Updated: Jun 10
When we married our partner, we agreed to love and support them through sickness and in health. But, if they become depressed, it can seem like those vows are being put to the test.
Living with a depressed spouse can be challenging and heart breaking. Some days your spouse is cheerful and industrious, but other times they’re unable to tap into their life force. It’s as if their happiness got stolen but you can’t work out who stole it. When your partner is suffering, it can seem as if your marriage is now full of anxiety.
The marriages, which include a depressed partner, are 9 times more likely to end in divorce.
But please don’t think your relationship is destined to fail just because one of you is struggling with depression.
You can have a joyful, fulfilling marriage with your spouse, even if they’re depressed. By learning how to help them, it’s possible to turn it around, from living in a state of frustration, to supporting the beautiful marriage you know you’re both capable of.
Why Are They Depressed?
Before you can understand how to help your spouse, it’s important to understand what’s affecting them.
Depression symptoms may vary and range in intensity depending on the person.
Here are some common symptoms of depression:
They feel sad, anxious or hopeless most of the time
Have an irregular sleep pattern
Have lost passion or energy to contribute to things they once loved or talk about
Feel worthless or hopeless
Abuse substances to cope with their emotional state
They have angry outbursts; blaming others is common
They’ve withdrawn from social activities
There’s no definitive test to confirm whether your spouse has depression. The doctor generally asks a series of questions which work around the above symptoms. For a doctor to diagnose depression, there has to be a period of at least two weeks during which there is either a depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure.
Depression is not a static illness. People with depression can have very good days, even a few good days in a row, only to experience a significantly depressed mood once again. There is an ebb and flow to depression that isn’t always understood by others.
How To Help A Depressed Spouse When All You Can Do Is Stand On The Side-Lines
Standing on the side-lines can feel like a helpless experience when a partner battles depression.
It can seem like every attempt you make to help your partner is either rejected or ignored. It can feel confusing, frustrating and overwhelming. You might even feel like you are in some way responsible for your partner’s depression. Please remember, you are not alone.
It can be very isolating as the spouse of someone who’s depressed. It can also negatively impact your sense of feeling valued, which may leave you feeling helpless and afraid.
It’s particularly hard when depressed people seem not to care about finding joy anymore.
In spite of all these factors making it difficult to know how to help a depressed spouse. But your support is vital. You can’t fix your spouse’s depression, but you can help you partner along the road to recovery.
What Can I Do? Just Be There
It’s normal to get a bit frantic, trying to find the right professional support the best available treatment in your area, look for support groups or talk to others with depression to find out what is working for them.
Conversely, often the best thing to do is simply show up. By showing up, giving them and hug and telling them you are there for them, you’re showing how much you care.
You don’t have all the answers, and that’s okay, but what you can do is sit and listen. You can hold your partner’s hand, offer hugs, and be present.
You can respond with encouraging statements:
Tell me what I can do to help
Talk to me
You are important to me
What’s troubling you?
I am here for you
We will get through this together
Depression Can Get Better On Its Own
With enough love and encouragement from people who are close to someone who’s depressed, people can recover without treatment. Hard to imagine right? But it’s true even though the medics would tell you that’s impossible.
Nonetheless, there have to be certain conditions in place for someone to naturally recover from depression. Its just like having a broken leg where you need healing time, a cast, leg elevation and perhaps some TLC.
In order to help a depressed spouse get better naturally, here are a few conditions that might help:
Time to recover and this may include those days when you’re depressed spouse needs to stay in bed, with the duvet up for as long as they want. It may not always be practical but that’s what they might need.
To be listened to. This means really listening to what they are saying without thinking of what to say back as soon as they finished. By becoming quiet and still yourself, you create a place and space for your spouse to open up.
Not being judgemental. It’s easy to think we know what’s best for them. Or, think they shouldn’t be feeling that way. However, they do all we can do is accept that’s the way they think or feel. To fully accept where someone is at is such a gift and it will be warmly received.
To have no added pressure. Often it is societal or family pressure that adds to depression. By expecting much less from someone who is depressed, you may find they recover from depression more quickly.
For some people with depression, symptoms are so severe that they create problems in their daily lives. Work, school, socialising or relationships can suffer and this structure is what people may need to remain stable.
Some people who are suffering may not realise they’re depressed and not understand that their symptoms are depression. They might believe they have to just put up with them or will themselves better.
I believe that talking therapies are the first port of call and antidepressants are for those in a crisis. But please bear in mind I’m not a doctor; these are my views based on the thousands of people I’ve worked with.
Whatever your view, the best thing you can do is to research what’s available in your area and prepare some information so when you sit down and talk to your depressed spouse, you are fully informed of all the facts.
You may help your partner by expressing your concerns. You may share the symptoms you’ve noticed, suggest looking at available treatments and be willing to help by offering to make appointments. You may then go to the appointments and help them follow through on suggested treatments which might include: psychotherapy, medication and/or lifestyle changes.
How To Help A Depressed Spouse By Also Taking Care Of You
It’s important to remember that spousal depression isn’t anyone’s fault. These four principles are worth bearing in mind when helping someone who’s depressed:
You didn’t cause it
You can’t fix it
Keep it simple
Take it one day at a time
Although we want our spouse to get better, we have to acknowledge how POWERLESS we are. We really can’t recover from depression for them. Recovery is an individual’s journey and we can only be a support.
It’s very easy to get tangled up in someone else’s life, even those we love very much, and forget our own healthy boundaries. We may even ask ourselves the question:
Are we trying to fix another person so that we can feel more comfortable?
Sometimes we have to let them fall down and not get up if that is what they must do. Sometimes we even have to walk away. As painful as this may be, we can’t allow ourselves to be too caught up in the emotional car crash of someone else’s life. If we do, we become the victim.
As we learn to lovingly walk away, and take care of our own mental-health. We surrender and begin to let go of incessantly looking after someone else. This doesn’t mean that we abandon the other person but we can explain we need time to heal the anxiety that we are experiencing.
Interestingly, people I’ve spoken to who have done this have said that by taking care of their own needs, it has been of benefit to their depressed spouse as well. It’s ironic but by taking better care of themselves it gave hope and encouragement to the depressed spouse to take better care of themselves.
It’s at this point we can let’s go of the idea that we are responsible and have to save the world. And by doing this, we experience a new freedom.
This may be harder than we realise if we’ve been looking after people for long time. But when we give myself permission to put us first, wonderful things can happen in our relationships.
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