Marriages are built on love and respect, but what happens when depression casts a shadow over your relationship? It may be hard for a depressed partner to show affection. He or she may also withdraw and seem uninterested in your life together. This can leave both partners feeling isolated and helpless.
Start by seeking treatment
Thankfully, depression can be treated with therapy, medication or a combination of both. That's why one of the best things you can do for a depressed spouse or partner is to encourage him or her to get treatment.
If your partner is reluctant to get help, you could offer to attend therapy sessions, too. Going as a couple may be less intimidating. If he or she resists seeing a mental health professional, suggest a visit with your family doctor. A doctor can diagnose depression, prescribe antidepressants and look for medical problems that could be causing depression.
Other ways you can help
- Take depression seriously. Don't dismiss your partner's feelings by telling him or her to just "get over it." You want to convey understanding and patience, not exasperation and annoyance.
- Express concern gently. Bring up your thoughts in a calm, non-confrontational way. If you don't, your spouse may become defensive and even more withdrawn.
- Suggest different options. If your partner isn't yet ready to seek treatment, help him or her find other ways to learn more about depression. Share helpful websites, books or magazine articles. Keep your partner as engaged as possible in activities he or she enjoys. Offer to go for walks together, for both the exercise and feeling of closeness.
- Keep a thick skin. Depression can make a person angry and resentful, even when you try to help. If your partner says hurtful things to you, or blames you for his or her depression, try not to take every insensitive comment to heart. A defensive response from you may cause more aggravation to you both.
- Know when to get help. If your spouse talks about suicide, call a mental health professional or suicide crisis hotline right away. Never ignore a threat about self-harm.
- Take care of yourself. Your loved one's needs may feel all-consuming at times. Don't feel guilty about doing enjoyable things on your own if your partner isn't able to share the experience. Seek individual therapy if you need to.
What if it's me?
If you suffer from depression and worry about how it's affecting your relationship, try to talk openly with your partner about it. Keeping your feelings bottled up makes it harder for family and friends to reach out to you. Good communication makes your loved ones feel valued and may also help you feel better.
Depression may also lower your desire for intimacy with a partner. After all, if you're very sad or hopeless, you may not feel like being close to anyone. Let your partner know that you are still attracted to him or her, even if you don't act on those feelings.
Most important, seek treatment and stay committed to getting well if you're depressed. Learning how to cope can bring renewed interest and energy to your relationship. If one method of treatment isn't working for you, talk to your partner and counselor about options.
Neither you nor your spouse should worry about being a burden when turning to the other for emotional support. That is a normal part of any relationship.
Created on 09/11/2007
Updated on 04/14/2010
- Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. Helping someone with a mood disorder.
- HelpGuide.org. Helping a depressed person.
- Mental Health America. Factsheet: what to do when depression enters a relationship.
- American Psychological Association. Depression: how psychotherapy helps people recover from depression.