Living with a depressed spouse
When you married your partner, you agreed to love and support them for better or for worse, through sickness and in health. Though you may have found it easy to maintain your connection when you were both in a good mental space, your vows are tested when one of you experiences emotional issues.
Whether you are learning how to communicate better or are striving to keep the passion alive in your partnership, you must continually work on both the relationship and yourself to sustain a healthy union. All relationships take work, but learning how to help a depressed spouse usually means putting in even more work than usual.
Living with a depressed spouse can feel isolating. You might feel like you’re the only person on the planet dealing with this struggle. The truth is that roughly 16 million Americans deal with depression. Depression can affect anyone, no matter their age, gender or previous experiences with mental health.
Marriages in which one of the partners is depressed can require more effort to make them work, but don’t think your union is destined to fail just because one of you is struggling with depression. You can have a joyful, fulfilling union with your partner. By learning how to deal with a depressed spouse, you can go from living in a state of frustration to sustaining the vibrant marriage you know you’re both capable of.
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Understanding mental health
To be supportive and truly understand how to help a depressed spouse, you must understand what’s affecting them. Depression symptoms can vary and range in intensity depending on the person, but your partner is most likely depressed if they feel sad or anxious most of the time, have an irregular sleep cycle, have lost passion or energy to contribute to things they once loved or talk about feeling worthless or hopeless. Abusing substances to cope with their emotional state is another telltale sign of depression.
A noticeable change in expressing emotions is also a sign. A depressed spouse who is normally stoic may start crying for no apparent reason or an emotionally demonstrative partner could become apathetic.
There’s no lab test to confirm that someone has depression, so knowing how to help a depressed spouse – and when – is difficult.
Depression is a very serious mental health disorder, especially when it is chronic and not due to circumstances such as the death of a loved one or the loss of a job. If you suspect that your partner is suffering from this mental health condition, your first step is to encourage them to speak with a medical health professional. There may be a root of the problem that has never been dealt with.
While the exact cause of depression is not entirely known, medical professionals believe that it is the result of a combination of genetic, environmental and psychological factors. That is to say, you could have a depressed spouse because it’s in their DNA or they could be reacting to trauma or a rough period they’re going through. Whatever the cause of your partner’s depression, it’s crucial that you let them know that you’re there for them. You need to be gentle with them as they go through this struggle and show them you want them to be healthy and happy.
Understand the gender divide
There are universal ways to support your spouse when they’re going through a bout of depression, but there are also some things to know specifically about how gender affects depression. When you’re learning how to help a depressed spouse, you need to know how the signs might present differently in genders.
Depression in women
Did you know that women are nearly twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression as men? There are some biological reasons for this, including changing hormone levels before and after pregnancy as well as before and after menopause. There are also cultural aspects that contribute to depression in women, like dealing with added stress from workplace bias, harassment or pay discrimination. There are many societal pressures placed on women to not only develop high-powered careers, but also to do the majority of domestic tasks all while appearing happy, beautiful and young. That’s a lot of weight for one person to carry around.
Before you can understand how to help a depressed spouse, it’s important to learn how to recognize the signs. A depressed woman may cry more frequently, have a lack of interest in seeing friends, sleep excessively or routinely overeat. She may also show a lack of interest in intimate conversations that help you stay connected or become irritable when you ask what’s wrong.
If you suspect your partner is depressed, talk about how she’s feeling but be aware that her depression may keep her from being forthcoming. Make sure you use a loving tone when you attempt to ask her about what she’s going through. Is she feeling overloaded at the office or at home? Is she dealing with something like postpartum depression after the birth of your new baby? Is she feeling the pressures of wanting to be perfect?
Speak with her candidly about what she’s experiencing and help her feel supported and loved. Let her speak without interruption, and don’t pass judgment on what she may or may not be feeling. If she is not in the mood to talk, don’t push too hard. Wait a day or two and then bring up the subject again.
Depression in men
Helping a depressed husband or partner can be quite different. Sometimes men express their depression through bouts of anger or aggression. That causes them to go undiagnosed because we often think of depression manifesting in the form of sadness. Culturally, men are less encouraged to assess and discuss their feelings, so they might have a hard time expressing what they’re going through. Instead of isolating himself, a man may spend more time out with his friends or stay at work late as a form of distraction. He is also more likely to abuse alcohol than a depressed woman and could also display unusual risk-taking behavior.
Depressed men are even less likely than women to want to talk about their issues. When it comes to how to help a depressed spouse who won’t communicate, assure him that you’re inquiring about his health from a position of concern, not judgment. Continue to work on communicating with him by being in the moment, being honest about how you feel and making an effort to understand his point of view.
The American Psychological Association reports that men are four times more likely to commit suicide than women. Keep in mind that isolation is a major contributing factor to suicidal thoughts. Many men depend on their partners for social connections, so if you have a depressed husband or partner, make efforts to get him out of the house and around those who care about him. Don’t mistake him spending more time with work acquaintances or at happy hour as social support. He needs to be around those who know him and can give him the empathy and advice he needs.
How to help a depressed spouse
Figuring out how to deal with a depressed spouse is like walking a tightrope: Push too much, and they might withdraw further. Don’t push enough, and you won’t encourage them to grow. But it isn’t hopeless. There are a few things you can do to help.
There are lots of ways to help a depressed spouse, but the easiest and the most critical is just to listen. “I listen to my partner all the time” you might think – but are you practicing deep listening? Are you truly present in the moment, without the distractions of your phone or other tasks? Stop what you’re doing. Make eye contact and shift your body language to be open and accepting. Provide nonverbal feedback like nodding, and process what your partner is saying before you respond. This type of communication can instantly ease the feelings of isolation that are common in depression.
When was the last time you really communicated with your partner? Beyond talking about how your day was or making plans to pick up dinner, when was the last time you connected? If you’re wondering how to deal with a depressed spouse, realize that communication is more important than ever. Remember that some people, especially men, have a harder time expressing their thoughts and feelings. Create a safe, judgment-free environment for your spouse to connect with you in. Also encourage your partner to communicate and socialize with friends. Human connection can do wonders for depressed individuals.
Changing your partner’s physiological state can have an incredible affect on their mood. A trip to the gym or even a walk around the neighborhood can have a positive effect on depression. If your depressed partner is having a hard time committing to working out on their own, join them. Whether it’s going to fitness classes or going hiking, these small acts can lift their mood and strengthen your bond.
Give plenty of positive reinforcement
Your depressed spouse likely has low self-esteem during this time, so it’s important you offer positive reinforcement as much as possible. Though getting out of bed and getting into the shower is not a big accomplishment for someone who is emotionally healthy, it can be a huge challenge for a depressed husband or wife. Instead of punishing your partner for not accomplishing more, tell him or her how proud you are of every small win. This will encourage them and will reassure them you are on their side.
Understand that depression is a part of life
Until recently, there was a stigma surrounding mental health in America. People were afraid to be seen as different or broken if they admitted to having a mental health concern. The culture has changed and many now recognize that depression and other mental health issues are a natural part of life. Everyone is affected by mental health to some degree. When you feel isolated in dealing with a depressed spouse, know that you’re not alone. You can sustain an incredible marriage and you have all the resources you need to live in a beautiful state.
Living with a depressed spouse
Living with a depressed spouse can feel like a roller-coaster ride: Some days your partner is happy and productive, and other times they’re unable to tap into their sense of vitality. You never know what you might do or say that will make them emotional. While life may feel unpredictable, there are a few things you can do to bring peace and hope to your home life.
Create a low-stress home environment
A low-stress home environment can do wonders when it comes to how to help a depressed spouse. Get rid of piles of laundry or dirty dishes and establish a plan for cooking meals and what to do in your free time.
Build healthy routines
In addition to exercising, eating healthy and incorporating positive rituals into your routine can help both you and your depressed spouse lift your mood and create stability. Meditation is proven to regulate mood and even improve relationships. Priming will set an optimistic tone for your day and help you focus on what matters. Other healthy habits include journaling, yoga and getting enough sleep.
Take time for yourself
When you’re looking for answers to how to deal with a depressed spouse, it’s easy to forget about another important person: yourself. But you can’t properly take care of anyone else unless you take care of yourself first. Self-care can reduce stress and help you reconnect with yourself so that you can create breakthroughs in your life and the lives of your family members.
Remember to be grateful
Living with a depressed spouse can be unpredictable, but instead of giving in to fear or becoming resentful of your partner, remember to be grateful. When we are grateful, fear disappears and abundance appears. Practice gratitude in all aspects of your life, but especially with your spouse. Remember all the great qualities you love about them and choose to live in a beautiful state.
Depression is serious. With all the resources out there, just knowing where to start can be overwhelming. If you’re thinking about ending your life, call one of the suicide hotlines: 800-SUICIDE (800-784-2433) and 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255). If you have a plan to commit suicide, go to the emergency room for immediate treatment. The information and other content provided in this article, or in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment. See full disclaimer.