It is common to feel helpless when you have a spouse that is suffering from depression. While your depressed spouse needs support from you, you also need support to stay mentally and emotionally healthy.
Dealing with a depressed spouse can leave you feeling frustrated, overwhelmed, and confused. But you can help your significant other once you are properly equipped with how to deal with a spouse with depression. This is especially true when you are trying to help your partner, and they are ignoring your attempts or worse — right out rejecting them. Then there are those that may feel somehow responsible for their partner’s depression. No matter how this situation has you feeling, it is important to note that you are not alone.
Depression causes people to isolate themselves, and this has a negative impact on their relationships. The relationships can deteriorate and leave loved ones feeling afraid and helpless.
Most people going through major depression experience feelings of discouragement, hopelessness, sadness, and a general down feeling. Some also feel persistent anger and have a general lack of interest in anything that causes them pleasure. It may seem to you that your partner is no longer interested in finding joy or participating in activities that bring them joy.
With all the above-mentioned factors, it can be very difficult to deal with your depressed partner. But your support is important to their healing, and you can help them down this road of recovery.
Things You Can Do to Help Your Partner
- Learn About Depression
The main feature of depression is a period of sadness that lasts for at least two weeks, where there is a marked loss of interest in pleasurable activities. When people are depressed, they have good days and can even have a couple of good days in a row followed by a significantly depressed mood. Depression comes and goes in waves, and so it is often misunderstood by loved ones.
Read up on depression and also find self-help books and other literature designed specifically for spouses of depressed individuals. Knowing the symptoms of depression can also be very helpful.
The symptoms of depression include:
- Feelings of hopelessness, tearfulness, and sadness
- Weight loss
- Weight gain
- Sleeping too much
- Sleeping too little
- Loss of interest in activities usually enjoyed
- Increased fatigue affecting even small tasks
- Outbursts of anger
- Ruminating on past events
- Feelings of guilt
- Trouble concentrating and making decisions
- Unexplained physical symptoms
- Frequent thoughts of suicide and death
Your first step in supporting your partner is helping them understand the disease. Their symptoms may not always stay the same and as a matter of fact, will likely vary or change over time. Ask your partner open-ended questions and remain empathetic when listening to their answers. This is the best way to get insight into how your partner feels and how they may want to be supported through this time.
- Offer Support
Sometimes the best help you can give your depressed spouse is simply to show up. While you don’t have all the answers, you can sit and listen to them. Hold their hand, offer affection, and be present. Try to always give encouraging responses. Here are some suggestions:
- I am here for you.
- Tell me what I can do to help.
- You are important to me.
- We will get through this together.
- Motivate Them to Seek Treatment
Most people who are depressed have problems carrying out their daily activities, such as social engagements, school, and work. Others may think that your partner is not depressed, and may think they just need to endure their feelings until they subside. There is no “willing oneself better” when it comes to depression. And oftentimes the depressed individual will only see better days when they get treatment. Here are some ways you can encourage your partner to seek treatment and help them to see why they need it and why it is important.
- Express your concern in a loving way.
- Share the symptoms that you have noticed.
- Let them know you are willing to help with treatment, including helping them prepare for appointments.
- Share what you have learned about depression, including options for treatment, such as lifestyle changes, psychotherapy, medication, etc.
- Create a Supportive Environment in the Home
Your partner’s depression isn’t your fault, and neither is it theirs. You can’t fix it, but you can help them navigate this difficult time. You would be amazed to see the big difference that lifestyle changes can make.
Depression is known to zap a person’s energy, making sleep and appetite difficult to control. This causes a lot of depressed people to make unhealthy choices. Here is how you can support healthy lifestyle changes and create a supportive environment in the home:
- Involve your partner in the planning and cooking of healthy meals, so as to encourage better food choices.
- Make time to exercise together. Daily exercise is known to improve mood. You don’t have to endure rigorous workouts to benefit either. A simple daily walk or bike ride is enough to start. As you both get more comfortable, you can increase the momentum in terms of intensity or duration to get more out of your daily exercise of choice.
- Help them stick to their treatment. This could mean accompanying them to appointments and waiting while they are with the therapist.
- Help them create a routine that is low-stress. Routines can help your spouse feel they are in control of their day. You can create a schedule around handling meals, chores, or medications. Be sure to include them in the planning of the schedule, so they don’t feel like you are trying to force your own way of doing things onto them.
- Plan outings and activities together. Your partner is likely going to lose interest in all pleasurable activities and may try everything to avoid social interactions. Plan something on a weekly basis that you can do together as a couple. You don’t have to leave the house for starters. You can play a board game or watch a movie together. When your loved one is feeling a little more interested in socializing, you can take the date outside of the home, still restricting it to you both. Over time you can plan dates to include friends and family members as well.
- Provide positive reinforcement. Your partner is likely feeling hopeless and will be constantly judging themselves. Provide positive reinforcement by pointing out their strengths and also areas where they may need some improvement. You can both work towards those improvement goals and have a little celebration when those goals are reached.
- Focus on Small Goals
Depression can easily overwhelm your partner, and when they are severely depressed, they can find it hard to do a simple task such as getting out of bed.
Help your partner through their day by breaking down large tasks into small goals. These small tasks can help them to get through their normal activities more smoothly and will help them to improve each day so that they stick to the routine and maintain their therapy schedule.
- Identify Suicide Warning Signs
If your spouse is going through a major depressive disorder, the risk of suicide increases. It is important for you to be able to identify the red flags so you can get immediate assistance if you need to. Here are some of the things you can look out for:
- Social withdrawal
- Extreme mood swings
- Talking about suicide
- Stockpiling pills
- Engaging in risky behavior they wouldn’t usually engage in
- Talking about (non-suicidal) death or an overall preoccupation with anything surrounding the subject
- Combination of feelings of hopelessness and overwhelm
- Obvious changes in their normal daily routines
- Changes in personality
- Getting their affairs in order
- Saying goodbye
- Be an Active Listener
Sitting back and listening can be hard, especially if you are the type of person who wants to take action. Your spouse needs you to be supportive more than ever and you have to be supportive in the way they need the most. Here are some active listening skills you can try with your partner:
- Be present when talking. This means putting your devices away and giving them your full attention.
- Lean in, keep eye contact, and listen while giving other nonverbal cues such as nodding your head so they know you are listening.
- Ask follow-up questions when necessary or paraphrase what you heard so they know you are paying attention.
- Be emphatic with your responses. Try saying things like “I can see why you are struggling with that” or “That sounds very hard.”
- Listen without judgment and try not to give advice unless they specifically ask for it.
Signs Your Partner May Be Depressed
If you are noticing low motivation and a loss of interest in pleasurable activities and spending time with people they love, your partner could be suffering from depression. Almost every area of your partner’s life will be affected by depression. Their eating, sleeping, working, and hygiene habits will change, as well as the way they socialize. As their spouse or partner, you will likely be the first to recognize the changes in their behavior.
Some of the signs to look for include:
- Outbursts of Anger
- Changes in sleep patterns, whether they start sleeping more, sleeping less, struggling to fall asleep, or having the uncanny ability to fall asleep anywhere and in any position
- Loss of interest in sex
- Drinking more alcohol than usual
- Abusing drugs
You cannot diagnose depression on your own, so you must help your partner to see a licensed mental health professional or medical doctor to diagnose their depression and create a treatment plan. If your partner is showing signs of suicidal thoughts, it is important to get immediate help for them.
Dealing With Conflict With a Depressed Spouse
There is often a cyclical pattern of depression and relationship conflict. Your depressed spouse is likely to be irritable and will withdraw from you and other loved ones, as well as have angry outbursts.
Caring for your loved one and living with them while they are depressed can be very emotionally taxing. Here are a couple of steps you can take to work through conflict and even prevent it:
- Establish healthy communication patterns.
- Be transparent in all communication.
- Do daily emotional check-ins with a focus on feelings, normalizing talking about the symptoms and how your partner is feeling.
- Set clear boundaries.
- Speak up when you need a break, but remember to send the message across in a loving and mindful way.
- Create a specific self-care plan for your partner and for yourself as well.
- Minimize stress levels as much as possible.
- Schedule daily exercise.
- Schedule alone time for yourself away from caring for your partner.
- If and when a conflict arises, pause and take a break. Have an agreement in place so that if one partner requests a pause, both parties have time to cool down and then work through the issue later in a productive way.
How to Deal With Your Depressed Partner if They Are in Denial of Their Depression
Even though it is your partner that is depressed, their depression becomes a shared issue. You may be able to see the clear signs and symptoms of depression but your partner may disagree that they are depressed.
They may also not want to be “fixed” so the way you approach them will have a big impact on the course of action they will take. Sometimes your partner is in denial and knows they are and all they simply want is to be heard.
But they may be in denial for other reasons as well. Here are some of the reasons your spouse may be in denial about their depression:
- They are embarrassed to admit they are depressed.
- They may feel like nothing is wrong with them and you are overreacting.
- They may not be aware of the symptoms of depression.
- They don’t want to talk about it.
- They are so hopeless, they don’t see a way out of their current emotional and mental state.
- They consider themselves to be functioning well enough and so they think they are not in fact depressed.
- They have rationalized their symptoms as the normal ups and downs of life.
Your partner may not identify the way they are behaving as being related to depression. They may be acting out with drugs, food, alcohol, or sex. In this case, they may say things like “This eases my stress” or “I need this.” While you want to encourage them to do things that ease their stress, you want them to do it in a safe way.
You also want to encourage them to get checked by a mental health professional, if only to rule out the diagnosis of depression. If you can get the conversation going, be prepared to take them to their appointment and sit in the waiting room while they are being checked, so they see that you are really coming from a genuine place of love, care, and support. You may have the option to have couples therapy together.
Keep in mind that there is no quick fix to treating depression. There is talk therapy and medication. These can be used together or as a stand-alone treatment but until your partner is diagnosed with depression, it will always be an uphill struggle.
How to Approach Your Partner About Getting Professional Help
The first thing you need to do to help your partner is to make sure you are not running on empty. This means you must prioritize self-care. You can only help your partner if you are taking care of yourself. Once you are ready to fully put your heart into your partner’s troubles, here are some things you can do:
- Find books, articles, and information to educate yourself about depression and how to navigate it. Articles like this one can be helpful and you can even get some therapy sessions of your own to ensure you are not getting overwhelmed by taking care of your loved one.
- Ask your partner. You need to know what to do to help your partner feel supported. Let them give you insight into what will be more impactful for them. This way your efforts will be received better, and this can help to reduce feelings of frustration and reduce the chances of developing conflict.
- Offer to do couples therapy and see if this is something they think will help.
- Remind them as often as possible that you are a team and you intend to continually support them throughout the process.
- If all else fails, reach out to other family members and friends if and when you need additional support.
The Effects of Depression on Relationships
Depression has a negative impact on relationships as a whole. It can cause a disconnect, poor communication, and conflict. Oftentimes one partner finds themselves isolated and alone. When your depressed partner is going through a low mood phase, you may feel the effects ripple over into your mood. This is why it is so important for you to take care of yourself and have support while you are supporting your partner. This means you will need to have your own little community that has your back, so you can continue to assist your partner without entirely depleting yourself emotionally, mentally, and physically.
How to Avoid the Vicious Cycle
When dealing with a depressed spouse, you can face withdrawal or angry outbursts from time to time. This can easily drive you to react in the same way and will leave you feeling alienated and hurt.
Always remember that dealing with depression is hard. It is hard for you, and it is hard for your partner. Remember, their depression won’t last forever, and with treatment, it will get better over time. Also, note that most couples survive this. You are not alone.
What to Do If Your Partner Refuses to Go to Therapy
Instead of falling prey to feelings of hopelessness, stay positive. Depression is treatable and though it doesn’t happen overnight, 90% of people do see an improvement with treatment. So there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
When you are feeling rejected, remember that it is situational and will not always be the case. At times like this, try to take the pressure off by engaging in activities that you both enjoy. Try to remain active and do something that will keep you both moving because depression really loves lethargy. Go for a walk, a bike ride, take a trip to a beach, or spend the day rock climbing if you have the facilities nearby. Whatever you do, do not blame yourself, and do not attack them for their behaviors. You also don’t want to try and bargain with them and you don’t want to take an all-or-nothing approach.
The Importance of Self-Care for the Supporting Spouse
While taking care of a depressed spouse, the supporting partner needs to also take care of themselves. You may find the need to have therapy sessions yourself as dealing with a depressed spouse can take a toll on your marriage, your mental and emotional health, and your physical health. If you are not at your wits end yet, you can keep it so by engaging in the following:
- Exercising regularly
- Getting enough sleep
- Eating a balanced healthy diet
- Reading self-help books
Always remind yourself that your spouse’s depression is not a reflection of yourself or your worth as their partner. If you find that you are blaming yourself for your spouse’s depression, then you should also get some professional help. Additionally, if you feel like you are also depressed, then you should indicate this to your spouse and consider couple’s therapy.
Living with a depressed partner can be very hard. There will be times when you can’t separate your partner’s depression and how it impacts you as an individual or the union of the marriage. Sometimes you will question yourself and your worth, and sometimes self-care is the simple protective factor that will keep depression away from you.
Your partner’s depression, if left untreated, can cause mental health issues for you and other family members.
Coping Skills and Tips for Self Care
It is key to have self-care strategies in place when taking care of a spouse living with depression. Here’s what you need to do:
- Strengthen Your Own Support Network
When dealing with a depressed spouse, you may not have the support you once had. Even if they want to give you that support, their symptoms can make it very challenging to put their good intentions into action. As such, you may need to find persons outside of your relationship to help you with your needs or the needs of the family and household. You can reach out to your close friends and family members for help.
- Find New Enjoyment
Make time to discover new places or to make new friends. At first, you may feel guilty to be doing this without your partner, but connecting with anything that brings you joy will uplift your mood and put you in a better frame of mind to help your spouse.
You can explore new places by yourself before sharing them with your spouse, and then bring them in on the fun. Try not to have any expectations when doing this. They may find it difficult to have a good time and if this is your encounter, just try to continue the search for a different time, place, event, or activity.
- Develop Healthy Habits
Your physical health is just as important as your mental health. Here are some ways you can take care of your physical health:
- Don’t skip meals.
- Consume nutrient-dense foods.
- Get 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night.
- Engage in physical activity every day.
- Limit drug and alcohol use.
- Practice Mindfulness
These exercises can help you to ground yourself, especially when you are feeling overwhelmed. Mindfulness is also effective for managing anxiety and helping improve your sense of well-being. Here are a few ways you can practice mindfulness:
- Deep breathing
- Join a Support Group
It can be hard to talk to others about what you are going through. But you can find a local support group of persons going through a similar situation that can help you feel supported and to know you are not alone.
Self-care doesn’t have to be elaborate; you can simply go outside, sit down in a cool spot and take a deep breath of fresh air. You can do this by yourself or you can do it with your partner.
Self-care can also be a relaxing bath at the end of a long day or it may be blocking some time to spend doing absolutely nothing. Just allow 10 minutes to yourself per day.
- Set Goals
Your spouse may find it hard to do even the simplest things. Instead of assuming that you have to take on all the additional responsibilities at home, help your spouse by creating a schedule with small tasks that makes it easier for them to get through the day and get what they need to get done.
Tips for Strengthening Your Relationship
When your spouse is experiencing depression, this can cause unique challenges for the marriage relationship. Your spouse may be irritable and angered easily and when they are behaving in such a manner, it can be hard for you to be supportive in the moment. Here are some tips for dealing with the hard times and still keeping the relationship together:
- Learn to Depersonalize
Always remember that your partner is not acting maliciously. Their behavior is not about you. Sometimes you will have to create a mantra that you repeat to yourself to keep you focused on the fact that you have to keep your cool. Remember they are not trying to hurt you.
- Be Open
When you have a spouse that is in denial, it can be hard to discuss depression openly. When bringing up the issue, try to point out what you noticed about how they have changed. For example, you can say, “I noticed you haven’t been sleeping well.”
It is critical that you avoid blaming your partner or pointing the finger in a way that will shame them. Express your concern about them in a way that will not upset them.
- Get Help
Untreated depression only worsens over time so you want to suggest in a loving way that your spouse get the help of a professional. When you help your partner, you are also helping yourself. Consider couple’s therapy if they are unreceptive to solo therapy. Remember you can’t force them into the decision. In the meantime, you can find a good therapist and get yourself some counseling if you are having a hard time coping with the situation.
- Be Encouraging
Sometimes the depressed spouse knows what they need to do but they struggle to start. When you make a suggestion, this could be just the nudge they need to get the ball rolling toward treatment.
If your partner is having difficulty getting out of bed in the morning, give them an incentive to do so. You can arrange a breakfast date at one of their favorite restaurants or you can bring in their favorite breakfast and dine inside together.
Express your love and gratitude towards your spouse, maybe more so now than before. A symptom of depression is low self-worth, so you want to feed them with positive reinforcement.
How to Deal with Guilt
It can be hard to watch your spouse go through this difficult time. You can also feel guilt for enjoying anything knowing that your partner is suffering. This feeling is common and natural. Remember that you are two people and have individual needs. Remember you have to take care of yourself so you can take care of and support your spouse in the right way. Just because your spouse is suffering doesn’t mean you have to suffer too. By taking care of yourself too you can support your spouse and strengthen the relationship while working towards their healing.
What’s Beyond Your Control?
You can have a healthy relationship while your partner is suffering from depression. Depression is treatable and many couples weather this storm and come out on the brighter side. Keep in mind that recovery is progress and it is not up to you. Supporting them through the process will help them make better decisions caring for themselves.
If you have any expectations of the recovery process and how it will progress, leave those behind. You can’t make them happy and you can’t make them better. When you let go of your expectations of how therapy will progress, you can be a better help for them in navigating their depression.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How do I deal with my partner’s depression?
A: Encourage your partner to get professional help, and always show positivity, reminding them that depression is treatable. Practice self-care to maintain your well-being and health. Remember not to take their actions personally, and educate yourself on ways to support your partner.
Q: Should I schedule an intervention with friends and family to approach my depressed spouse?
A: Be careful here, as you don’t want to come off as accusatory. Approach your spouse alone, indicating to them what you have observed or noticed. You can let them know you notice they seem unhappy or if they are exhibiting behaviors that are hurtful to you, you can indicate that as well. This way, you both can start a conversation about what is going on with your spouse, and you never know, they admit they know something is wrong.
Q: Should I stay in a relationship with my depressed spouse?
A: Your relationship can survive depression, but you must protect your own mental health when living and dealing with a depressed spouse. If you need therapy for yourself, you should try to get that and give yourself all the support you need, whether mentally, emotionally, or physically.
What is the Divorce Rate Related to Depression of a Spouse?
Research shows that mental disorders such as depression are linked to an increase in one’s chances of getting divorced. They estimate a 20% increase for minor phobia and an 80% increase for major depression. It is very clear that depression and other mental health issues can be very stressful and can really deteriorate a relationship. But when you know how to deal with a spouse with depression you can successfully keep your relationship.