4 Ways to Find Out If Your Partner Is Using Their Depression as an Excuse for Controlling Behavior

4 Ways to Find Out If Your Partner Is Using Their Depression as an Excuse for Controlling Behavior

By Ashley Truong. Originally published on Everyday Feminism

At first it was only little comments.

Your partner would shake their head disapprovingly after you dyed your hair. They’d scoff at your taste in music.

After a while, though, you couldn’t just laugh it off, pretending it didn’t bother you.

Your partner was belittling you in front of friends and family – even strangers! They told you it was just gentle teasing, and for a while you agreed and chalked it up to you being overly sensitive.

It didn’t stop stinging though.

You decide to tell your partner that their teasing hurts your feelings. You explain to them that even if they don’t mean it, you don’t like it, so could they please not do it?

You don’t expect them to start crying.

You don’t expect them to call themselves the worst person on earth and beg you not to leave them even though they’re so terrible. “I feel so bad for doing that,” they say. “I should just disappear.”

You get alarmed. Your partner has depression, so it’s scary to hear them say something like that. Even if you’re the one whose feelings were hurt, you can’t stand to see your partner hate themselves so much.

Maybe you should have known better than to bring it up, anyway. Their depression already exacerbates their self-loathing, and it was only a little teasing. Why did you have to make them feel bad because you overreacted?

It’s your turn to beg. You plead with them not to hurt themselves and tell them that everything’s okay. They’re not a bad person at all.

They eventually calm down, and you’re relieved that things turned out okay.

It’s not until later that you realize that they never apologized for hurting your feelings in the first place.


If a significant other has ever done something similar to you, please know that they were being abusive.

Abuse is about control. An abusive partner is one who seeks to gain power over their significant other. They attempt to control what their partner does, who they speak to, and even how they react to things (like “teasing”).

Abusive partners use a variety of tactics to control their significant other. And it can be difficult to recognize those tactics because mainstream media and society teaches us that abuse is actually romantic behavior.

It can be even more difficult to recognize abusive behavior when your partner has depression.

Depression requires understanding and patience, so you might mistake your partner’s attempts to control you as requests for support and love.

But the truth of the matter is that controlling behavior is abusive behavior. It has no place in a healthy relationship.

So, how can you tell whether your partner is abusive or simply asking for support?

In short: The difference lies in whether they make a demand or a request.

A request leaves the other person free to say yes, to negotiate, or even to refuse. You should support your significant other, but you can only do so much. You have your own needs as well as your own limits.

A demand, on the other hand, leaves no room for your input. If your partner expects you to agree to everything they ask, they are making a demand. And that’s a red flag for abusive behavior.

People with depression are no less immune to abusive behavior than people without depression. However, when an abusive partner has depression, things get complicated.

Your partner may use the same tactics as other abusive people, but they may attempt to obscure the fact by using their depression as an excuse. After all, it’s not abuse if they’re doing it because of their mental health, right?


Depression doesn’t lead to abuse, and not all people with depression are abusive. It’s more accurate to say that sometimes, abusive people also have depression.

And if people with depression are capable of controlling behavior, then they are also culpable for it.

In the following sections, I’ll be unpacking the ways in which abusive partners use their depression to excuse their controlling behavior.

I’ll talk about a specific behavior, why it’s abusive, and how they may use their depression to make it seem otherwise. Then I’ll talk about the ways in which someone who has depression but isn’t abusive would handle the situation.

That way, you can work through the experiences that you have with your own partner and start to come to a conclusion about whether or not what you’re experiencing is abusive behavior.

Keep in mind that the most important thing is control: Is your partner attempting to control you, or do they respect your say in all matters?

Let’s take a look.

1. Do They Make You Spend All of Your Time with Them?

In high school, I dated someone who was abusive. I didn’t know it was abuse at the time, but when I look back, the signs are clear.

One of the clearest signs was that he made me spend all my time with him – or doing something for him.

If I so much as talked to someone else without him, he would get upset and make me feel as if I was a neglectful partner.

I didn’t think of it as abusive behavior because he had depression. He called me the light of his life, one of the few good things he had going for him. So if he wanted me to spend all my time with him, it was because he needed me to alleviate his depression. If I wasn’t around, he would be miserable.

It’s only now that I know that his behavior was abusive and had nothing to do with his depression. He was trying to control how I spent my time and on whom I spent it.

The fact that I couldn’t do something on my own without worrying that he would get upset about it was a sure sign that he was abusive, but he excused this behavior by acting as if keeping me by his side was necessary to his mental health.

Of course, it’s natural for your partner to be lonely without you, particularly if they have depression. Take it from someone who has chronic depression. My partner is a big support to me, so I miss her when she’s not around.

However, I don’t demand (or even expect!) her to spend all her time with me. She’s not just support for me. She’s an autonomous person with her own needs.

So when she hangs out with friends or family, I’m fine. I find my own thing to do because I’m perfectly capable of doing so.

Most importantly, I know that my partner isn’t responsible for my mental health. Only I can manage it, and I have a strong suspicion that abusive people who have depression know this as well.

They just make their partners feel responsible in order to control how their partners spend their time.

2. Do They Threaten Suicide When You Have Disagreements?

Abusive partners use fear to control their significant others. Physical violence is one way they instill fear. Threatening to harm themselves is another.

Your partner may never lay a hand on you, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not trying to intimidate you. If they threaten to harm or kill themselves whenever there’s a disagreement, they are being abusive.

The disagreement could range from your calling out something problematic they did to your not complying with something they demanded of you.

What it boils down to is that you aren’t doing what they want you to do: letting them have their way.

Sometimes they don’t use direct threats. I’ve known abusive partners who would become upset if their significant others told them they did something hurtful.

They would harangue themselves to the point where their significant other became worried that they would harm themselves. At that point, their significant other would have to put the actual issue aside and comfort their partner instead.

Don’t mistake this behavior as a part of mental illness.

When my partner tells me I did something to hurt her, it dredges up a lot of self-loathing. My depression already has me convinced that I’m a terrible person, and knowing that I hurt someone I care about only reinforces the feeling that I should just disappear.

Nobody can control how they feel. However, full-grown adults can control how they act.

I can’t stop the self-loathing from rising, but I can find the wherewithal to apologize to my partner and promise not to do the hurtful thing again.

The biggest sign that an abusive person can control themselves – even with depression –is that they strategically choose when to threaten suicide. They do it exactly when you don’t comply with them.

And by threatening suicide, they hold their safety over your head and force you to always let them have their way.

3. Do They Make You Feel Responsible for Their Mental Health?

There are many reasons why someone who’s in a relationship with an abusive partner might not want to leave them.

And sometimes, it’s because they feel like they’re the only ones who can take care of their partner.

Maybe their partner has abusive parents, or is struggling to find a job. Whatever the reason, they feel that without them, their partner wouldn’t be able to cope.

This isn’t how it should be.

There’s a difference between supporting your partner and holding their life together. For starters, the latter is impossible.

If you feel responsible for holding your partner’s life together, it’s because they made you feel that way.

Maybe they say things like “You’re the only good thing in my life.” Maybe they lash out at you when they’re having a bad day and blame you for every little thing until you feel as if you’re responsible for their poor mood.

Sometimes they may even engage in destructive behavior if you say that you want to leave (see the above section about threatening suicide).

Abusive partners with depression might excuse this behavior by telling you that it’s because they have depression. Their mental health makes them dependent on you, so it’s actually normal for you to have to take care of them.

This is absolutely untrue.

No matter how bad your partner’s life is, you can’t fix it.

They know it, too. They’re just trying to play on your guilt in order to control you.

If you feel obligated to care for them, it’s easier for them to tell you what to do in the name of “curing” their mental health.

Instead of expecting you to simply fix their problems, a good partner will ask you explicitly what they need in the way of support. They’ll also inquire about and respect what you can’t do.

They won’t try to guilt you into catering to their every whim.

I ask my partner to do little things for me when I’m upset, like hold my hand or bring the ice cream from the freezer. Neither of these things fixes whatever problem I’m having, but they do help me feel a little better – and that’s all I can ask for.

It’s also all that’s fair for me to ask for.

4. Do They Trivialize Your Problems in Comparison to Theirs?

My ex-boyfriend would always act as if my problems weren’t as big as his.

For instance, if I talked about my family having financial difficulties, he would say that at least we had more money than his did.

Abusive partners will try to make you feel as if you don’t have as many problems as they do. That way, you’ll have to cater to their needs while they won’t need to lift a finger to help you.

Abusive partners who have depression will use their depression to substantiate the claim that you aren’t suffering as much as they are. You might be sad, but they have depression. Therefore, all your problems are null.

Does your partner never have time to listen to your problems? When you try to bring problems up, do they dismiss them as trivial and imply that you’re selfish for trying to talk about yourself when they have it worse?

If they do any of that, then they’re being abusive.

They’re trying to manipulate you into dismissing your own problems. That way, they’ll be the one who suffers more in the relationship – or, in other words, the one worthier of receiving care.

The thing is, even if you don’t have depression, your problems are legitimate. It’s not a zero sum game where only people with depression truly suffer.

A good partner acknowledges their significant other’s struggles. They give as much care and support as they receive because they know that every relationship is a two-way street.

If your partner dismisses your problems, it’s not a sign that your problems are petty. It’s a sign that they’re trying to control the relationship so that it’s all about them.

And that’s not okay. Ever.


This list is far from complete. There are many other red flags for an abusive partner, such as constant lying or belittling behavior.

Whether you’ve seen signs that are on this list or not, you should trust your instinct. Remember that an abusive partner attempts to exert power over you so that they can control you.

Ask yourself: do they allow you to negotiate a request, or do they expect you to just do whatever they tell you to?

Lastly, I know it’s scary to acknowledge that your partner is abusive, especially if they have depression. You care about them, so you don’t want to hurt them. It might not seem like a big deal to bury what seem like little misgivings.

But the thing is, you can’t give all of yourself to them without something in return. That’s just how it works. If they’re getting your care and support, you deserve to get theirs, too.

And someone who doesn’t agree with that, quite frankly, is someone you’ll be happier without.

Ashley Truong is a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism. She is a queer diasporic Vietnamese womxn and graduated this spring with a double degree in English and Asian American Studies. When she’s not philosophizing about this at length, she’s reading, taking long walks, or cooing over all the dogs who cross her path.

Comment section

13 replies
    1. Hi Ben,

      I am glad that you found this helpful. If you ever need to reach out to an advocate we are here 24/7 through chat, text (text “loveis” to 22522), and phone at 1-866-331-9474.

      Take care,

      Advocate LC

  1. I just ended an abusive relationship a week ago. He exhibited every one of these behaviors. Even though I knew at the time that something wasn’t right, I really thought he loved me, and I him. Today has been especially tough for some reason. I keep breaking down in tears. I know that it was a very unhealthy relationship, but I still miss him and the good times we had. I have many physical and mental disabilities, and I can’t help but feel that someone like him is all I deserve and I should have just dealt with the abuse. I’m so very depressed. I don’t know how to go from being with someone 24/7 to being alone. This hurts so very badly.

    1. Hi Christin,

      Thank you very much for sharing your story with us. It sounds like you are going through so much right now, so we are happy you bravely decided to reach out for help in your time of need.

      Abuse is never anything that you deserve and it was definitely not your fault that someone you loved and trusted chose to disrespect you. Leaving an abusive relationship can be one of the hardest times in a survivors journey, so it is amazing that you had enough strength and courage to be able to leave the abuse.

      Abusive partners are often skilled manipulators, so it makes sense that you felt happy at times, but also broken down. That is often part of the pattern of abuse and how the abusive partner maintains control in the relationship. Now that you don’t have that constant control in your life, it can be very stressful and scary, but you are not alone!

      It could be helpful maybe to reach out to any support that you have, including family, friends, community orgs, or anyone you feel comfortable with. If you were wanting any other support services during this time, such as counseling or support groups, we definitely encourage you to contact us directly so we might find you some more local help.

      We are here 24/7 at 1-866-331-9474, by chat on loveisrespect home page, or by texting “loveis” to 22522. Thanks again for reaching out and keep staying strong!

      Best of Luck,
      Advocate KB

    2. Christin,
      Take care. Abuse is difficult and loneliness is too. But please begin again. We all fall but we can all get up and begin again with a peaceful heart.

  2. I’m in a relationship of 8 months now and my boyfriend does show a lot of these signs and people keep telling me i’m not in a healthy relationship. I didn’t really notice it until my family brought it up. Recently, I tried ending our relationship although it wasn’t easy and I told him that what he was doing was being emotionally manipulative towards me. He said he didn’t realize he was doing that and he’ll try and get help as well as work towards a better relationship. I’m giving him another chance because I don’t want to give up so easily. I do still want to be with him but Is this the right thing to do?

    1. Hi C,

      We’re so glad that you’re part of our online community and know that we’re here for you. It sounds like you’ve been through a lot in your relationship and I’m glad you’re reaching out. We understand how difficult it can be to recognize that your relationship isn’t healthy, especially when friends and family members are sharing their concerns with you. It’s natural that you want to believe your boyfriend will get the help he needs in order to work with you to have the healthy relationship you both deserve.

      You have the right to decide whether or not you are in any relationship, including this one. As the person in the situation and the relationship, you are the expert on what’s right for you. While your boyfriend is doing the work he needs to, it might be helpful to think about what you need to feel safe and respected in the relationship. This blog post about Getting Back Together after a break up has a lot of different points that may be helpful for you to consider. No matter what else is happening, you have the right to be safe and treated with respect. If you’d like to talk to one of our advocates about what that looks like, feel free to chat us online here at http://www.loveisrespect.org, call us at 1-866-331-9474, or text ‘loveis’ top 22522 anytime; we’re here for you 24/7.

      Take care!

      LIR Advocate AS

  3. Abusive and manipulative relationships affect the way we feel about ourselves. Often abusers seek to use another person to meet their own needs and involve lies and deceit to avoid taking responsibility for inappropriate or unacceptable behaviour. — — Abusive people rarely change so learning to identify the signs of abuse helps you avoid unhealthy interactions with people who abuse your trust or goodwill.

    1. Hi Chris60,

      Thank you for being a part of our online community! It sounds like you have a great understanding of the dynamics about abuse! No one deserves to experience abuse of any kind, and you’re absolutely right that abuse can impact the way a survivor feels about themselves. Abuse is never the fault of the survivor, and every survivor deserves support, whether it is in understanding and planning within a current situation, looking to safely leave an abusive relationship or in healing.

      You may notice that a part of your comment has been edited out to be in line with our community guidelines. It is wonderful that you understand some of the barriers that survivors face when trying to leave an abusive relationship, and while everyone deserves the right to express their needs, each person must make the choice for themselves as to whether or not taking that step is safe for them. For anyone interested in crafting a safety plan for their particular situation, we are always here to talk through what options may be available.

      If you would like to talk with us further, please feel free to reach out to us anytime. Our advocates are here 24/7 by phone (1.866.331.9474), online chat and text (text: loveis to 22522) to offer a safe space to talk.

      Take care,
      Advocate GR

  4. After reading this, ive just realized I am verbally abusive to my husband. Are there any resources dedicated to helping the abuser overcome this?

    1. Alexa,

      I’m so glad you reached out to talk about this, it’s not always easy to talk about these things and reaching out for support during this time is really important. Recognizing that you are hurting your partner is the first step to working through and changing these behaviors, but it can be a long process. I would really encourage you to reach out to talk about the relationship, and our advocates can better assess the relationship dynamics and support you in figuring out the best options to work on your emotionally abusive behavior. You can reach us by phone (1.866.331.9474), online chat and text (text: loveis to 22522).


      Advocate CC

  5. This has been a very enlightening article for me. I’ve been in a relationship where this type of abuse has been going on for almost 10 years. I have been blaming myself that I was such a horrible person for thinking that my partner’s behaviour was out of line. I only wish I’d known about this article sooner.

    1. Hi Kara,

      Thanks for your comment. We’re so glad that this article was helpful to you. There is never an excuse for abusive behavior!

Comments are closed.

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