Is My Relationship Causing My Unhappiness or Am I Depressed?


Our intimate relationships can have a direct and profound impact on our mood. We feel our partners even when our brain is not even aware. This is caused by what we call “mirror neurons.”

When we look at the research regarding mirror neurons, our emotions can be easily transferred to another person even without our conscious awareness detecting this. Our negative emotions are transferred more effortlessly than positive ones.

Within our evolutionary development, this provides us with an advantage to be able to pick up emotions quickly, as a means to gauge for safety, but sometimes it can interfere with relationship dynamics.

Relationships that are layered with isolation, lack of space in meeting your individual needs, unmet relational needs, manipulation, unbalanced relationship, mistrust, secretive behaviours, verbally degrading, shaming or blaming and even gaslighting behaviours can all significantly impact your emotional state causing you to feel trapped, scared, mistrust, second guessing yourself, feel like you're going crazy, and ultimately create a strong sense of anxiousness and/or feeling depressed.

Sometimes it can be difficult to decipher if your feelings are as a result of your relationship or depression. Feeling depressed from your relationship is very different from having Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). MDD is described as:

Major Depressive Disorder Symptoms

Major depression, also known as major depressive disorder or MDD, is diagnosed when five or more of the following happen during the same two-week period (at least one must be diminished interest or pleasure or depressed mood):

  • Depressed mood (for children and adolescents, this can also be an irritable mood)

  • Diminished interest or loss of pleasure in almost all activities (anhedonia)

  • Significant weight change or appetite disturbance (for children, this can be failure to achieve expected weight gain)

  • Sleep disturbance (insomnia [sleeping too little] or hypersomnia [sleeping too much])

  • Psychomotor agitation (anxious restlessness that can cause involuntary movements, among other things) or retardation (psychological and physiological slowing)

  • Fatigue or loss of energy

  • Feelings of worthlessness

  • Diminished ability to think or concentrate; indecisiveness

  • Recurrent thoughts of death, recurrent suicidal ideation without a specific plan, or a suicide attempt or specific plan for committing suicide

How An Individual's Environment and Social Factors Can Cause Depression

Life events do directly influence our mood, thoughts, feelings, outlook, and actions. When we are exposed to multiple negative experiences or situations, with only a few positive elements, this can lead to depression.

Here are some examples of environmental and social factors contributors to depression:

  • Loss of a job and a subsequent period of unemployment

  • Prolonged intense stress

  • Long-term isolation

  • Loneliness

  • Abuse in childhood or adulthood

  • Experiencing trauma at any age

  • Being in an emotionally distant relationship

  • A tendency to interpret environmental aspects, other people, and oneself more negatively than positively

  • A strong sense of pessimism or hopelessness

Healthy and Unhealthy Relationships

Healthy relationships which create a positive emotional state generally include:

  1. Not expect anyone to be responsible for your happiness

  2. Make and keep clearly defined agreements

  3. Use communication effectively

  4. Approach your relationship as a learning experience

  5. Tell the truth always and at all costs

  6. Do not do anything for your partner if it comes with an expectation of reciprocation.

  7. Forgive one another

  8. Review your expectations

  9. Be Responsible

  10. Appreciate yourself and your partner

  11. Admit your mistakes and say sorry

  12. Spend some quality time together

Unhealthy Relationships that can lead to sadness and even depression cause you to feel:

  • Dominated.

  • Criticized often

  • Like your partner tells you what to do

  • Like your partner tries to control you.

  • Like your partner is "always right."

  • Like it's "my way or the highway" when with your partner

  • Sad when your partner is depressed.

  • Anxious when your partner is irritable.

  • Unsafe when your partner is abusive.

  • Alone when your partner doesn't do his/her share.

Unhealthy relationships lack all or many of the above mentioned qualities. Unhealthy relationships can leave you feeling uncomfortable, sad, alone and afraid. It can be very difficult for you to realize that perhaps your partner and lover isn't treating you well or respectful, as they should be.

It should be noted that this doesn't mean if you have a disagreement that the relationship is automatically unhealthy. Disagreements happen in healthy relationships all the time. Healthy relationships can compromise through these challenges and unhealthy one can't as they are structured with a win/lose approach.

Unhealthy relationships are also layered with other factors that have a profound emotional impact on partners. This includes misuse of power and control along with emotional and/or mental abuse. All of these factors directly impact your mood and emotional state.

Unhealthy relationships are reasons for feeling unhappy and sad. If you are in a healthy, supportive relationship, and yet you still are experiencing the symptoms of depression as per MDD, then this most likely is not connected to your relationships. But in the event your emotional state is as a result of your feelings from your relationship, then the relationship may just be causation.

So what's next if your relationship is the reason for your unhappiness?

  • Seek individual therapy to address any codependency in the relationship

  • Should you decide to remain in the relationship - explore couples therapy next providing there is no safe risks

  • Lean into your fears of making changes in your role in this relationship

  • Start to log your emotions and what you feel

  • Explore for any perks in the relationships

  • Find ways to "fill the hole" of what is lacking your relationships with things you can do for you - strengthening your sense of esteem, worth and resiliency

  • Start to surround yourself with positive people and social supports

  • Reward yourself along the way for any positive changes you have made to shift you and your state within the relationship, regardless if your partner changes or not.

  • Begin to heal your shame that has been scaffold within you from your unhealthy relationship

  • Provide yourself positive affirmations daily

  • Get some rest - Kelly McDaniel once wrote "The energy it takes to endure withdrawal [to an addictive or toxic relationship] is equivalent to working a full-time job. Truthfully, this may be the hardest work you’ve ever done. In addition to support from people who understand your undertaking, you must keep the rest of your life simple. You need rest and solitude."

Be well

Ian


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