How to Deal with a Depressed Spouse

If you think your partner may be depressed, your first step is to pay attention to the clues to get the right diagnosis and treatment. Here's what to look for and how to take action.

By Sarì Harrar and Rita DeMaria | Ph.D. from The 7 Stages of Marriage

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Find support. Admitting there’s depression in your marriage can be tough. So can accepting help. Choose a trusted friend to confide in—preferably someone who’s experienced depression in their own life or within their family. And if you’re overwhelmed by extra household duties because your spouse can’t do his or her share, say yes when others offer assistance. “At one point, I was crying at church, when my friend shook me and said, ‘Emily, people here at church are lined up waiting to help you.’ I kept saying we didn’t need help until she shook me into reality. We had people bringing us dinner several nights a week. One neighbor took our sons to spend the night, and it was so nice to know they were having fun. Depression can suck the energy right out of a household.”

Monitor your own moods and thinking. Enduring barrages of negative comments, holding the household and family together, and losing the sweetest, most supportive aspects of your marriage isn’t easy. Over months and years, the nondepressed spouse may give in to confusion, self-blame, demoralization, and resentment, notes Anne Sheffield, author of Depression Fallout: The Impact of Depression on Couples and What You Can Do to Preserve the Bond. You may conclude that you must leave to save yourself. If this sounds familiar, get help for yourself—and insist that your mate do the same. “Depression separates couples with surgical skill and is a major home-breaker,” Sheffield notes in her book.

Conquer depression before you try to work on your marriage. Depression can wreak major havoc in your marriage. You may be tempted to fix what seem like smaller issues before tackling the illness head-on (it may be easier to ask your partner to communicate more effectively than it is to say “It’s time to get help,” for example). It’s reasonable to ask your spouse to help all he or she can around the house, to be responsible and treat you well. But looking for major changes while your spouse is under the influence of depression may simply create more frustration. Focus on lifting depression first.

Respect your own needs. If your spouse has depression, you still deserve everyday niceties—a neat house, regular meals, a calm family environment—as well as friendships, a social life, and time to pursue meaningful interests. As much as possible, pursue these things. It’s easy to spend your time dealing with your spouse’s needs and issues. But don’t sacrifice your own joys and goals needlessly. As we noted, you are susceptible to depression too. Pursuing your personal pleasures will not only help prevent that but also better prepare you for aiding your spouse.

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