“People can help you in many ways throughout life, but there are two things nobody can give you: curiosity and drive. They must be self-supplied.

If you are not interested and curious, all the information in the world can be at your fingertips, but it will be relatively useless. If you are not motivated and driven, whatever connections or opportunities are available to you will be rendered inert.

Now, you won’t feel curious and driven about every area of life, and that’s fine. But it really pays to find something that lights you up. This is one of the primary quests of life: to find the thing that ignites your curiosity and drive.

There are many recipes for success. There is no single way to win. But nearly all recipes include two ingredients: curiosity and drive.”

3-2-1 Thursday James Clear, 4/25/2024

As a clinical psychologist specializing in couples therapy, I’ve observed that the presence or absence of two key factors—curiosity and drive—can make or break a relationship. While therapists can provide guidance and tools to help couples cultivate these qualities, ultimately, it’s up to the individuals to supply their own curiosity and motivation.

The power of curiosity and drive

Curiosity and drive are the fuel that propels personal growth and enriches relationships. When partners are genuinely interested in each other and motivated to continually learn and improve, their bond deepens and their shared life becomes more vibrant.

Research supports the importance of curiosity for relationship well-being. One study found that highly curious individuals experience greater intimacy and relationship satisfaction.1 Another showed that couples who engage in novel and challenging activities together report higher marital quality.2

Similarly, studies highlight the role of motivation and effort in maintaining happy marriages. Couples who exhibit more approach goals focused on growth and work cooperatively to improve their relationship fare better than those with avoidance goals centered on dodging conflict.3

When depression interferes

However, mental health issues like depression can put a damper on curiosity and drive, both within the relationship and in life overall. Major depression, most prevalent among Millennials and iGens adults is characterized by persistent low mood, lack of interest in activities, low energy, and difficulty concentrating.5 But it can strike at any age.

For 58-year-old Joseph, a software engineer, and his wife Pamela, a teacher, depression has taken a toll. Joseph used to love tinkering with robotics in his free time and planning weekend getaways with Pamela. But lately, he’s lost motivation at work and at home, spending hours watching TV instead of engaging with his hobbies and with Pamela. Conversations that once flowed easily now fall flat. Without Joseph’s active participation and interest, Pamela feels lonely and disconnected, even though they still care for each other.

The dampening effect of depression on relationships is well-documented. Depressed individuals tend to withdraw, communicate more negatively, and experience lower relationship satisfaction.6 Lack of engagement prevents depressed partners from being present and responsive.

Let’s take a closer look at how depression can manifest differently in men and women, and what partners can do to support each other through these challenges.

Gender differences in depression

While both men and women experience depression, they often manifest symptoms differently. Men are more likely to exhibit irritability, anger, and aggression when depressed, whereas women tend to express sadness, worthlessness, and guilt.7 Men may also engage in risky behaviors like substance abuse or reckless driving to cope with their emotions.8

These differences can make it challenging for partners to recognize and address depression in men. Pamela might not immediately connect Joseph’s withdrawal and increased TV watching with depression, as his symptoms don’t fit the stereotypical picture of someone who is visibly sad or crying frequently.

Moreover, men face unique barriers to seeking help for depression. Traditional masculine norms that emphasize self-reliance, stoicism, and control can make men reluctant to admit vulnerability or ask for support.9 Joseph may feel ashamed of his struggle and believe he should be able to “tough it out” on his own.

Supporting a depressed partner

As Joseph’s wife, Pamela plays a crucial role in helping him recognize and manage his depression. Here are some ways she can support him:

  1. Start a conversation. Gently express concern about the changes she’s noticed in his mood and behavior. Use “I” statements to share her observations without blame, such as “I’ve noticed you don’t seem to enjoy your hobbies anymore. I’m worried about you.”10
  2. Listen without judgment. Create a safe space for Joseph to open up about his experiences. Validate his feelings and avoid minimizing his pain or offering quick fixes.
  3. Encourage professional help. Suggest that Joseph consult with his doctor or a mental health professional. Offer to help him find a therapist or accompany him to appointments if he’s open to it.11 Reassure him that seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness.
  4. Take care of herself. Supporting a partner with depression can be emotionally taxing. Pamela should prioritize her own self-care and maintain social connections outside the relationship to avoid burnout.12
  5. Invite him to join her in activities. Without pressuring him, Pamela can suggest low-key shared activities that promote connection and enjoyment, like going for walks together or trying a new hobby at home.
  6. Celebrate small victories. Acknowledge and praise any positive steps Joseph takes, whether it’s opening up about his feelings or engaging in self-care.13

By approaching Joseph with empathy, patience, and understanding, Pamela can create an environment that encourages him to seek help and work towards recovery. Her support, combined with professional treatment, can help Joseph rediscover his sense of curiosity and drive in life and in their marriage.

Personality differences at play

In other cases, mismatched levels of curiosity and drive between partners are more a matter of personality than pathology. Megan, 32, an outgoing marketing manager, has always loved trying new restaurants, planning adventurous vacations, and discussing the latest bestsellers with her book club. Her husband Tyler, on the other hand, is content with familiar routines. The 35-year-old accountant prefers quiet nights at home with their two young kids over exploring new hobbies and social scenes.

While some of their differences initially attracted them to each other, after 8 years of marriage, Megan sometimes feels stifled by Tyler’s lack of interest in venturing outside his comfort zone. Tyler, in turn, feels pressured by Megan’s eagerness to constantly switch things up.

Personality traits like openness to experience and extraversion, which underlie Megan’s zest for novelty and social connection, are relatively stable.14 And they may not always align between spouses. The key is finding ways to lovingly bridge those differences.

Stoking the flames

Whether curiosity and drive have dwindled due to depression or divergent dispositions, there are ways to revive them:

  • Start small. Pick one area of your shared life to infuse with fresh energy and interest, like testing a new recipe together each week if you enjoy cooking.15
  • Be a captivating partner. Share your own thoughts, goals, and experiences in an engaging way. Ask your spouse meaningful questions.16
  • Support each other’s individual passions and pursuits, even if you don’t share them. Cheer each other on.
  • Prioritize your own self-care and mental health. You can’t show up as your best self when you’re depleted.17
  • Lean on your partner when you’re feeling low on motivation. Sometimes we need to borrow encouragement from loved ones.

Is it personality or depression?

When a partner seems consistently disinterested and disengaged, it can be difficult to discern whether it’s due to their personality or a mental health issue like depression. Here are some key differences:

  1. Onset: Personality traits are relatively stable over time, whereas depression often involves a noticeable change from previous functioning.18 If your once-curious partner suddenly loses interest in their hobbies, it may point to depression.
  2. Pervasiveness: Personality-related lack of curiosity may be specific to certain areas (e.g., socializing), while still allowing for enthusiasm in others (e.g., work projects). Depression tends to lead to a more global loss of interest across multiple domains.19
  3. Distress: Individuals with naturally low levels of curiosity and drive may not necessarily feel distressed about it. But those with depression often experience significant emotional pain and may voice feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness.20

If you suspect your partner’s disengagement is personality-based, try these strategies:

  • Communicate openly about your different interests and needs. Seek compromises that honor both of your preferences.21
  • Pursue some of your interests independently while still making time for shared activities you both enjoy.
  • Express appreciation for the ways your partner does show up and contribute to the relationship, even if they differ from your own style.

However, if you notice signs that your partner may be depressed (persistent low mood, changes in sleep or appetite, fatigue, difficulty concentrating5), encourage them to seek professional help. Offer to support them in finding a therapist or accessing resources.

Remember, whether lack of curiosity and drive stems from personality or depression, approach your partner with empathy and work together to find ways to keep your relationship fulfilling for both of you.


Curiosity and drive are indeed two ingredients that no one else can give you; they have to come from within. By mindfully cultivating your own appetite for discovery and growth, managing mental health, and supporting each other’s interests, you and your partner can keep your relationship alive and vibrant through the years, despite any differences or challenges.


  1. Kashdan, T. B., Goodman, F. R., Stiksma, M., Milius, C. R., & McKnight, P. E. (2018). Sexuality leads to boosts in mood and meaning in life with no evidence for the reverse direction: A daily diary investigation. Emotion, 18(4), 563–576.
  2. Aron, A., Norman, C. C., Aron, E. N., & Lewandowski, G. W. (2002). Shared participation in self-expanding activities: Positive effects on experienced marital quality. Understanding marriage: Developments in the study of couple interaction, 177-194.
  3. Elliot, A. J., Sheldon, K. M., & Church, M. A. (1997). Avoidance personal goals and subjective well-being. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 23(9), 915-927.
  4. Twenge, J. M., Cooper, A. B., Joiner, T. E., Duffy, M. E., & Binau, S. G. (2019). Age, period, and cohort trends in mood disorder indicators and suicide-related outcomes in a nationally representative dataset, 2005–2017. Journal of abnormal psychology, 128(3), 185.
  5. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.).
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  8. Cavanagh, A., Wilson, C. J., Kavanagh, D. J., & Caputi, P. (2017). Differences in the expression of symptoms in men versus women with depression: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Harvard review of psychiatry, 25(1), 29-38.
  9. Addis, M. E., & Mahalik, J. R. (2003). Men, masculinity, and the contexts of help seeking. American psychologist, 58(1), 5.
  10. Wolf. J. (2022, Dec 16). Supporting a loved one experiencing depression. The Mayo Clinic.
  11. Kato, T. (2015). Frequently used coping scales: A meta‐analysis. Stress and Health, 31(4), 315-323.
  12. Lee, I. (2021, November 17). What to Do When You Love Someone with Depression. National Alliance on Mental Illness.
  13. Hooley, J. M., & Teasdale, J. D. (1989). Predictors of relapse in unipolar depressives: Expressed emotion, marital distress, and perceived criticism. Journal of abnormal psychology, 98(3), 229.
  14. Roberts, B. W., Luo, J., Briley, D. A., Chow, P. I., Su, R., & Hill, P. L. (2017). A systematic review of personality trait change through intervention. Psychological Bulletin, 143(2), 117–141.
  15. 50 Fun Things for Couples to Do for Quality Time Together. The Knot.
  16. Aron, A., Melinat, E., Aron, E. N., Vallone, R. D., & Bator, R. J. (1997). The experimental generation of interpersonal closeness: A procedure and some preliminary findings. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 23(4), 363-377.
  17. Lavner, J. A., Karney, B. R., & Bradbury, T. N. (2016). Does couples’ communication predict marital satisfaction, or does marital satisfaction predict communication?. Journal of Marriage and Family, 78(3), 680-694.
  18. Roberts, B. W., & Mroczek, D. (2008). Personality trait change in adulthood. Current directions in psychological science, 17(1), 31-35.
  19. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.).
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