Dealing with a depressed spouse is not easy. The burden that is carried by one partner often migrates to the other, and at some point both partners may feel depressed and hopeless. It's important to understand that you are not a victim of your partner's mind.
Emotions come and go, and so do depressive states. It’s 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 discover 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 having control over how to handle them. And it gives you a sense of relief to know when it will get better.
It’s important to accept the withdrawn states of the partner who is depressed.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 gets 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 action such as 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 or Qi Gong, 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 to a comedy club will lift your partner’s mood. Laughter is the best remedy for depression.
Make plans with trusted friends and family. If your spouse isn’t up for it, remember that it’s not your responsibility to make excuses for your partner. Opening up about what’s 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’s hard to know in such circumstances what the actual reason for the downward spiral was, and marital discontent takes a front seat. In this case, it’s important that both partners take responsibility and make an effort to counteract the dynamic. Getting professional help is the best way to help the relationship.
Gerti Schoen is a writer and psychotherapist. In her spare time she enjoys learning, being in nature and around animals.