Love is one of the most powerful and exhilarating emotions to experience, and when two people are happy and satisfied in a relationship, it flourishes. However, as life presents inevitable challenges, even the strongest of bonds will become stressed. Most couples do recognize that happy times will be interrupted by hardships at some point, such as job loss, infertility, health complications, or death of a loved one. But one thing they are rarely prepared for is depression in a marriage.
Ask any couple whose relationship has stood the test of time their secret, and you are likely to receive similar advice: it takes hard work and communication. Working through difficult times together is actually one way couples grow stronger; learning about each other and themselves in the process. Depression in a marriage is no different. The healing process can be a family affair with a rewarding outcome.
How Does Depression Affect a Family?
The chances that a couple will go through some form of depression in a marriage is high. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than 16 million American adults over the age of 18 experience a major depression in a given year, which is about 6 percent of the U.S. population.
How does it affect the family? A depressive episode drastically changes how a person handles even the most ordinary situations, causing the illness to trickle down to his or her mate, their children, their friends and extended family. As depression tries to erode the foundation of the relationship, it oftentimes causes the partner to exhibit some of the following indicators:
- Decreased interest in work or resignation from the job
- Changes in eating habits
- Withdrawal and decreased communication
- Inattention to the kids
- Diminished interest in previously enjoyed activities
- Decreased desire for physical intimacy
- Withdraw from social settings
- Inability to keep up with mundane tasks
- Changes in self-care routines such as hygiene, exercise and seeking medical attention
- Decreased energy
- Changes in sleeping habits
As a result, the unaffected partner is left filling voids. The joy, light-hearted moments and sense of companionship previously guiding the relationship, are wrecked. Add in the absence of typical support and affection, and depression puts a massive strain on the relationship and family unit.
Is Depression a Sign of an Unhappy Marriage?
Having depression and being unhappy with your relationship are two separate issues that may or may not be mutually exclusive. In fact, 42 percent of respondents in a Reader’s Digest Marriage in America Survey named depression as a major challenge in their relationships.
It’s easy for the non-depressed spouse to fall into the trap of blaming him or herself for the problem. On the other hand, feelings of pessimism and resentment, anger and isolation, exhaustion and frustration may also emerge from the new demands. Then fear that this new way of being is permanent, may cloud one’s thinking and challenge any hope for recovery.
When this happens, it’s important to remember that depression is an illness. Depression itself doesn’t directly cause ultimate conclusions, such as divorce. Rather, it can be the consequence of not addressing the illness. Talking about the depression in therapy oftentimes brings up other issues in a marriage that, when addressed, help ease the depression. As long as your partner says that you’re not the reason they appear unhappy, take them at their word and try to work on the other issues together.
How Can You Support Your Partner with Depression?
When overcoming depression in a marriage, the best thing is to remain a team and tackle it together. While recovery is a personal journey for the depressed partner, the following are a few things the other person can do to help:
- Educate yourself and other family members on depression
- Encourage treatment by offering to go to doctor appointments together
- Think of depression as a third-party object – the enemy is the illness, not each other
- Ask how you can help and listen to the response; be receptive and don’t judge
- Be patient
- Shower your partner with compassion
- Seek support for yourself from friends and family
- Advocate with medical providers when necessary
- Consider additional help with child care
- Alleviate sources of worry and concern to the best of your ability
What Types of Therapy Are Available for Depression in a Marriage or Relationship?
Thankfully there are many treatment options available for couples and individuals dealing with depression, including therapy and medications. Couples counseling is one therapy option available. It is a great way to talk through and resolve concerns within the unit. Then again, if one person is suffering from major depression, individual therapy may also be needed to help with his or her underlying triggers. Additionally, children and other family members might seek therapy to better cope with the situation and learn ways to deal with their own emotions.
St. Louis Center for Family Development is a mental health facility that provides therapy for individuals with depression. Our team of experienced therapists are trained in a wide range of treatments, including Behavioral Activation, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, Interpersonal Psychotherapy, and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy. If you are experiencing depression in your marriage, contact us today.