Gerald has been going through a hard time ever since he lost both his parents to a car accident. Two months after the awful tragedy, he lost his job due to a scandal in the company he was employed. It is a month now and his wife and family have noticed that he barely touches his food, talks, or leave the house. Basic routines like showering have become more of a task to him. He just wants to sit and sulk all day.
This has taken a toll on his wife too, who now does not feel comfortable leaving his side. She is worried about her husband’s health. Like any other person living with a depressed person, she does not know when this will come to an end.
Dealing with a depressed spouse is not an easy thing to do. The burden that is carried by one partner often migrates over to the other, and in the end both people may feel depressed and hopeless.
If you work together, you both will feel less isolated and hopefully more optimistic about a positive outcome. Still, there are issues you will need to address. It is good to remind yourself that you do not have to be a victim of your spouse’s mind. Emotions come and go, and so do depressive states. It is rare that even a person diagnosed with a depressive disorder is down every single hour of the day. Learn to acknowledge that there are nuances and how to make the best of it. Examine what times of the day or the week or the year the depression seems to get better or worse. Knowing the triggers gives you both a feeling of control how to handle them. And it gives you a sense of relief to know when it will get better.
It is also important to accept the withdrawn states of the partner who is depressed. Withdrawal serves as a protective mechanism to regulate potentially overwhelming feelings. Knowing why your spouse retreats and that it usually doesn’t have anything to do with you will make it easier to come to terms with these phases.
It is usually not your fault or your responsibility when your partner get depressive. Although support and understanding are vital in this situation, you can’t “fix” what’s happening. What you can actively do to try and make your partner feel better is suggest (not urge) activities that get them out of their head. A simple thing like going for a walk connects you both with nature and calms an anxious or sad mind. Physical activity of any kind, but most effectively yoga has a positive effect on the body and therefore on the mind. When the body relaxes, the mind relaxes. Even exchanging a video or going out will lift the mood. Laughter is the best remedy against depression.
You should also try and make plans with trusted friends and family. If your spouse is not up for it, remember that it is not your responsibility to make excuses for them. Opening up about what is going on can lead to a stronger support system for both of you. Be honest with your children about it. Tell them that sad periods are a part of life and that the family will be able to move past it.
The partner who is not depressed must take measures for self-care. Having a good support system and knowing how to make your own needs a priority is vital to your own well-being, separate from your spouse. Sometimes both partners are depressed. Especially in long term relationships, where depression has been an underlying and unaddressed condition, the dynamic turns into an endless back and forth, where both retreat from the negative feelings without talking about them, and get more and more hopeless in the process.
It is hard to know then, what was the actual reason for the downward spiral, and marital discontent takes a front seat. In this case, it is important that both partners take responsibility and try to make an effort to counteract the dynamic. Getting professional help is the best way to help the relationship.
How to cope with it
- Educate yourself about depression, its causes, the different types, the symptoms, and of course its treatment. If this is the first time that either of you have had to deal with depression up close, this is really important. And it is up to you, as the person who still has got it together, to do the research.
- Keep in mind that depression is “contagious.” That may sound silly, but it is very common for family members of someone with depression to develop it themselves. Keep an eye out for any signs of depression in you or other family members, and hotfoot it to a doctor if it becomes apparent that treatment is called for.
- Find a therapist for you. Your partner should definitely be in therapy, and you might want to go to couples counseling jointly, but you need someone objective who is also on your side. The therapist can help you develop coping strategies, and also help you determine the answer to the question in the next tip.