Depression doesn’t have to destroy you or your marriage!
If you’re wondering how to save your marriage when your spouse has depression, you’re not alone. Have you ever felt the emotionally paralyzing effect of depression? Have you found yourself in a black hole and wondered how you’ll manage to crawl out? Do you suffer in silence alone, unable to open up with your partner about your pain?
Untreated symptoms of depression — whether it’s you or your spouse who is depressed — is dangerous to you and to your marriage. But, it doesn’t have to be.
Understanding how to deal with depression in marriage is critical to your health as well as your relationship.
What is depression? The National Institute of Mental Health defines it as “a mood disorder that causes distressing symptoms that affect how you feel, think, and handle daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, or working.”
Depression’s downward spiral can take a relationship into a black hole of hopelessness. And it’s not uncommon for partners to turn against each other because they don’t understand what’s happening.
The depressed person often feels alone and unsupported. Their depressed moods can leave the partner feeling robbed of life.
A partner who does not understand the signs of depression can get frustrated or angry when the depressed person expresses his or her feelings. The loss of energy caused by depression can look like laziness. The negative emotions can appear to be exaggerated. It can be difficult to understand or have the patience for your depressed partner’s feelings.
Emotions don’t make sense.
You may tell your partner that their emotions don’t make sense. That the life you both have is not that difficult. You may begin to tell yourself that your partner is just lazy and needs to buck up and pull it together. Getting upset with your partner for struggling with negative thoughts and sad emotions can make the depression worse.
In a good marriage, dealing with depression is important, both separately and together. Individually, you each have a role in not letting the depression take over. And there’s a way to work together to not let the depression destroy the love that you have for each other.
So where to begin? There are some practical ways that you can work both individually and together to not let depression tear your relationship apart.
Here are 8 ways to deal with depression in marriage when you have a depressed spouse.
1. Learn the causes of depression
Depression has many causes. It is the most common mental health disorder. About 6.7 percent of Americans report having at least one episode of depression at some time. Women get depressed twice as often as men do.
Your partner may have a genetic predisposition to get depressed. Stress has also been found to activate depression. Unresolved grief can cause depression. The hormonal changes caused by pregnancy can cause depression. Thyroid problems and other kinds of physical problems can cause depression. Various medications, like the birth control pill, can cause depression.
You are not bad.
Depression is a turning inward disorder. It is often anger and hurt kept inside and often directed back toward the self. As the depressed person, you may have a lot of shame about feeling as bad as you do, seemingly for no reason. This can make it difficult for you to open up about how bad you feel about things that would not bother others.
As you can see, there are many pieces of the depression puzzle to be understood. Exploring these causes with the help of a physician can help you and your relationship.
Couples who successfully navigate the turbulent waters of depression learn how to not make each other the problem. Reminding your partner that you understand and are not blaming him or her for getting depressed can be very helpful.
The National Institute of Health might be a good place to start learning more about depression.
2. Get individual and/or couples therapy
Finding an individual therapist who has experience in treating depression is a great first step. Make sure you interview the therapists you are considering. You want to make sure it feels like a good fit. A good therapeutic relationship is key in your healing.
It is often difficult to pull yourself out of depression without professional help. A skilled therapist can help you identify self-defeating thought patterns. Your therapist can also provide you with the encouragement that you need to make social connections and to not isolate.
When do you get professional help?
If your relationship is falling apart you should get the help of a couples therapist. They’ll help you learn how to deal with depression in marriage. A skilled Emotionally Focused Couples Therapist can help you talk with each other in order to escape negative cycle arguments, repair relationship trauma and deepen your attachment bond.
Couples co-regulate emotion. They are biologically wired to turn to each other for emotional support when they are struggling. This is why depression can take its toll on a relationship.
The depressed person’s negative view of everything can cause fear for the partner. The fear can be expressed in the form of judgments or harsh corrections. And, of course, this will cause the depressed person to feel worse.
Couples therapy can help the couple to escape the blame game. It will help them work together to overcome the depression that can destroy the intimacy and functionality of the relationship. You will need to learn how to support, rather than judge the depressed person.
3. Learn how to support — not judge — yourself or your depressed partner
Your depressed partner deeply needs your compassion and not your judgment. They are treading water trying to stay strong enough not to sink.
When depression grabs hold of you, you’ll need your partner to be a safe person, the one who can compassionately support you to find a way out of the dark moods you are trying to escape. It is often difficult to open up.
Depression causes you to fear that you are inadequate in your relationship. When you take the risk to share with your partner, it is devastating to hear that you are not enough. Your partner’s judgment is like pouring gasoline on the fire of your depression.
The last thing that the depressed person needs is to feel judged or reprimanded by the person he or she loves the most. This can make depression worse and possibly tear your relationship apart.
Depression can drag you both down. There is no doubt about it, depression is difficult for both of you and can drag the relationship down. It will take your intention to encourage your partner, and not judge, to keep that from happening. Your partner needs to know that you believe in s/he and that there is a way out of the dark days.
When you understand that it is the depression, not laziness or a lack of intent, that is draining the life out of your partner, it will be easier to not judge. Understanding the basics about why people get depressed can help you to be more supportive and less judgmental.
Remember learning how to deal with depression in marriage is a process that will take time, patience and understanding.
4. Escape the shame spiral with self-compassion and loving kindness
Shame is the feeling of being defective or not being good enough to be loved by others. Depression can certainly feed the human tendency to live in shame. Every one of us struggles with something. Struggling with depression does not make you less than, or worse than anyone else.
Self-compassion meditation is one of the best ways to overcome shame. And it’s an important piece of knowing how to deal with depression in marriage.
Spending at least 15 minutes daily doing self-compassion meditation has been found to be a helpful way to escape a shame spiral.
For those living with a depressed partner, it can be helpful for you to spend 15 minutes a day practicing loving-kindness meditation.
5. Take anti-depressant medications when recommended
Knowing how to deal with depression in marriage means understanding your medication options. A therapist may recommend that you see a psychiatrist to be evaluated for antidepressant medication.
There are many different kinds of depression. In most cases, moderate to severe major depression will change your body’s chemistry. The problems with sleep, appetite, energy, concentration, and memory are caused by the biological changes that the depression produces.
Antidepressant medication can help your body boost the availability of serotonin and norepinephrine, chemicals which are often depleted during a serious depression. Most studies show that psychotherapy and medication together is the most powerful form of treatment for moderate to severe depression.
Are antidepressants addictive? Are you afraid to take medications for depression? Many people are.
One of the biggest misinformed fears about taking antidepressants is the fear that they are addictive. Antidepressants are not addictive. They do not make you high. They will help you feel less depressed by restoring your normal neurotransmitter balance.
Some people need to stay on antidepressants for long periods of time to keep their neurotransmitters in balance. Your psychiatrist will help you understand what kind of antidepressant you need and how long you need to take it.
6. Understand each other
Knowing how to deal with depression in marriage means understanding what and how your partner is feeling. A healthy relationship requires an emotional connection. This can be even more important on the days where it feels like depression has the upper hand. When the dark cloud of depression hovers, it’s going to take a little extra empathy in order to stay connected.
That doesn’t mean the world stops turning until the depression lifts. It does mean that it’s important that you and your partner stay tuned in to what’s going on with the other. When you stay attuned to each other, you’ll be more able to weather any storm.
You’ll get good at just knowing when to get close and when to give space. With great attunement, you’ll learn to dance through the depression together. You’ll understand what the other needs in order to be well. It will be important to understand the difference between giving your partner the space they need and going into withdrawal.
Learning to stay connected even when you’re physically apart is where the magic is.
7. Learn to validate each other’s feelings
Being able to understand each other is one thing. But it doesn’t stop there. Each of you will need to “give value” to each other’s feelings. This can be tricky when you and your partner are feeling two different things. Her deep sadness and fear of rejection may seem absolutely irrational to you. You haven’t done anything to contribute to it. It can leave you feeling angry.
Can sadness and anger exist in the same room? Yes, sometimes they’ll have to. Are your partner’s feelings more important than yours? Absolutely not. What we feel is real, whether rational or not.
My wife is afraid of birds. Seriously, “hit the deck and take cover” afraid. That really does seem a bit irrational to me. But, by sharing the research on the unlikelihood of being pecked to death by a swooping bird will definitely not be helpful during her moment of fear, I can help her through the moment by shielding her from the storm. And I’ll share the research, little by little, once she’s on solid ground again.
8. Always enjoy the good days
A positive experience can make you more resilient to depression. So absolutely enjoy the good days. Build up your resilience to keep you out of the hole. Staff at Mayo Clinic suggest doing something every day gives you a sense of purpose. This may seem tough, but give it your best shot. Try setting goals that will help you look to the future in a meaningful way.
And when you’re having a good day, do what you can to keep each other in the moment. Tomorrow will come soon enough. Have hope that it’s another great day.
This is doable.
I don’t want to minimize the challenge of depression. Learning how to deal with depression in marriage so it doesn’t tear you apart is going to take the two of you. It’s challenging, but it’s absolutely doable.
A strong emotional connection is the foundation you’ll need to build upon. And with that in place and the right help, you can, and will, learn to navigate these waters.
Michael W. Regier, Ph.D. is a highly trained and experienced clinical psychologist and Certified Emotionally Focused Couples Therapist in Visalia and San Luis Obispo, California. He helps individuals and couples navigate the challenges of depression within the context of relationship.
This article was originally published at michaelregier.com. Reprinted with permission from the author.