How Antidepressants Impact Relationships

Medications like SSRIs can have emotional and sexual side effects.

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Major depression is a mental health condition that impacts many, with 8.4% of all U.S. adults experiencing at least one major depressive episode in their lifetime.

Keeping this in mind, it isn’t uncommon to be in a relationship where either you or your partner are on antidepressants. While antidepressants can lead to many gains in overall well-being, they can present some hardships in romantic relationships. This article will explain why antidepressants can hurt relationships and things you can do to keep your partnership healthy.

Is my antidepressant ruining my relationship?

In short: Yes, antidepressants can impact relationships. First, let’s explore what antidepressants are and why they are used. There are several types of antidepressants: selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), and atypical antidepressants.

Every antidepressant has the goal of decreasing depressive symptoms, but each one can have a different effect on how you relate to others and could have side effects that impact your relationships more severely.

The most commonly prescribed class of antidepressants is SSRIs. These include Celexa (citalopram), Lexapro (escitalopram), Paxil, Paxil CR, Pexeva (paroxetine), Prozac (fluoxetine)Trintellix (vortioxetine), Viibryd (vilazodone) and Zoloft (sertraline). They work by increasing the amount of serotonin produced in our brains. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that regulates our behavior, mood, and memory. 

While SSRIs have great benefits, they aren’t without their side effects. Emotional blunting, sexual dysfunction, trouble sleeping, gaining or losing weight, anxiety, dizziness, headache, and stomach issues are all common side effects. Any of these side effects could negatively impact a relationship, but emotional blunting, sexual dysfunction and physical changes can be the greatest stressors.

And while SSRIs are the most common culprit. Other antidepressants can cause very similar side effects.

Struggles with Emotional Intimacy

Emotional blunting is a general sense of apathy or indifference, with researchers interchangeably referring to emotional blunting as apathy. This can lead to challenges in expressing deep emotions or feeling connected to others.

For example, someone may express indifference at a major event, like their partner receiving a promotion or experiencing a death in the family. What may seem cold is actually a physical response to the medication they are taking. Emotional blunting is caused by the dysfunction of the frontal lobe due to changes in serotonin levels.  

Emotional blunting isn’t the same as feeling depressed and doesn’t necessarily mean someone lacks care for others. Instead, it is a decreased emotional expression. Over time, emotional blunting can create a lack of emotional intimacy in relationships.

The partner that isn’t taking medication may feel abandoned or overlooked due to their partner’s behavior while the partner that is taking medication may feel frustrated by the side effects they are experiencing .

Diminished Sex Drive

SSRIs may cause sexual dysfunction, which typically presents as a decreased sex drive, delayed ejaculation, inability to have an orgasm, and an overall lack of sexual satisfaction.

When serotonin is increased by an SSRI or other means, other essential hormones and neurotransmitters can be impacted. Specifically, testosterone and dopamine.

Testosterone is responsible for our sex drive and sexual satisfaction, while dopamine is in charge of orgasms. With both this hormone and neurotransmitter impacted, sexual dysfunction follows .

Sexual dysfunction can lead the partner who isn’t on medication to feel rejected or undesirable. Additionally, it can frustrate the partner who is on medication. They may feel challenged by their sex life changing or even guilty for how it is impacting the relationship.

Physical Changes

Another issue that may challenge a relationship is the physical changes that come along with SSRIs.

Since weight changes are a common side effect, the partner on medication may begin to feel self-conscious or uncomfortable in their body. Recurring issues with sleep, headaches, and stomach problems can also lead to general discomfort.

These physical changes might lead the partner on medication to withdraw or simply be unable to connect emotionally and physically.  

Ways Antidepressants Can Help Relationships

While antidepressants might negatively impact relationships, they can also greatly benefit them.

An overall decrease in depressive symptoms may lead to less strain on the relationship. In turn, each partner may feel increased satisfaction in their daily dynamic.

Even emotional blunting can be helpful in some cases. If a relationship is prone to volatile arguments, this side effect can actually decrease the intensity of an anger response, leading to decreased conflict.

How Partners Can Support Each Other

The benefits of antidepressants may outweigh the risks for many. Keeping this in mind, it is critical to remember that there are ways to enjoy the benefits of antidepressants even in the midst of negative side effects. It will require some work on each partner's part. 

If you're the partner who isn't taking antidepressants

First, let’s explore how the partner who isn’t on medication can support their partner who is on medication.

Continuing to educate yourself about how antidepressants can impact someone, how long side effects last, and their benefits can be helpful.

Armed with this knowledge, you are likely to be able to offer emotional support and take note of any concerns you see arising that may be related to side effects. Ensuring you’re nonjudgmental and never pressure your partner into activities they aren’t up for is key.

If you're the partner taking antidepressants

The partner on antidepressants can also be of great support to the person who isn’t taking medication.

While it may be difficult to navigate the side effects of antidepressants, considering how the side effects may impact your partner can be key. Communicating about how the side effects might impact the relationship is a great way to continue to develop emotional intimacy.

Take Care of Yourself

Self-care is important for both partners. Attending therapy, both together and separately, can support each of you in having a safe space to process your feelings and learn tools to communicate even the most challenging of feedback.

A support group may also prove useful for each partner. The partner who isn’t on medication may feel alone, and hearing from other significant others who are experiencing the same challenges may be healing.

The partner who is on medication might be grieving the person they were before antidepressants, and having a community of others who are navigating similar paths can also be of key importance.

A Word From Verywell

Exploring medication options to manage depressive symptoms can feel scary for both partners. The fear of how this change may impact the relationship is valid, but it is possible to continue to develop a safe and loving relationship in the midst of change.

Should you feel concerned about the side effects of an antidepressant you're taking, be sure to reach out to your prescribing provider for support. If you're in the midst of a crisis, reach out to a hotline for help.

3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  3. Jing E, Straw-Wilson K. Sexual dysfunction in selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (Ssris) and potential solutions: A narrative literature review. Ment Health Clin. 2016;6(4):191-196. doi: 10.9740/mhc.2016.07.191

By Nancy Schimelpfening
Nancy Schimelpfening, MS is the administrator for the non-profit depression support group Depression Sanctuary. Nancy has a lifetime of experience with depression, experiencing firsthand how devastating this illness can be.