How to Truly Support Your Spouse’s Depression

If you love someone who experiences depression, you may feel confused about how to best support them. You might not really understand the complexity of their condition or what to say or do to help them feel better. At the same time, you might struggle with feeling resentful, scared, or tired when it comes to coping with their mental health. These reactions are normal, and it’s important to also take care of yourself throughout this time. You are not responsible for “fixing” how anyone else feels, but you can take steps to help you and your spouse.

Learn More About Your Spouse’s Depression

Although depression is a common mental illness, the truth is that this condition affects everyone differently. No two presentations of depression are identical. For example, a depressed spouse may present as outwardly excited and agreeable with others but withdrawn or distant at home. In other cases, depression can look like perfectionism, irritability, or complete apathy. Your spouse may have a mix of symptoms that ebb and flow throughout their life.

If you struggle with depression yourself, you may already know some of the main symptoms. However, it’s important to avoid comparing conditions. Your partner’s depression is uniquely their own, it’s important to learn more about their individual experience.

Some thoughtful questions you might want to ask include:

  • What does depression feel like for you?
  • What’s the hardest part about your depression?
  • What are the first signs of depression that you typically notice?
  • What’s most supportive to you when you’re struggling with your mental health?

Stop Trying to Offer Solutions

Although it can be tempting to tell someone with depression what to do to feel better, try to resist this urge. Depression is a complex issue, and it’s not as simple as practicing self-care or thinking positively.

Instead of trying to give solutions, try to focus your effort on giving support. Many times, a depressed partner simply needs to know their loved one is there for them unconditionally. If you want to show your support, you might start by engaging in compassionate conversations with questions like:

  • How can I best support you right now?
  • Is there anything I can do that might help you feel better?
  • I’m sorry that you’re struggling so much. What do you think is the worst part right now?
  • Has it felt this way in the past for you before?

Remember that empathy also goes such a long way. It can be more than enough to simply acknowledge that you love your spouse and you’re sorry that they’re having a hard time. If they are open to talking about solutions, it may be helpful to collaborate to review options that could help improve their mood.

Practice Self-Care

Many loved ones lose sight of their own needs when coping with their partner’s mental health. They make it their job to take care of the other person, which can be frustrating, difficult, and even lonely.

Keep in mind that it’s hard to genuinely help a depressed person when you feel emotionally overwhelmed or fatigued. You need to preserve your own well-being and try to prioritize your wellness.

Self-care comes in many different forms, but it’s ultimately about deliberately choosing conscious acts of kindness. Taking care of yourself starts with implementing meaningful habits like getting enough sleep, practicing more mindfulness, spending time with supportive friends and family members, eating well, exercising regularly, and engaging in joyful activities.

Don’t Take It Personally

It’s normal for spouses to blame themselves or wonder if they did something wrong when their partners experience depression. But you are not responsible for your spouse’s mood or mental health. Severe depression, in particular, has very little to do with the external environment and far more to do with genetic and neurochemical factors. While relationship issues could exacerbate someone else’s depression, it’s important to be mindful of where your responsibility really lies.

That said, it’s also appropriate to set reasonable boundaries. For example, just because your partner is depressed, they don’t have permission to lash out at you with angry outbursts. In addition, you have the right to establish ground rules regarding the division of labor at home.

With this, it’s important to have compassion but also strive to establish healthy routines within your marriage. If you feel like you’re picking up all the slack, you’re more likely to become resentful.

Compassionately Discuss Depression Treatment Options

Although there isn’t a cure for depression, it is treatable, and professional help can make a big difference in how your spouse copes with their symptoms and takes care of themselves.

Remember that it can be scary to seek treatment, and it’s particularly common for depressed men to refuse to get care. Many people have also had adverse experiences with medical professionals, which can complicate the treatment process.

If you’re about to broach this topic, know that it’s helpful to frame your concerns in a neutral, gentle way. Focus on communicating your needs assertively. Let your spouse know that you’re worried about their well-being and want them to get help.

Remind them that you want them to feel supported by you during this time, but that their mental health issues are affecting the quality of your marriage and/or your own well-being. Throughout the conversation (which will likely be more than a one-time discussion), emphasize your desire to have a loving, healthy relationship.

If your spouse is against therapy at this time, ask if they’d be willing to have a conversation with their primary care physician. They may be more receptive to hearing feedback from a healthcare professional.

Try to Gently Offer Hope And Stay Positive Yourself

Depression can feel unpredictable, dark, and hopeless sometimes. As a partner, you can try to “hold” onto hope without denying someone’s reality.

For example, this might sound like, I know it’s really hard right now, and I know we’re going to get through this together. This is a hopeful approach that sounds more compassionate than, There’s nothing to complain about. We have it so good in life right now!

Remember that hope also comes with focusing on small glimmers. Acknowledge the gratitude that you have for your spouse. Try to seek opportunities to make them smile, whether that’s through a silly joke or bringing home their favorite dessert. The goal isn’t to change their feelings- instead, the goal is to remind them that you’re there and that you truly believe things will improve soon.

Pay Attention to Serious Signs

Depression exists on a vast spectrum, and severe depression can be life-threatening. There’s a difference between someone having a tough time and someone experiencing a genuine mental health crisis. Some of the most important signs to pay attention to include:

  • suicidal thoughts or recurrent talk about death or dying
  • your spouse frequently telling you that they feel hopeless that things will ever improve
  • low self-esteem that appears to worsen
  • increased substance use
  • refusal to meet with a mental health professional despite exacerbated symptoms
  • sudden changes in hygiene or grooming

It’s common for people with severe depression to have a co-occurring mental health condition, including anxiety, PTSD, eating disorders, and personality disorders. People with depression may also abuse alcohol or drugs to self-medicate their symptoms.

Respect Their Privacy When Talking to Others

It’s essential to be mindful of your partner’s feelings when talking about their situation. You don’t want to reveal something that they consider private. You also don’t want to divulge information that would make them feel embarrassed.

With that, social support is important. You deserve to have a space where you can process your own feelings about the situation. If you feel uncomfortable talking about your spouse with mutual friends or family, consider joining a support group. You’ll be around like-minded individuals experiencing similar stressors, and the camaraderie can remind you that you’re not alone. You may also learn adaptive coping skills from these group members.

Therapy When Your Spouse Feels Depressed

It can be helpful for people to seek therapy when their husband or wife has depression. It’s no secret that depression affects marriages, and it’s important that you have your own support network to process your feelings and needs.

Even though you may feel lonely right now, you are not alone in your struggles. Having a depressed husband or wife can take a toll on your well-being, and even though the spotlight may be on their struggles, you also deserve to feel seen.

I would be honored to offer support for you during this time. I work with adults experiencing numerous mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, retirement difficulties, caregiving stress, and all types of grief. Therapy can help provide you with a sense of relief as you navigate the stress in your marriage.

Contact me today to learn more about my process and to schedule a complimentary consultation.

4601 Spicewood Springs Road Building 3, Suite 200
Austin, TX 78759
(512) 988-3363

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