Depression can impact a union in more ways than one. To make it more manageable, we asked the experts for tips on how to cope.
Loving someone who lives with depression can present unique challenges, from communication snafus to rethinking how you’ll divide up the chores.
You may wonder if it’s your fault or what you can do to make a difference. You may even find yourself feeling more down than usual these days, perhaps showing your own signs of depression.
While it can feel incredibly isolating to go through this, know that you’re not alone. Many spouses have their own side of the story, just like you do. There are several ways you can help.
For some, depression can become a third party in the relationship, says Kiara Luna, a licensed mental health counselor in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
“Depression in marriages may lead to less connection,” Luna says. “This is due to low interest in rituals of connections, which ultimately impacts the couple’s sex life, as intimacy in every way tends to decrease.”
On top of that, you may notice new triggers. Things that weren’t a big deal before might suddenly cause your partner to become upset, which can be very confusing.
“You might take this very personally and distance yourself from your partner, which in turn might increase their symptoms, as they then begin to feel guilty for feeling the way they feel,” she adds.
At a glance, some other challenges may include:
- appearing “checked out” of the relationship
- change in sleep habits
- difficulty providing emotional support
- disinterest in doing things together
- incomplete household responsibilities
- increased arguments
- loss of libido
- substance use
- trouble with communication
When someone close to you lives with depression, it can increase your risk of having your own mental health challenges.
You may find yourself walking on eggshells, so you don’t set off an argument between you two, or even signs of codependency.
You may even begin to start feeling depressed yourself. There’s some
Depression isn’t necessarily a sign of an unhappy marriage, says Kayti McDaniel, a licensed clinical social worker in Salinas, California.
“Mental health challenges can exist even in the most loving, supportive, and connected relationships,” she says. “In those cases, a strong relationship can be a significant protective factor for the struggling partner.”
In fact, depression may have been present before the two of you even said “I do,” but it’s possible the symptoms weren’t as pronounced, as symptoms can ebb and flow with time.
In some cases, an unhappy marriage may lead to situational depression, but not always. The best way to know for sure is to work with a mental health professional to determine the root cause.
With a few therapist-approved strategies, it’s possible to navigate depression in someone you love.
Consider approaching the situation the way you might if your spouse were to have a physical illness, says Sarah Kaufman, a licensed social worker in New York City.
“You would likely not judge or criticize, question the legitimacy of the issue, or blame yourself,” she says. “You’d approach yourself and your partner with compassion, love, and care.”
“You’d work as a team to understand the best treatment path forward, and you would work with your partner to make that happen,” she adds. “With depression or other mental health issues, it is no different.”
Watching someone live with depression can bring up all kinds of feelings, from stress to frustration, and your partner may pick up on this.
“It’s important that your partner knows you’re in this together and how committed you are to the relationship and making it work with them,” says Luna.
“Depression can be scary and lonely for many,” she adds. “So, ensuring that your partner feels supported by you and knows you are willing to learn how to navigate this together can go a long way in making things better.”
You can try saying something like:
- “I’m here for you.”
- “We’re in this together.”
- “I’m not going anywhere.”
- “We’re going to get through this.”
Ask your partner what they need
Don’t be afraid to ask your partner what they need, says McDaniel. “Sometimes, in an attempt to regulate our own discomfort, we can rush to ‘fix’ what we perceive to be the problem,” she explains.
You may catch yourself saying something like:
- “Just go outside.”
- “Just make the bed.”
- “Just take a shower.”
- “Just tell your boss you quit.”
“This can be seen as minimizing their experience,” she adds. “Instead, consider asking your partner to name the specific support they would like from you.”
They may ask you to curl up with them and watch something comforting, go for a short walk, or just “be” together in the same room without speaking. Try to be open-minded about it.
Depression treatment can be complex, so it’s best approached with the help of a mental health professional through individual counseling, family therapy, support groups, or all of the above.
Couples or family therapy can offer a supportive, nonjudgmental environment to explore the range of emotions that can come up when managing depression together, says Kaufman.
“Couples sometimes tell me that they’re more forthcoming with their thoughts and feelings in therapy than they are in everyday life,” she says.
“It provides the opportunity to safely explore those thoughts and feelings with curiosity and without judgment. It’s also a space to develop skills around communication, empathy, and listening.”
You may find it helpful to use our search tools to locate a therapist near you.
Support their medication regimen
When a doctor or psychiatrist prescribes antidepressants, it may take up to 12 weeks for changes in the brain to take place, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
If your spouse feels reluctant to keep taking medications because they don’t feel any changes, try to encourage them to speak with a doctor first. Let them know that sometimes it takes time to feel better, and they may need to try a few different medications to find the best fit for them.
Don’t forget to fill up your cup, too. Be sure to try to take time for things you enjoy, like spending time with loved ones or partaking in your favorite hobbies.
Sometimes, you may feel like you’re at the end of your rope. This is understandable. Try to forgive yourself. Depression can be difficult to navigate for all parties involved.
Remember, you don’t have to do this alone.
Consider working with a mental health professional so you have a neutral, judgment-free zone to express your true feelings. While they can’t make a decision for you, they can help you discern whether or not this relationship seems feasible for you.
You may also find it helpful to attend a free family support group through NAMI. It may help you to know that others are going through something similar to you.
When you’re married to someone living with depression, it’s natural to feel a range of emotions, from grief to anger to helplessness.
Beyond being compassionate and expressing your reassurance, the best thing you can do is to bring in experts to help, like a family therapist or support group, if your spouse is open to it.
Don’t forget to look after yourself, too. Consider finding an individual therapist who can support you on your journey. With everything going on, you deserve a welcoming space to process your own experience.
Overall, try to think of this as an endurance run, not a sprint, and take it one day at a time. Try your best to be patient and remain hopeful. You both can do this.