It’s natural to feel concerned and want to help your spouse if they live with a mental health condition. But self-care is also key — for both of you.
When someone you love is going through difficulties, you may focus on supporting them and carrying the weight of many aspects of your life together.
But attending to your own needs is also crucial. It’s difficult to support someone else if you’re too exhausted or feeling low yourself.
Not taking care of yourself could result in long-term challenges, including symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Using some self-care strategies and developing coping skills can help you both navigate these waters.
“Living with a partner who has depression is tough,” says Dr. Nicole Beurkens, a psychologist based in Caledonia, Michigan. It can be challenging to separate what’s going on with your partner and how it impacts you individually and as a couple.
You might also have a hard time seeing yourself and your life in a positive light if your spouse is feeling low and pessimistic. This, of course, isn’t necessarily their personal choice. Instead, it can be a result of the symptoms of depression.
Self-care may prevent you from also developing symptoms of depression, says Beurkens.
She explains that when one person in the family unit lives with untreated chronic depression, other family members may be more likely to also face mental health challenges.
Taking care of yourself when your spouse is living with depression can help.
Self-care strategies and coping skills are key when supporting a spouse who lives with depression.
Consider these tips:
Strengthen your support network
If your spouse has depression, they may not be able to support you in the same capacity as they used to. They may want to, but some of the symptoms they live with may make it challenging for them at the moment.
You may find it helpful to find people outside of your relationship, such as close friends and family, who can be there for you if you’re facing challenges of your own.
Create new enjoyment spaces
Beurkens suggests looking for enjoyment outside of your relationship.
Enjoyment with other people or in other places may make you feel guilty at first if you’re not used to it. However, being able to connect with joy can help you improve your mood, which in turn can help your spouse.
Creating new spaces to share with your spouse may help, too. Living with depression doesn’t mean they can’t experience joy and happiness, even though it may be challenging at times.
If they’re up for it, consider inviting them to do something out of the ordinary, or reconnect with some of the activities they used to enjoy.
Not having expectations regarding the outcome of these moments may be helpful. It’s natural if they have a difficult time and can’t seem to have a good time. If this is the case, try to continue finding alternative spaces for you to enjoy solo or with other people.
Cultivate healthy habits
Taking care of your mental health is essential, but your physical health matters, too, explains Beurkens.
Caring for your physical health may involve:
- not skipping meals
- eating a nutrient-dense diet
- getting between 7 and 9 hours of sleep every day
- keeping physically active every day
- limiting alcohol and drug use
Mindfulness exercises may help you ground yourself, particularly if you’re overwhelmed in a situation. Mindfulness is also an effective tool to manage anxiety and increase your sense of well-being.
There are many ways to practice mindfulness, from doing 1-minute exercises to including these in your daily routine:
Join a support group
You may find it helpful to talk to others who are going through the same experience as you.
A local support group may help you feel supported and discover ways to better help your spouse living with depression.
Self-care can be as simple as going outside for a breath of fresh air when things become tense with your spouse.
Or, maybe it’s making sure to set aside time for a relaxing bath at the end of the day.
It may be helpful to schedule pauses throughout the day. It doesn’t have to be more than 5 minutes you take for yourself.
People with depression may find it difficult to get through everyday tasks. Even just getting out of bed can feel like an extraordinary deed sometimes.
This may lead you to assume additional responsibilities at home or have a hard time finding the motivation for yourself to do some things.
It can be helpful to set small goals that prioritize self-care, such as “I will make sure to get to bed by 10 p.m. tonight,” or, “I will make time for my favorite hobby after work.”
Having a spouse with depression may translate into unique challenges for your relationship.
If your spouse is irritable or experiencing bouts of anger, you may find it hard to respond or be supportive in the moment.
Maybe they aren’t as responsive as they used to be, or they may say things about you or themselves that hurt you.
This could be especially true in situations where your spouse is in denial about their symptoms, says Beurkens. “It can also lead to a lot of communication issues, a lot of frustration, resentment, arguing,” she adds.
In some scenarios, you may even feel like your spouse doesn’t love or care for you. Keeping in mind depression is a mental health condition, could help you in these occasions.
But, how can you deal with ongoing friction?
Beurkens suggests the following:
Try to understand that the way your partner is acting isn’t intentional or personal. Their behavior isn’t about you at all.
It may be helpful to repeatedly tell yourself something along the lines of, “My spouse is having a tough time. They’re a good person, and they’re not intentionally trying to hurt me.”
It can be hard to discuss the elephant in the room if your spouse with depression is in denial. But openly talking about what’s going on may be helpful.
You may want to point out what’s worrying you about how they’re acting. For example, “I noticed you seem really tired, and you’re not sleeping well lately.”
Beurkens says that avoiding the blame game is critical. Try not to point the finger and shame your spouse. Consider expressing you’re concerned about them instead of making them feel you’re upset because they’re not well.
Consider gently broaching the subject of getting your spouse some professional help. With untreated depression, symptoms can worsen over time.
Getting your partner the help they need isn’t just helping them. It’s helping you, too.
You may also consider couple’s therapy.
You can’t make the decision for them, but if they’re up for it you could help by making an appointment to see a therapist or finding a support group.
It may also be a good idea to find a therapist for yourself if you’re having a hard time handling the situation or need a safe space to vent and plant ahead.
These resources can help:
- American Psychiatric Association’s Find a Psychiatrist tool
- American Psychological Association’s Find a Psychologist tool
- Asian Mental Health Collective’s therapist directory
- Association of Black Psychologists’ Find a Psychologist tool
- National Alliance on Mental Illness Helplines and Support Tools
National Institute of Mental Health’s Helpline DirectoryTrusted Source
- National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network
- Inclusive Therapists
“Oftentimes, people who are depressed know what they should do, but they struggle to initiate those things,” says Beurkens.
Your spouse may find it helpful for you to step in and suggest things they could do.
For example, suggesting, “Let’s have breakfast together” may help your partner get out of bed in the morning when they’re finding it difficult to do so.
Expressing gratitude and love during difficult days may also help them even if you don’t see a change in their mood right away. Low self-worth is a common depression symptom, and positive reinforcement can help them manage it.
Seeing your spouse having a hard time may make you feel guilty for having feelings of joy or happiness. This is natural and not uncommon.
“I think it goes back to realizing that […] you are two individual people, and you don’t have any control over how they’re feeling or what’s going on for them,” says Beurkens.
Just because they’re going through a difficult period, she adds, it doesn’t mean you need to be low in solidarity.
It’s OK if you’re having a good day or having positive experiences. This will help you support your spouse and strengthen the relationship.
It’s possible to have a healthy relationship with someone who has depression. Remember that depression is a treatable condition, says Beurkens. “It is very possible for couples to weather this and to come out on the other side.”
It’s important to keep in mind, though, that their recovery and progress aren’t up to you. You can support them but you may not be able to make decisions for them, such as getting professional help or taking care of themselves.
Letting go of the expectation that you can make them happy again can help you both find practical ways to navigate depression.
If your spouse has depression, it’s important that you support and encourage them. It’s also essential that you take care of yourself.
Depression can be managed, but it’s up to them to get the professional support they need. In the meantime, you can better help them if you care for your own mental health.
By supporting your partner, seeking out professional help, and taking care of your own needs, the two of you can get through this.