Living with a depressed spouse can be extremely stressful for the partner and other family members. Communication is impacted, the couple’s social life suffers, and feelings of satisfaction with the marriage decrease.
Here are fifteen ways to cope and keep your sanity and bearings when your spouse is depressed:
1. Know what you’re dealing with. Don’t just guess and speculate that your spouse may be depressed. Encourage him or her to have a comprehensive assessment to determine if depression is actually present, what the severity is, and the recommended treatment plan.
If medication is prescribed, know that your spouse will increase his (or her) chances for successful treatment if he also participates in weekly counseling sessions.
2. Educate yourself about depression. Schedule a time to meet with your spouse’s doctor or therapist to learn more about depression and how you can best be supportive of your mate. Read books, magazine articles, and information available on the Internet about depression.
3. Expand and strengthen your individual network of support from family and friends. You’re going to need on-going support and encouragement, so resist the urge to try to carry the burden of your mate’s depression silently on your shoulders by yourself.
Let your family and friends know how they can help you and let them know what challenges you are facing. The worst thing you can do is to isolate yourself from others.
4. Research support groups that are available in your community and on-line. Some communities will offer in-person support groups for depressed individuals as well as for their spouses and friends. If no such groups exist where you live, check out the on-line support groups that are available for you and your depressed partner.
One group, The Depression and Bi-Polar Support Alliance (DBSA), sponsors numerous in-person meetings and also provides an on-line support group for people with depression or bipolar disorder, as well as separate groups for friends and family members. You can check out their offerings at:
You can also find information and resources at Emotions Anonymous:
Your spouse can find on-line support through Depressed Anonymous:
5. Educate your children about depression so that they can better understand your spouse’s behavior. Ask a librarian at your community library or your children’s school for help in selecting appropriate books on depression and chronic parent illness.
If you’re not sure what to tell them, consult with your children’s physician and enlist his or her help or arrange for your children to talk to a counselor who can help them process their feelings.
6. Take the team approach toward managing your mate’s depression and say, “We’re in this together—we’re a team!”
You want your spouse to feel the energy and power of team support. Think in terms of “We’ll figure out what to do” instead of “You need to figure out what to do.”
7. Learn to de-personalize your spouse’s behavior. Remind yourself that your mate is ill—and that’s different from being stubborn for the sake of being stubborn or deliberately trying to make your life difficult.
Try to remember that your mate’s perception, attitude, actions, patience, and stamina are being impacted in major ways by the depression. When people are depressed, they often blame everyone else for their problems and see only the negatives in daily life. This is about the depression—not about you.
8. Work on developing more patience. Depression is trying for everyone closely associated with the depressed individual and can cause even normally sedate partners to become frustrated, agitated, and angry.
It takes time for the treatment to be effective and for significant changes to be maintained. You can protest all you want, but you’ll just make yourself more miserable until you accept that Life is presenting you with an opportunity to develop patience. The sooner you master this lesson, the less you’ll suffer.
9. Encourage your spouse to get some exercise each day. You might take a walk together or go to the gym together. You could exercise to a video at home or put on some music and dance. Anything that gets your mate moving and encourages him (or her) to stay physically active will be helpful.
10. Don’t try to talk your spouse out of his (or her) feelings. Trying to argue with him or convince him that he’s wrong for feeling that way won’t work. You’ll just make him more resistant.
When people are depressed, they often say irrational things, such as “I can’t ever do anything right” or “No one cares about me.” Acknowledge your mate’s feelings and say something like, “I’m sorry you’re feeling so bad. What might we do to help you feel better right now?”
11. Take good care of yourself in every way—physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually. You can’t afford to lose yourself and become consumed by your mate’s depression.
It’s very challenging to be around negative, pessimistic, depressive energy without starting to feel the same way. The only antidote is to stay balanced and centered by practicing good self-care behavior and doing things to nurture yourself.
Eat right, exercise, get enough sleep, stay in close contact with your friends, participate in activities that bring you pleasure, and keep your spiritual connection strong. Take time for yourself so that you can read, listen to music, meditate, and pray.
12. Laugh every day. Watch funny movies, share funny jokes, and look for the humor in the various situations in your life. Laughter can help you to feel better and keep the negative effects of depression at bay.
Enlist the help of your friends to provide you with funny stories and jokes that come their way through email or office talk. Try to find things to share things about your day that will make your spouse laugh. But even if he (or she) doesn’t laugh, you’ll feel better!
13. Read inspirational books or listen to inspirational audios or music that energizes and inspires you. Surround yourself with resources—books, CD’s, pictures—that make you feel better and “feed yourself” with inspiration and positive thinking and positive feelings every day.
14. Resist the urge to try to “fix” your spouse’s depression. You’ll only frustrate yourself and your mate. There’s no one thing you can do to take the depression away by yourself and to make everything better.
The fact that your spouse is depressed doesn’t mean that you have failed in any way as a partner. You’re not responsible for the depression and you can’t fix it. You can, however, be supportive and encouraging and follow the recommendations your mate’s doctor and/or therapist may make.
15. Get professional help for yourself if your feelings become overwhelming. It’s normal to feel resentful and angry that your personal life and family life are being so radically impacted by your mate’s depression.
You may feel that the person you once knew is now gone and that you don’t know who this depressed person is anymore. You may feel discouraged and despondent if time goes by and things aren’t significantly better.
Caregiving and being the main one to keep everything going can be exhausting and overwhelming. Don’t wait until you feel that you can’t continue any longer. Make an appointment for individual counseling before you “hit the wall.”
In most cases, depression can be effectively treated—80% of depressed patients improve with treatment. But the process of recovery can be lengthy, so it’s important to take steps to ensure that you’ll stay emotionally healthy while your spouse is recovering.
Nancy J. Wasson, Ph.D., is co-creator of Overcome Control Conflict with Your Spouse or Partner, available at http://www.ControllingSpouse.com She is also co-author of Keep Your Marriage: What to Do When Your Spouse Says "I don't love you anymore!" which is available at http://www.KeepYourMarriage.com, as well as a free weekly Keep Your Marriage Internet Magazine. Dr. Wasson offers telephone and email coaching to individuals and couples who want to overcome relationship problems and create a rewarding, loving partnership.
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