can have on everyday life only gets you so far. General lists don’t capture the experience.

Talking about “inner pain” suggests despair or other unbearable hurt that demands an explanation and must be escaped as quickly as possible. Since depression is a condition that can vary from day to day, that active side of pain can be the driving motive.

But there is another dimension of depression that can lead to the idea of escape as the answer.

It’s the one that causes depressed partners to say they’re no longer in love and have never loved their partners.

It’s called anhedonia, the inability to feel pleasure or interest in anything.

For me, it was a kind of deadness. Rather than an excess of painful emotion, it was the lack of pain, the lack of feeling, that was the undercurrent of all the surface turmoil.

I believed that the relationship was holding me back. It had become hollow, empty of the intensity I longed for.

I could only find happiness and passion with someone else. It was the fantasy of the perfectly passionate mate that was a constant lure.

I recently re-read a chapter in Peter Kramer’s insightful book, Should You Leave?, that captured this exactly.

As one of the dwindling number of psychiatrists who still practice psychotherapy, he often works with clients who are dissatisfied with their relationships. They want to know if leaving is the best thing to do.

When he encounters someone who is convinced that the marriage is dead, he says that he always suspects depression or another mood disorder.

He can sense that the person before him could well have an undiagnosed depression that has emptied him of all feeling. Anhedonia is the cause of the desire to leave to find a new, more intense life. His relationship feels loveless because he can hardly feel at all.

The problem is that the unaware depressive has such a high threshold of feeling that it takes extreme arousal to evoke excitement and passion. He can erupt with anger and rage because these are more violent emotions that stir him as little else does.

Kramer says that these clients often believe that they’re perfectly capable of feeling. After all, they can go out and have fun with friends. They can feel passionate with others who likely have no constraining relationships or might be seeking the same kind of escape.

But they feel good precisely because these experiences offer exceptionally high levels of stimulation. They may also turn to addictive habits like recreational drugs, drinking, gambling or pornography for the same reason.

Fantasies of escaping into a life full of new intensity seem like the perfect answer to their inner emptiness.

No single explanation covers the diversity and unique facts of every relationship threatened by depression. This one fits much of my experience and also fits many of the stories that readers tell me in comments and emails.

Navigating Love and Depression: Real-Life Insights

Depression can profoundly impact close relationships, sometimes leading individuals to believe they have fallen out of love. This belief can be particularly baffling and shocking when it arises after years of shared affection and intimacy. Depressed individuals may blame themselves or their partners for their suffering, turning into seemingly cold and blaming strangers. They might refuse to confront the inner pain disrupting their lives, erroneously concluding that their relationship is the root cause of their distress. Instead of seeking treatment, they may believe that happiness lies elsewhere, outside the current relationship.

The specific effects of depression on a relationship can vary greatly, but a common thread among many stories is the challenge of facing and understanding the inner pain that depression brings. This pain is not always about feeling too much; sometimes, it’s about feeling too little, a condition known as anhedonia—the inability to feel pleasure or interest in anything. This emotional deadness can lead one to believe that the relationship is holding them back, fueling fantasies of finding passion and happiness with someone new.

However, real-life accounts of navigating love and depression offer invaluable insights and hope. By sharing personal stories of individuals who have wrestled with these feelings and emerged on the other side, we aim to provide perspective and encouragement to those in similar situations. These narratives underscore the importance of understanding depression’s multifaceted impact on relationships and the potential for recovery and reconnection.

One such story comes from Alex, who felt trapped in a cycle of blame and emotional withdrawal. Alex’s journey through therapy and open communication with their partner revealed the depth of their depression and its role in their feelings of disconnection. Through concerted effort, patience, and professional support, Alex and their partner rediscovered their love and commitment, learning to navigate the challenges of depression together.

Another account involves Sam, who initially believed they had fallen out of love with their partner due to an overwhelming sense of emptiness. It was only after recognizing the signs of anhedonia and seeking help that Sam understood the impact of depression on their emotions and relationship. With new coping strategies and a renewed focus on self-care, Sam and their partner began to rebuild their bond, finding joy and intimacy once again.

These stories, among others, highlight the complexity of love and depression. They remind us that, while depression can obscure feelings of love and connection, hope and healing are possible with understanding, support, and the right interventions. Navigating love and depression requires not only recognizing the signs and symptoms but also embracing personal stories that resonate with our struggles, offering a beacon of hope and a reminder that we are not alone.

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