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

Depressed young woman feeling alone.
Depressed young woman feeling alone.

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 because of a variety of 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 Sometimes our partners don’t realize they are becoming withdrawn.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 the things they care about. Whether they are aware or not, it boils down to a number of 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Forced energy and focus are among the top reasons why someone with depression becomes withdrawn.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 possibly 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 others 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 not uncommon 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 end result becomes they push people away.

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

Situation Typical Response Appropriate 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 all the things 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 not uncommon 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 thing’s 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 to not 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 good 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.

About Kasia Ciszewski 46 Articles
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.

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