Why Depressed Partners Push You Away (and What You Can Do)

At some point in everyone’s lifetime, someone close to us, such as a partner, experiences hardship or trying times. It can be frustrating and confusing why our partners push us away as they deal with depression. Sometimes we do the opposite of what our partner needs by smothering them in an effort to help. This response can be harmful, which is why it’s important to understand why they push you away and what to do about it.

Depressed partners push those closest to them away as a defense mechanism for various reasons, like feeling more comfortable alone or not having the energy to keep up with you. It’s situational, just like your response should be. By being empathetic and trying to understand the situation can help further educate yourself on an appropriate response. 

As a partner, we can become enablers or deepen the depression by not loving enough or too much. Sometimes our partners don’t realize they are becoming withdrawn. Everything is based on personal experience. And with a deepened understanding of why partners push away, we can figure out what to do.

Why They Push You Away

Sometimes depressed partners are unaware that they are withdrawing from those they love and what they care about. Whether they are aware or not, it boils down to several reasons that are easier to understand from their perspective than try and interpret them from a personal perspective.

Reasons Why:

–       Lack of energy

–       Loss of concentration

–       Feeling like a burden

–       Embarrassment

–       Mood Swings

–       Scared of hurting someone or being hurt

Forced energy and focus are among the top reasons why someone with depression becomes withdrawn.

This can lead to mood swings when someone who is sad forces themselves to appear happy. It can only last so long, so it can appear like a mood swing or a personality issue.

This then triggers unpleasant thoughts about themselves, such as:

  • I wouldn’t want to be around myself right now, so why should they?
  • I am embarrassing myself and most likely them.
  • I am so frustrated. Why can’t I be normal!

It automatically results in no good solution for the person who is depressed because to be authentic to themselves would be a burden and bring others down. But to fake emotion is draining and hard.

Lack of Energy/Focus

Depression can suck the life out of someone, so managing what little energy they have is important in avoiding becoming more depressed. When around other depressed people, they may feel the expectation to contribute with conversation and action but don’t have the energy to do so.

Even if they don’t participate in the conversation, the stress and fear of looking uninterested while someone is talking is overwhelming and starts to drain more energy from them. This starts the vicious cycle of the person feeling bad about themselves.

Becoming a Burden/Bringing Everyone Down

For a partner to be authentic to themselves, they wouldn’t be chiming in all cherry to every conversation or activity. Most likely, they would be hesitant and worried about what they should say or do.

Alternatively, telling people that they’re down and unmotivated might be what is happening, but the responsibility for the party that he/she is telling might not be appropriate. They might try to fix things or be too positive. Or worse, they may be unsupportive and dismissive, causing the partner with depression to feel like they’re causing trouble and that everyone would be better off without them.

It’s Easier to Be Alone

Because of all the factors listed above, it’s just easier for the person to be alone. The anxiety and fear of being hurt or hurting someone else by becoming a burden go away. There’s no need to fake anything or force energy when you are alone.

What You Can Do

It’s common to want to feel like you should never leave them alone because of their current state and condition. You might want to smother them and try to make them feel as loved as possible.

These strong reactions can result in a worse situation because of the cycle that can occur above, about not being authentic, that results in forcing yourself to act happy and later feeling like a burden. The result becomes they push people away.

Below is a table that can help guide you to better responses.

SituationTypical ResponseAppropriate Response
They don’t want to do anything besides lay around the bed or the house all day. Someone might tell them that they’re not getting anything done or that you’ll help with everything they need to do if they just get out of the house.Don’t force the situation. Try to initiate lightly things they love doing without requiring too much effort. A build-up to bigger and bigger things is better.
They don’t want to talk about what’s making them sad. Trying to force it out is common because you may start to feel alone and out of the loop. Your job is not to solve it.Try to initiate other conversations mostly about the present. Bringing up the past (even if it’s positive memories) can sometimes make depressed people realize they are not where they used to be or where they are supposed to be.
They want to tell you what’s going on. You may feel the need to downplay the situation or be overly positive as a way of comforting them.Just try to listen. Say things like “you understand” or “that must be hard.” This is because if they could be positive, they would. And saying it’s not that bad makes them think you are discrediting their feelings.

It’s tough to be a partner and not to try and fix things. But sometimes, the more we try to fix a situation, the worse we can make it. It’s almost better to ride the storm if possible. But having said that, there is one more thing to consider, and that’s yourself.

Your Own Mental Health

The toughest part about the entire situation is managing your own health while also considering your partners. It can be draining and frustrating to constantly calculate your actions and words while also being true to yourself.

Depending on the longevity of the relationship and the seriousness of it plays a major factor. If you are married and have kids, there is more to the equation to consider. If this is a new relationship, then maybe it’s better to take a break and pick up at a time where your partner is healthy and ready to contribute. It also depends on the severity of the depression and whether it’s declining or getting better.

Final Thoughts

Dealing with a loved one who suffers from depression is hard on everyone, not just the person with the illness. It can be tough to play a supportive role where the reactions must be constantly thought out.

Sometimes a workable solution for the partner who is trying to be supportive is to consider having their own therapist or someone they can talk to because talking to their partner may not be the best idea. This would bring your partner back to that burden, feeling if they think you need to vent about your situation with them.

Empathy is the most important thing to remember, both for your partner and not being hard on yourself. There is no right and wrong. There is just trying to navigate a difficult situation with as much compassion as possible.

Written by Kasia Ciszewski LPC on

Kasia is a licensed professional counselor servicing the Charleston area. She helps individuals heal, better understand their emotions, energize & become more aware of their inner strength. She specializes in helping teens, adults and seniors and has been able to regularly achieve impressive results for her clients throughout South Carolina. Instagram Facebook Pinterest Twitter Linkedin

17 thoughts on “Why Depressed Partners Push You Away (and What You Can Do)”

  1. My girlfriend started pulling away while she was dealing with a lot like taking care of her kids and mother, all while starting a new stressful job. Also, her daughter was seeing a therapist for things in her past, which put more pressure on my girlfriend. So she had a very bad month and I noticed her pulling away. I asked her if there was anything I could help with. We live 30 miles apart so over the phone she had asked for space to think and deal with her issues alone. So I gave her two weeks and texted her every two days to offer help and let her know am here. Then she started pushing me further away because I was trying to find out if she was ok. I asked to see her and she refused. She said not to come over and to stop communicating with her. At this point, I realized she had anxiety and depression. So I pressured her to talk to me on the phone. She told me to leave her alone and that the relationship was over. And made-up lack of communication as the reason why she ended things. It doesn’t make any sense because she was the one not communicating. So I send her a text every week with a photo of good memories or a thoughtful post. This would make her mad. This isn’t the way she used to act. What should I do? I love her and want to support her but she is unwilling to even try. I don’t know what to do at this point.

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    • I’m so sorry Gary. Of course, I don’t know the full story and I’m not sure what your girlfriend is going through but I would respect her wishes as difficult as that may be for you. She knows that you love her. She needs to figure herself out. I highly suggest that you seek some individual therapy for yourself. I imagine your heart is breaking and you need the same support you’re trying to give to her. Until she’s ready, she won’t be able to accept it into her life but that doesn’t mean you can’t work on yourself and that you can’t receive that support from someone such as a therapist or from other loved ones. A support system will be extremely valuable right now.

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      • Yes, my heart is feeling heavy and helpless. I do not understand. It feels like it happened overnight. We talked every day, all day long, and now nothing which hurts deeply. I will look into therapy. Should I keep trying to reach her every two weeks or stop? I miss her from the bottom of my heart. She did tell me she was dealing with anxiety and depression.

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        • If she asked for space, I would respect her request because it appears to only make her want to pull away from you the more you reach out to her. I know that you are trying to show her that you care for her but it’s having an adverse effect. While the situation with her might feel really uncertain and out of control, the one thing you can control is yourself and your healing process.

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    • Gary, I can completely empathise and relate with your situation. I am going through a similar situation myself and hope you are coping better now. And thank you Kasia for your knowledge and insight into this type of situation which leaves you baffled, incredibly saddened and powerless to proactively help the situation….the more you try the worse it becomes. You are a passenger that’s been kicked out of the car which makes no sense without the guidance of someone such as yourself.

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  2. Thank you and yes am at the point where it was bringing me down and depressing me. So you are right I have to take care of myself from this point on. It’s sad because I know this is not her. Hopefully, she will get help someday. Thank you for your advice.

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  3. I have been with my partner for about 4 months. We are both older in our 50’s. He has 3 kids and I have 2. All roughly around the same age “teenagers”. We have had an amazing first 3 months into our relationship. Connecting on many different levels and really enjoying our time together. He had taken on a temp job that he knew would be coming to an end in late May. Around this same time when his temp job came to an end, he went to visit his aging mother who lives in another state whom he hasn’t seen in over a year and a half due to the pandemic. He wasn’t looking forward to the trip for a variety of reasons including seeing his mother in a declining condition with Alzheimer’s and dementia since his last visit with her. Upon returning from visiting his mom he became much more withdrawn with our relationship with the amount of texting and phone calls that we typically previously would have exchanged. We did continue to see one another, we don’t live in the same household, but our “togetherness” was different now than it had been prior to these situational events happening in his life. I took note and we discussed this and he acknowledged things were beginning to affect him with now not working and in addition to having no luck in finding a permanent job in his profession along with his recent visit to see his mom. We continued to see one another but definitely with the weight of the stress in his life.

    During this same time, I opened up one night with my big ole fat mouth and uttered the words that I loved him. He however was not at a point he said there yet at this particular time. Immediately when I said it I realized the timing was completely inappropriate with everything else occurring in his life with the ever mounting stress. He did however chose not to leave the relationship because of my honestly with my feelings toward him. In fact, he said the opposite he wouldn’t want the fact that he’s not there yet and knowing how I feel to have the relationship come to an end. And then yet another setback for him as if he hadn’t been through enough. About 2 weeks later after my opening up what was the breaking point was when he learned of one of his best friend’s death that took place unexpectedly that really tipped things for him and our relationship. All these situational episodes have placed him in a state of mental trauma. He told me that he’s never had this much piled upon him at once as what is happening now and that in the past he’s always had to handle his mental trauma on his own and this is the way he deals with his issues by withdrawing and not involving others. Right or wrong it’s his way by shutting everyone out and processing it on his own. He affirms he’s not in a good place and wishes he could be.

    I’ve expressed to him that I don’t want the relationship to end but maybe it would be better if we were to take a step back from the relationship so he can deal with the pressing issues that he’s currently facing and coping with as a result of these events. Relationships in themselves especially new ones starting out can take a lot of time and energy. I’ve told him that I’m here for him and want to support him in any way that I can but I understand he’s not in a good place right now. I’ve asked him what my being there for his looks like him and how I can best achieve that for him at his comfort level as I don’t want to add further demands or stress to his already difficult situation. His response was that he cares for me as well and that he just needs some time alone and appreciates knowing that I’m there for him. He says he’s hopeful when he gets to a better place we can discuss things then. When I suggested the step back from the relationship I had no idea that it would mean complete no contact as it currently appears to be the case. I’m just trying to respect his wishes of needing time alone and not be that “needy girlfriend “ and not overstep his wishes as that might push him further away but it’s so hard when we use to text and talk frequently to absolutely nothing now with any form of communication or seeing one another.

    I’m really struggling with this. How can I show him just how much I care and really love him when he’s asking to be alone? Do I continue to honor his request with alone time and for how long? I’ve told him that I have not abandoned him but unfortunately, that’s exactly how I see what we have now done to each another. I’m just feeling helpless and confused. Probably many of the same feelings he’s feeling at this time. I have at this point no idea of how’s he doing and or feeling. Suggestions would be appreciated along with prayers. I find myself seeking scripture more and more these days to help calm my insecurities and doubts about things.

    I’m just concerned about him and most importantly want him to get to a better place. I don’t believe he’s suicidal as I would be calling 911 for help. I don’t believe he suffers from chronic depression I think this is more situational depression based upon the homework I’ve been doing learning about depression.

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    • Hi Karen. I read your story and am I can say you are not alone…there are many people such as myself dealing with similar situations, and sometimes knowing that can offer some comfort.

      In my situation, abbreviated somewhat, I met the lady (whom I will refer to as N) I love 7 years ago. We were both very attracted to each other both physically and emotionally, however I was not in the right “place” to commit to a relationship. However, we always remained very close friends and in fact would, at times, share intimacy…the connection was always so strong.

      After waiting for me several years, she finally lost hope I guess, and she married someone else. I met another lady and began a relationship. But still, my connection with N was so strong, and we would occasionally text each other to say hello, we would meet for a coffee, or a nice brunch….completely platonic, but the connection was undeniable.

      I was not happy in my relationship, as I had finally realised that N was the lady I wanted to be with forever. One day without even thinking I messaged her and told her I had always loved her and always will. She said how fortunate, as her very short marriage had come to an abrupt end. As quickly and as delicately as possible, I ended the relationship with the partner I was with, and very slowly began seeing N.

      We re both extremely busy, she works two very demanding jobs and I have a small but thriving business where work hours are whenever I can no longer stand on my feet. We were both very stressed in our own lives, but would see each other as frequently as possible, and it was lovely. Just what I had hoped.

      For several months, I would sleep on her couch when I visited her, as I wanted her to know this was for real…my intentions were to love her, not just make love to her. It was, for me, a way to show my respect towards her and her feelings. Eventually, we began sleeping together which was also wonderful, a very natural progression in our relationship.

      Unfortunately she began having problems with work continuity due to covid, I was under enormous stress at work, and we were both totally exhausted, but we were still loving time together, although I began to notice she was more distant, both when we were talking while making dinner and having a glass of wine, and also her text messages became more and more infrequent….sometimes a week would pass between receiving a response from her.

      One night I was cooking dinner for her and we were chatting over a glass of wine and she announced she had received her divorce papers and, I did a little “yay!” and we touched our glasses together to celebrate. Then during dinner she asked me if I had plans to marry her and I answered yes. We also discussed beginning a family together. I was very honest with my feelings and she just seemed to listen but did not tell me her thoughts.

      This was in March, and it was the last time I have seen her. I would message every few days and not receive a reply, then I’d try once a week and she would have some type of criticism about me when she would respond. Bit by bit I began messaging her once every 3 weeks or so, always telling her I loved her, want so much to have a future with her and miss her….those messages would go unanswered.

      Towards the end of July I had a terrible nightmare of “N”, and I woke with that incredible sensation I absolutely had to make contact with her…the dream was so incredibly vivid. I went to see her at work and despite wearing a face mask I was surprised she recognised me immediately (she works at an airport, and is in contact with people all day long). She was shocked, but certainly seemed very uncomfortable. I told her that I had a terrible dream and had to know she was ok. After a very brief and cold interaction, I left. Heartbroken again.

      That afternoon, I called her for the first time since March and I knew she wouldn’t answer, so I left a long voicemail saying how I had been trying for months to re-initiate communication and she had just seemingly pretended I no longer existed. Two days later she messaged me and said that we need to accept it was never meant to be, and wished me the best with the rest of my life.

      Still now, I cannot understand this as we had ways been so close, even when we both were with someone else…I simply cannot comprehend it. Often, it seems like I’m daydreaming and at any moment I will receive a text message from her, but it never comes….

      For the next few weeks I could not work at all, I would cry all day long, string at the grey walls of my business with the doors shut. I was not coping at all, and this lead me to make emotional decisions which seemed rational to me at the time.

      I bought her a diamond engagement ring, and knowing she did not want to see me, I wrote a truly heartfelt poem that was 3 pages long. I had to re-write it 3 times as my tears made the ink run. I put the ring and poem inside a little box and left it at her doorstep. A few hours later she said she could not accept the ring, did not want to see me again, and hoped that finally her rejection was all the closure I needed to leave her alone.

      I’ve known her for 7 years, and she has always been an incredibly sweet person with the kindest heart I have every known….softly spoken, would never swear, smiles at strangers in the street. I realised that something else was wrong with her…this is not who she is. This is how I landed on this website. I want to understand.

      I hope N will find the mental stability she needs, that is what matters most of course. In the meantime, I’ve been exercising like crazy to try to find a positive release, and finally have managed to do some work in my business….it is a process, some days are better and the next day may be unbearable.

      I will wait for her, as she is worth it, we as a couple are worth it. But, one has to ask, how long should I wait? I would love to marry and have a child, I’m 44 now. If I knew she would come back to me I would wait 5 years with the knowledge a wonderful future is ahead of us together, but there is no assurance.

      Expressing this has been quite cathartic for me. As a man there are not as many avenues to discuss our feelings. Mates think you are crazy! I hope you will find a little peace knowing that you are not alone and perhaps telling your story will release some of those hurtful feelings that are weighing you down.

      Reply
      • Chris—
        I’m sorry you are going through what you are as well. Unfortunately, I’m sure there are many people that can relate to our stories. It’s a sad situation for all parties involved to say the very least.

        With each day that passes by, I’m getting closer to having to make a choice for myself and what’s best for me with moving forward with my life. I know that at this point I can honestly say I’ve done all that I can do as far as offering support and caring and love for my partner.

        Having this forum to express ourselves can be very therapeutic and reminds us we aren’t alone in this fight.

        Reply
  4. As my partner is spiraling into another depressed episode, I was desperately looking for any words that could calm me and found this. When it said that there’s no “right or wrong”, I started crying, because that’s what I am honestly struggling with the most. The feeling of letting him down, the feeling of always reacting “wrong”. When he gets depressed, the alcohol starts being a problem. He has been sober for a while and was in the clinic and doing so well, but as soon as the depression starts, he wants to drink. And that scares me and when he starts feeling bad and telling me, I always feel so torn between just reassuring him and saying it’s all ok and motivating him to keep going. And then I feel like I am just making it worse and he pushes me away. Maybe the pushing away will happen anyways and it is not what I am saying or doing, but it is hard. But today I just feel so so guilty for not being strong enough to give him exactly what he needs… it surely feels like I am doing something wrong…

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    • You are not alone. My partner recently spiralled into a really bad depressive episode. I haven’t been well and I think with everything took its toll. He wanted me to move out and end the relationship. I would have if I knew he didn’t still love me and care. I’ve got him to go 2 weeks no contact to have the space he needs. Hoping I did the right thing there. It’s hard we seem to always blame ourselves when really I don’t think there is a right or wrong way to go about things. You might be saying all the right things and the person still doesn’t want to accept it because they are so closed off.

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      • gosh, I am so sorry you are having to go through this! How are you holding up? My partner managed to stay sober and get through the crisis and is now even more determined to stay clean, which is honestly such a relief and I am so proud of him. Trying to work on my own patterns and fears in therapy now, so that I can be more grounded in myself again. I am sending you lots of love.

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  5. My partner went through a lot during his childhood, his ex girlfriend was sexually assaulted by someone before they were together and she just dropped this on him. Me and his family think that she manipulated him with this situation because she wanted him to do whatever she wanted, have him wrapped around her finger. That’s just the type of girl she is. She’s brought problems to his life and just made him loose track of things.. this was really hard on him for some reason. Me and him have known each other since we were kids, and we always talked but also went through our own problems growing up. I did him wrong he did me wrong. But he’s my best friend. We always been there for each other even if we were with other people. Now we’re together and things have been rough, he asked for space, but he still texts me everyday. I just haven’t seen him in a month, he says it’s not fair for me for him to put me through this. But I just get so overwhelmed by his change right now, he tells me he loves me and that he just wants to work get himself together and he feels like he’s not okay. & I understand that but I miss him and that overwhelms me into thinking that maybe I should end it. But I know he’s trying to get better is just too much for him and he hides it really well with everyone. Only I’ve seen him break down.

    I just want to see him. I miss him.

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  6. My partner and I have been together for almost 9 years now. He knows I struggle with depression. I don’t feel this way 100% of the time but it comes and goes in “phases” I guess, and lingers around for a few months at a time. I do struggle to talk about it, to anyone. I have tried therapy a few times but I don’t know if I just havent found the right therapist yet so I have given up on that for a while. My partner wants me to tell him everytime I get into that depressive phase. He made me promise in the past that I would tell him when it happens but I’ve stopped telling him because I want to deal with it myself and not get into a really emotional talk about everytime because it’s really exhausting. I may only talk to him about it after weeks of feeling my lowest, and during those weeks he constantly asks my if I am okay and I lie and tell him I’m fine. I know he knows that I am not fine. So when I eventually tell him I’m not fine, he gets very upset with me and we have a huge argument about it. I totally get where he is coming from, he is frustrated that I hide my emotions from him and it makes him feel crazy when I respond by saying Im fine when it’s so obvious that Im not. I just find it extremely difficult to just come out and say exactly how I’m feeling, and why i feel the way i do at that time. Sometimes I want do deal with it without him and sometimes I feel like I want to his help. When I don’t reach out to him he feels that there is no point in us being together if I cannot be open with him about it. It’s becoming increasingly harder on our relationship. I sometimes think ending the relationship would be easier for both of us. I cannot get into these heated arguments anymore, and I don’t think I could tell him everytime I am feeling depressed. I wish telling him about it everytime helped me but it really doesn’t, I just feel more exhausted and more anxious about what he’s thinking. When I told him the very first time he felt like he was the problem and I didn’t love him enough because I wasnt happy and that he should be able to make me happy enough. Sometimes it feels like I really have to convince him that I love him, all while telling him how depressed I am.

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  7. Been seeing a man that’s been separated for almost 2 years that is still involved in a nasty divorce over alimony and assets. It’s becoming very contentious and causing him great stress. The greatest stress of all is the fact he was my divorce atty (I know likely wasn’t probably best decision on either part but you can’t help who you fall in love with) and we have been seeing each other for almost 9 months secretly. He’s basically come to a point where he has to get divorce completed, take care of kids, try to care for himself bc he’s severely depressed/anxiety, and then maybe he will be better to me once he gets all of that in line. Contact has been very limited to almost nothing for 30 days. He said he’s not ghosting me but when he gets some things ironed out if I’m amenable he would like to sit and talk and another statement of this is not easy and one day we will be able to talk through this together. Days prior to this was completely normal but after his speaking to a family member that’s also an atty (that is aware of our secret relationship) and the comment was made if the soon to be ex learns of me will send her off the deep end and make his negotiations even worse since they are still legally married since she’s made comments she’s aware trips he’s taken weren’t likely solo and likely seeing someone during divorce proceedings. We knew going into this that this may be a reality one day bc she’s irrational. Layered with the fact he is an atty I know adds the stress of knowing when he’s not doing it “textbook”. I have been heartbroken to go from living our lives through talking multiple times a day to seeing each other when we don’t have all of our kids at same time to nothing. I am an over thinker severely to where it controls my life and feel I have sunk into depression. The intensity of our relationship was something I didn’t ever want to lose. Hard to be told you complete someone, soulmate, take care of you forever, I love you, etc. the comfort and safety we shared was undeniable. I am struggling. I worry he will move on emotionally without the communication open or is that a mental issue I am inflicting upon myself due to scars from my failed marriage like a compulsive issue. I am naturally insecure again bc of what I self inflicted upon myself for 20 years age 16-36 with my ex abusive behaviors. What do I do? Tell him I’m done which I don’t want to do. Or do I live my life raise my kids , throw myself into exercise and friends, and try to get my brain off the constant hamster wheel of thinking the worse (I do this in every aspect) and accept this could take months to get her settled and try to lean on what I knew we shared and had and that if it’s meant to reunite then so be it and try to learn to have hope/faith. I feel he could have handled this differently on how we got to this point but I also try to have empathy knowing he is mentally underwater and doesn’t know how to get out and he is doing his best. Thank you all for any guidance to help me find my way.

    Reply

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