“To have and to hold, in sickness and in health”. These are words that you vowed to each other on your wedding day, as you gazed lovingly into each other’s eyes. But as young lovers, did you really consider what challenges lay ahead? Depression is a mental illness that affects about 15 million adults per year in the United States. Depression can look very different depending on the individual and includes symptoms such as sadness, hopelessness and lack of energy and interest. These symptoms have a significant impact on the life of the sufferer as well as her family.
How does depression affect a marriage?
Depression can cause your partner to isolate and avoid emotional and/or physical intimacy. This can lead to difficulty communicating, resolving differences and generally drifting apart. You may feel frustrated after numerous unsuccessful attempts at gaining closeness with your spouse.
Depression can cause irritability and pessimism. These are two symptoms that can make living together a challenge and may lead you to feel that your partner is bringing you down. It is understandably disheartening to live with someone who always sees the glass as half empty, especially when you are looking for emotional support.
When you are married to someone who is depressed, you might notice that she is no longer interested in the activities that she used to enjoy. If you and your partner used to love to go dancing or hiking, it is normal for you to feel a sense of loss. Those activities often bond a couple together. You may feel sad that you are no longer able to enjoy having fun as a couple.
Parenting is often affected by depression. All the symptoms listed above make parenting hard. Having fun, spending time together and reacting with patience are all qualities necessary to building healthy relationships with children. When your partner is battling depression, your children might struggle with the changes in their parent’s behavior.
What can we do about it?
1. Seek treatment
The first thing you should do is speak with your spouse openly about how her symptoms are affecting the entire family in a kind and compassionate way. Remember, depression is not a choice, it is a mental illness and it requires treatment. Help your spouse find a therapist who specializes in treating depression to get on the road to recovery.
2. Educate yourself
It is important to understand what depression is and how it is making your spouse feel. Learn about the factors that contribute to depression and common strategies that can be used to combat the symptoms. Let your spouse know that you are an ally and a teammate willing to help. Your children will also benefit from some age appropriate education about why their parent’s behavior has changed. Children are very aware of changes in parental behavior and will feel more empowered if they know what your spouse is doing to feel better.
3. Know your limits
Although it is important to support your spouse, it isn’t helpful to anyone to go down with the ship. When your spouse’s symptoms are overwhelming to you, it’s ok to take a break and take care of yourself. In fact, it’s a good idea for you and your spouse to talk about what your limits are and develop a plan in case you need a self- care break.
4. Remember it’s not about you
It can be so hard not to personalize your spouse’s depression. Feelings of anger, rejection and resentment are all normal when you are married to someone with depression. Remind yourself that your spouse is suffering with inner demons that don’t have anything to do with you. It’s also important to remember that you can’t fix anyone else besides yourself. It may be helpful for you to seek out your own counseling to learn how you can maintain your happiness while your spouse is working on hers.