In sickness and in health. We all know the words but few of us truly expect to live them. Staying strong and supportive as your partner struggles with depression is a challenge for the healthiest of marriages. The more you know about depression and its effect on marriages, the more you can help your spouse—and yourself.
Yes, It’s a Real Thing
Your spouse’s depression is not “sadness” or “thinking negatively.” Major Depressive Disorder is a diagnosable condition with a daunting list of common symptoms, e.g.
- Decreased energy
- Sleep disturbances
- Losing interest in once-pleasurable activities
- Feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt, and anger
- Thoughts of death and suicide
People with Major Depressive Disorder can’t just cheer up or think positively. They have a condition that must be treated with a blend of medications, therapy, and self-care. People with depression also need understanding and support from those closest to them.
No, It’s Not a Reaction to You
When a spouse is suffering from major depression, it can a major challenge for you to cope. Basically, anything our spouse says or does gets our attention (or it should). So, when your spouse begins presenting with the symptoms listed above, we may at first take some of it personally. This perception must shift quickly and dramatically. Push aside the self-doubt and resentment. Replace it with compassion and awareness.
How to Stay Strong and Supportive of Your Spouse
1. Educate yourself
Become an informed advocate. Paying attention is a form of love. Put in the work to become an expert on:
- Major Depressive Disorder
- How depression specifically impacts your spouse
- Guiding others around you to be more aware and compassionate
Your partner didn’t ask for this condition or do something to cause it. You didn’t go looking for this situation. Resist blame and choose action instead.
2. Help your spouse stay on a program of medication and therapy
This can be a lot to manage under any circumstances. Add in the oppressive symptoms listed above and staying on point becomes a monumental task. Don’t “take over,” but do develop methods and routines to keep treatment safely on track.
3. Avoid isolation as your default setting
There are times for solitude, of course. But depression can very easily turn isolation into an “easy solution.” Neither you nor your spouse will benefit if you choose to hide away. Social interactions have the power to help the recovery process. Yes, there will be plenty of trial and error. However, it’s worth the effort.
4. Validate your spouse as often as possible
Depression tells lies. Your spouse will often feel useless or as if they are burdening you. At times, you may feel alone or overwhelmed. Your partner needs validation more than they might even realize. Validate that you know their suffering is real, that they can recover, and that they truly matter.
5. Take care of yourself
There will be times when you may feel overwhelmed and alone. It is not selfish to set aside time and energy to care for your physical and emotional needs. You must be at your best to give the best support. Find your own support system with friends and family members. Monitor your eating, sleeping, and exercise patterns—and practice stress management!
What Are You Doing for Yourself?
No one wins if you play the role of martyr and try to do everything on your own. Your partner’s depression is a relationship crisis and you are fully expected to seek help.
You matter to your spouse and you matter in general. Giving yourself permission to seek therapy (either as a couple or individually) can help you both navigate the challenges of depression.
Don't allow depression to destroy your marriage. Seek help in learning some coping skills to weather the storm together.