Bad relationships can actually make you feel depressed. Be on the lookout for these tell-tale signs!
Depression can come from a disorder of power. If you are feeling powerless in your relationship, either in general or because of a particular problem, odds are high that depression will creep into your emotional state. Depression can feel like you're under a perpetual dark cloud. It also causes uncharacteristically negative thoughts about yourself, others and your future. If you are feeling powerless, experiencing dark moods or noticing unusually negative thoughts, it might be time to check out the patterns of communication in your relationship and see if your relationship is the reason.
Here are 10 relationship warning signs to note. Fortunately, there are actions you can take to combat each of these dangers. Danger signs aren't the kiss of death for a relationship. They do, however, warn you to take adequate safety measures. (Also, be aware that women and men are equally likely to experience depression in relationships.)
1. You feel dominated. Depression can emerge when you feel smaller and less powerful than the person you're interacting with. Not all power differences create depression. For instance, while a parent has most of the power in a healthy parent-child relationship, as long as the parent uses this power to nurture, rather than to dominate, over the child all will be well. Similarly, employers have more power than employees. In love relationships between two adults, though, shared power is healthier.
2. You feel criticized. "I don't like your hair that way." "You shouldn't have bought that new sweater." Criticisms are put-downs. Feedback is a not problem, but criticism is. Feedback lets you know in a gentle way that something you have been doing is problematic and it usually starts with an "I" statement: "I get nervous that men will find you sexually attractive when you wear your hair that way," or "I felt uncomfortable when I saw your new sweater because I'm worried about whether we're going to have enough money to cover our bills this month." By contrast, critical words and a judgmental tone of voice make criticism problematic.
3. Your partner tells you what to do. Bossy attitudes are demoralizing. Even a benign order like "Go get the paper for me, honey," is likely to trigger either irritation or depression in the receiver because no one likes being told what to do. It's better to ask. Requests allow for yes or no as an answer.
4. Your partner tries to control you. What to do with your time, controlling finances, friendship choices and how much you can visit your family: all these behaviors are likely to invite feelings of depression. Remember: depression can be a disorder of power. When your partner takes away your power to make personal decisions (or at least to contribute jointly to decisions) depression can be imminent.
5. Your partner is "always right." It's fine for your loved one to be right, as long as he/she doesn't require being right all the time. If your partner's being right means that there's no ability to admit mistakes, that's a problem.
6. With your partner, it's "my way or the highway." In a healthy relationship, both of your concerns need to count. That's true whether you're wondering what to eat for dinner or deciding where to live. If your voice doesn't seem to count, you'll be at risk for feeling powerless and depressed.
7. Your partner is depressed. Depression is contagious. When someone is depressed, he/she tends to see the world — including you — through dark glasses. If you adopt your partner's view, you'll sink down emotionally, too.
8. Your partner is irritable. Anger spreads toxic negative energy. This toxicity can induce depression in the receiver of anger. Anger is disturbing and unpleasant to witness even for on-lookers. For direct recipients of anger, the toxicity is even more so.
9. Your partner is abusive. As we've mentioned already, abuse can be expressed emotionally in a partner's critical and controlling attitude, verbally with name-calling or physically by pushing, throwing things, or hitting. All of these forms of abuse are incompatible with a loving relationship. The impulse to hurt someone is the opposite of the impulse to love, nurture and be intimate. Any form of putting you down can engender depression. Any form of appreciation adds to good feelings. It's pretty simple.
10. Your partner doesn't do his/her share. A partner who takes an active role in the project of living and loving together is a joy to partner with. Whether he scrambles eggs for the two of you in the morning or scurries around with a quick clean-up before visitors arrive, helping is loving. By contrast, a partner who does not do his part is passively provocative. The irritation or anger you will feel in response signals that you're not getting a full adult partner.
So if you don't want your relationship to be making you depressed (and who would?), then pay attention to these signs. Discuss them with your partner, but do so carefully. Complaints and criticism might invite your partner to either feel depressed themselves or fight back. So use your best tactful communication to agree on new rules for being together, rules that replace darkness with sunshine for both of you.
Denver psychologist and marriage counselor Susan Heitler, PhD, is author of the interactive website PowerOfTwoMarriage.com which teaches the skills for sustaining a loving relationship.