Depression can sabotage a marriage as profoundly as it can sabotage an individual. When one’s spouse is depressed, it is can easily lead to the other becoming depressed. With both the husband and wife depressed, it easy to see how one could conclude that the marriage, itself, is the problem. When depression is at the root of a struggling relationship, it is important to treat the depression. And it is important to do it first – before making a drastic decision to separate or end a marriage.
Treating the depression before throwing out the marriage seems simplistic. Rationally, we know there are ways of getting depression out of a relationship other than getting rid of the wife/husband who is depressed. Still relatively few people seek help for their depression, roughly just 30%. This leaves ample room for misdiagnosis of the problem and the downfall of a relationship.
Of those seeking treatment for depression, approximately 80% show improvement with the use of medical and clinical therapy. If one or both within a couple seek treatment, the odds of beating depression and restoring the marriage increase significantly.
While women are more commonly diagnosed with depression, perhaps due to numerous hormonal fluctuations through their lifetime, they also more readily disclose their depression without feeling stigmatized. For a man, the very act of disclosing depression can make him feel vulnerable and depressed. As a result, men are less likely to seek help or admit depression. Perhaps for this reason, men are more likely to act out their depression through irritation or anger. They are also more likely to attempt to self-medicate or mask their depression with drugs or alcohol. A depressed man is also more vulnerable to committing suicide.
When one’s spouse is depressed for an extended period of time, the non-depressed spouse may feel exhausted, cheated, overwhelmed, sad, lonely, and in despair. With the depressed spouse emotionally and/or physically unavailable, the non-depressed partner often becomes responsible for taking care of the depressed spouse as well as the kids, the house, and the job. The weight of responsibilities along with the great cloud of depression can feel unbearable. A non-depressed spouse can ‘want out’ of a marriage just to get away from depression and so that they can better cope with life.
When you have a depressed spouse, it is helpful to approach your everyday routine as though you are in survival mode. Practically speaking, you are. You are going through a crisis in your home which is altering your marriage and family dynamics as well as your workload. Connect with your network of support, scale back your expectations of yourself and your spouse, and focus diligently on self-care until you can get professional help and stabilize.
When you have a depressed spouse, it is important for both parties to get professional support. The depressed spouse will need professional support in order to understand and conquer the illness. The non-depressed spouse will need professional support in order to learn how to be healthy, maintain boundaries, and communicate constructively.