Marriage ups and downs are natural. But if you’re feeling despair most of the time, it could be depression related to your relationship.
Lately, you may feel differently about your marriage. It might not be like it used to be. Perhaps you know that something feels “off,” and you suspect that your spouse can feel it, too.
One of you, or both, may seem down more days than not, and it’s likely impacting multiple areas of your connection, from communication to sex.
You may wonder: Is depression the cause of these low feelings, or is my marriage making me unhappy?
The first thing to know is that if you’re living with depression, it’s more than just a rough patch or “the blues.”
There are several types of depression but, in general, the mental health condition involves brain changes that cause a low mood and other symptoms that continue for more than 2 weeks.
Some of the most common symptoms of depression include:
- feeling anxious
- having difficulty concentrating
- feeling sad or hopeless
- feeling irritability
- no longer enjoying activities like you used to
- sleeping too little or too much
- having a scarce appetite or heavy appetite
- experiencing suicidal thoughts
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, you’re not alone. Help is available right now:
- Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24 hours a day at 800-273-8255.
- Text “HOME” to the Crisis Textline at 741741.
- Not in the U.S.? Find a helpline in your country with Befrienders Worldwide.
What depression may look like in marriage
If you’re thinking, “My marriage is making me depressed,” you’re not alone.
When your marriage fills you with despair, a mental health professional might diagnose you with situational depression — that is, it’s directly related to your present circumstances, rather than being pervasive in every area of your life.
“We cannot say what does or does not cause depression, however being in an unhappy relationship can definitely lead to depressive symptoms,” says Amber Robinson, a licensed psychotherapist in Los Angeles, California.
She suggests some introspection. “Ask yourself, if you woke up tomorrow and magically felt better, what would have changed? If the answer has to do exclusively with your relationship, it is likely that is what is making you unhappy.”
Depression because of marriage will look different for everyone. Many of the symptoms overlap with the more classic forms of depression.
Some common signs include:
- anxious distress
- avoiding important conversations
- changes in sleep habits
- frequent changes in mood
- numbness toward your spouse
- isolating from your spouse
- lack of interest in couples activities
- reduced interest in intimacy and sex
- spending more time out of the house
- substance use
If a mental health professional rules out a diagnosis of clinical depression, or you notice that symptoms aren’t present most of the day, every day for at least 2 weeks, it’s natural to wonder why you’re so sad in your marriage.
Codependency describes a pattern of putting someone else’s needs before your own, even at the expense of your happiness.
As you can imagine, this can be extremely draining on your mental, physical, and emotional faculties, which could mimic depression symptoms.
Jennifer Weaver-Breitenbecher, a psychotherapist in Riverside, Rhode Island, adds that codependency also tows a heavier emotional load on one or both partners in a relationship.
“This isn’t sustainable and doesn’t allow both people to feel as though their needs are being met,” she says.
Depressive symptoms can surface when one partner feels like they can’t function or be happy without the other.
Enmeshment occurs with a lack of boundaries, making it difficult for you to see where you end and another person begins. Whether the couple knows it or not, this can be taxing.
“If one person is unhappy with the arrangement, then it is really a one-sided dependent relationship, which can suffocate the other partner,” says Dr. Nancy Irwin, a psychologist in Los Angeles, California.
Every couple has relationship problems. But if fights are a hallmark of your relationship, it’s easy to lose hope.
Over time, frequent conflict can cause a breakdown in trust, communication, and emotional safety, all of which can fuel depression symptoms.
“If you are constantly fighting with your partner and your home is not a safe space, your brain feels as though it is in danger and constantly pumps cortisol (the stress hormone) throughout your body,” says Robinson.
Dysfunction exists on a spectrum. It can cover a broad swath of behaviors, including the behavioral concept dubbed the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” which are highly researched predictors of divorce according to renowned marriage researcher Dr. John Gottman.
Some dysfunctional behaviors include:
All of these can leave you feeling like you’re in a loveless marriage, which may fill you with helplessness.
Hormonal changes in you or your spouse
As we age, it’s normal for hormonal changes to impact our libido and sexual performance, such as during menopause or after childbirth.
For the record, it’s not only the birthing spouse who can be vulnerable to postpartum depression.
None of these scenarios mean that something is wrong with you as a couple. Rather it comes down to your biology — and there may be treatment plans available.
If you suspect that hormone shifts are behind your changes in the bedroom (which can lead to feeling low), you can work with a healthcare professional to explore your options, such as hormone treatments or therapy for postpartum or postnatal depression.
As they say: Life happens. And when it does, it can seriously strain even the most solid of unions.
“Mental illness, disease, special needs, addictions, financial issues, death of a child, and other stressors can cause depression in a marriage that is otherwise stable,” says Irwin.
Depression symptoms could signal that you’re in a toxic or abusive relationship.
Abuse comes in many forms. What all of them have in common is that there’s a breakdown in trust, communication, and emotional safety.
Some examples of abuse include:
- coercive control
- emotional abuse
- financial abuse
- physical violence
- sexual assault
- verbal abuse
If you feel unsafe, seek support
If you feel unsafe or that you’re in an abusive situation, you’re not alone, and support is available. For immediate help, you can contact the:
“Don’t wait until one of you is considering divorce,” says Weaver-Breitenbecher. “If you notice that your conflict is rising or typical communication is changing, seek out an expert.”
If you’re both willing to do “the work,” there is hope. You may find it helpful to use our search tools to find a therapist.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of depression — clinical, situational, or otherwise — know that there’s healing and support available.
You may both find it helpful to seek the support of a couples therapist in order to get to the root cause of your symptoms and understand your relationship dynamic.
The experts recommend books that may help along the way:
- Robinson’s pick for learning what love is and isn’t: “The Mastery of Love” by Don Miguel Ruiz
- Robinson’s pick for learning your attachment styles: “Attached” by Amir Levine
- Weaver-Breitenbecher’s pick for unlearning codependcy: “Codependent No More” by Melody Beattie