How to deal with a depressed spouse
I’m so chuffed you’ve landed here because you want to know how to help your partner or spouse with depression.
I can think of two reasons:
- Your partner, wife or husband has already been given a diagnosis of mild, medium or severe depression
- You suspect they’re depressed because you’re confused and possibly exasperated by their change in behaviour.
If you’re already sure they are depressed, you might be tempted to skip the next section. However, I’d like you to pay attention to it anyhow because it may help you to pinpoint what has caused your partner’s depression.
What is depression?
Whether or not you know your partner is depressed, you’re going to have to have some idea on what depression really is and how it might affect your spouse.
The World Health Organisation has an excellent short article about depression, so hop over to that.
I’ll be here when you come back.
Depression explained differently
I’m going to explain depression in simple terms with a twist you won’t read anywhere else…
Imagine yourself completely engrossed in a book, a film or a video game. You’re not aware of the sounds around you, your spouse might complain that you’re off the planet, you’re not aware of the temperature or anything else around you. Indeed you’re transported to where ever the book, the film or the game directs you. Nothing else matters.
Now replace the book with depression. That is all there is for that person at that time. They’re almost in a hypnotic state and often feel entirely unreachable.
So, now you’ve some idea of what depression is, what next?
The cause of your partner’s change in behaviour
I can understand you’re confused if you’re really not sure why your partner’s behaviour has changed in general or just towards you. Sure, they may well be depressed, but if so, what might have caused it?
If they have already been diagnosed with depression, you’ll no doubt also want to have some idea of what has led them to be depressed (if don’t already know)…
14 potential causes of your partner or spouse’s depression
- Medication – beta-blockers, steroids, the contraceptive pill, hormone replacement therapy, epilepsy drugs, allergy meds, anti-anxiety medication, anti-cancer drugs and more. So, it’s well worth checking!
- Relationship problems – the two of you are growing apart, or there’s a lack of trust. Trust is linked with our essential emotional need for a sense of security. Depression most often results from a disbalance in our emotional needs.
- Psychological trauma
- Infidelity – they’ve fallen in love with someone else and got themselves completely stuck between the lover/mistress and you
- Trouble at work – such as a reorganisation, failed promotion, a difficult manager, a less-than-helpful colleague, dismissal or redundancy
- Financial problems – spending to service an addiction, secret credit cards, or lies about other money problems may have got out of hand
- Addictions – to adult material, intimate relationships, alcohol or other addictions
- Midlife crisis
- Feeling/being bored – in your relationship or ‘just’ bored within themselves
- Severe or chronic health problems
- Burnout (nervous breakdown) – due to the pressures of work (particularly in high-risk jobs such as, for example, the emergency services) or caring for sick and/or elderly loved ones.
- Anxiety – depression often goes hand-in-hand with depression. One might cause the other and vice-versa
- Grief – they haven’t got over the loss of a loved one or something else significant in their lives, while you think they should have got over that by now.
With regards to the latter, be sure not to jump to conclusions. Grieving for the loss of a significant other or factor in-/part of your life (mobility, financial security, eyesight, hearing, job, house, health, etc.) is healthy and may take months or even years.
Often there’s a combination of factors at play. Almost always does depression occur due to a disbalance in essential emotional needs, including unmet needs. So, you’re going to have to be a Sherlock to figure it out.
I suspect you’ve already let it be known that you’re worried. Depending on the state of your relationship, you may or may not have got anywhere. Doubtless, that’s frustrated you and possibly irritating for your spouse. So, here are 3 tips to help you get a result.
How to find out what’s happening with your spouse
Your action plan
- Read my article on how to stop constant arguing for the best tips on how to have a challenging conversation.
- Go for a walk together if you can – walking and talking is for many men easier (sorry about the generalisation) or create a pleasant, undisturbed ambience at home for a quiet conversation.
- Be clear about how you feel without blaming them and turn any complaints or worries into a wish. State what you’re noticing, be open about how you’re feeling and ask for cooperation.
What not to say to someone who’s depressed
“It’s about time you got better.”
This sounds terribly critical, particularly to someone who’s already depressed.
“You should look at things on the bright side.” and “Pull yourself together.”
Showing a lack of understanding and devoid of empathy.
“At least you’ve got [this, that and the other]”
What someone has or doesn’t have makes no difference when they’re in that depressed trance state.
“I’m getting fed up with your whining”
This shows a lack of empathy, patience and understanding. Possibly you too are at the end of your tether.
“Isn’t it time you did [this, that and the other]This sounds very critical. However, I understand! Supporting someone with depression can be hugely draining.
“You should think yourself lucky that you…”
Your depressed spouse may well be aware that they ought to feel lucky, but they simply can’t while they’re in the clutches of that depression.
“It’s all between your ears.”
They may or may not be aware or agree, but they don’t know how to deal with depression.
“It can’t be that bad!”
Maybe it is bad or maybe it isn’t. When you’re in a depressed state, everything looks that much darker. Remember also, your perception is never the same as someone else’s.
“You should have done what I told you to do, then we wouldn’t have this…”
Highly critical and unhelpful, particularly to someone who’s already feeling vulnerable.
You may not get to the crux of the matter in that one conversation. Don’t despair, stay patient and leave the door open. You’re building trust by remaining non-judgemental, calm and available.
How to help your spouse with depression
The influence of lifestyle on depression
Here’s where you can make a significant difference. As human beings, we feel at our best when our essential emotional needs are met in balance. Our most important emotional needs are:
- a sense of volition and control – a feeling that we have an impact on our family, our immediate or extended environment and our well-being
- a sense of belonging – being part of a community and that, of course, includes the two of you
- a need for friendship, fun and laughter
- a need for a sense of security – that’s a tough one if, for example, you the two of you were already on the brink of divorce
- meaning at purpose – a feeling that your life is worthwhile, that your existence and contribution matter.
Find out which emotional needs (not wants!) are not met. Decide what you might want to do about that – as a couple or as individuals. Yes, your needs are also important!
Here’s a free worksheet to help you…
How to deal with a depressed spouse or partner
Supporting your spouse with depression
- Let them know that you’re there for them on a bad day as much as on a good day
- Instead of thinking for them and trying to fix things, ask for what they need. “What can I do right now that would make a difference – however small?”
- Ask them to turn a complaint into a wish: “I hear/notice that’s really irritated you. What would you like to see happening? How can I help?”
- Share the chores encouraging your partner to join in.
- If you have children, be sure to arrange for quality time for just the two of you.
- If your partner is a gamer, it would be all too easy to let them get on with it. However, I’d like the two of you to have a conversation about this. Get your spouse to compromise and contribute to family life. That’s better for everyone involved.
- If there are any parenting issues, that’s the biggest cause of feeling out of control (remember our need for a measure of control?). If you can afford it, get a parenting coach without delay because I suspect neither of you is feeling your best with those daily fights to create some order.
- Show a genuine interest in what makes them feel better or worse, instead of routinely and dispassionately asking how they are.
- Reassure them that you love them – remind them of your love for them, particularly when they don’t look, behave or feel their best (yep, that might be tough!)
- Consciously acknowledge small achievements in the face of a body/mind throwing obstacles in the way.
- Offer to join your partner for appointments. Stay with them, instead of sitting in the waiting room playing with your phone or reading the paper. Be an extra pair of ears. If given the opportunity, say what the situation looks like from your perspective.
- Wipe away the tears, listen, hold, hug, warm, cool, hydrate, dress, wash, massage, soothe, etc
- Offer to help or take on responsibility for the tasks your partner may have done and get extra help if needed and possible.
- Separate the depression from the person – consider if your partner or spouse is talking, doing or feeling or that depression.
What to say to your depressed loved one
5 things your partner needs to hear
Change the following sentences to something that sounds more natural to you. You could write them down on sticky notes or cards and leave them in unexpected places.
“I’m here for you. I can see how you’re struggling, but I suspect I don’t know the half of it.”
“You’re ill, right now. Know that I’m not judging you. You’re safe with me.”
“I love you. It doesn’t matter how you look, dress or behave right now – I know it’s that depression that’s directing operations. I won’t stop loving you.”
“I might feel lonely and empty inside of you, but know that we’ll get through this together.”
“You will recover. This won’t last (keep a mental note of each and every small step forward).”
“I will stand by you when you’re ready to tackle whatever led up to your feeling so depressed.”
How long does depression last?
Depression is made up of psychological (the mind and emotions), biological (the body) and social (the environment and human connections) factors. Think of depression as a viral infection (it isn’t, of course!). How long the infection lasts, depends on a large extent of the state of health before falling ill and the particular virus itself. Depression, without treatment, will run its course, and for most people, it will pass within a few months to a year.
- Your mobile phone or laptop to do the necessary research
- Consider a getting a hypnosis download
- Maintain curiosity and interest in how the ‘dis-ease’ develops and subsides
Take note of how your spouse reacts to things around them, what helps and what hinders. Ask open-ended questions to allow them to talk about what’s bothering them. This helps you both to identify what help and support you can offer at that time.
- Be prepared to offer practical and emotional support
Hug, hold, kiss, reassure, inspire, comfort, give confidence, provide help with chores, be kind and understanding. Encourage and help with new activities, every-day tasks, problem-solving and stress management. Help them divert their attention when they’re ruminating (going over and over the same negative thinking pattern).
- Get help
The team at Hypnosis Downloads have developed two downloads, especially for the spouse or partner of someone who’s depressed. Their special hypnosis session (in the comfort of your own home) helps you to focus on what you can do depending on whether your loved one is a man or a woman. It also helps you to cope better living with someone who’s depressed.
Also, I recommend you chat with a licensed counsellor to get some further advice on how to help your spouse with depression.
Your partner or spouse will really benefit from professional help. Ideally, this would be a talking therapy instead of antidepressants. The latter have significant side-effects which aren’t always made clear by physicians. And, relying on medication for depression undermines your spouse’s ability to get over depression by themselves – with or without counselling. Antidepressants also do increase the chance of recurring depressive episodes. Having said that, medication may be necessary in case of severe- or clinical depression.
(See further down)
I recommend only carefully chosen resources/products. If you buy something through one of the links, I may earn a commission at NO extra cost to you.
If and when your spouse or partner agrees to access help, allow them to seek the treatment that feels right to them. Don’t expect them, for example, to turn to alternative medicine and treat their depression without medication if they completely trust their doctor or vice versa.
You can make it easier for your partner or spouse to agree to get help by the following:
- Research ways to access counselling (see my article on getting the right of psychological support)
- Make the occasional suggestion of what you think might help, but avoid telling them what they should or shouldn’t be doing.
- Avoid nagging them to get professional help
- Tell them how you can help them get to where they need to be if they’re having what’s sometimes called face-to-face counselling.
- Help find out how they might be able to finance counselling through insurance or by private means (see also How to get the best relationship advice for further suggestions), failing that…
- Find free help-forums, but be sure first to read my article on 6 useful sources of depression help online. Know that your support and, hopefully, that of friends and family can make all the difference!
- Ensure there’s someone to mind your children, if necessary.
- Above all, reassure them getting professional help for depression is totally normal and acceptable. After all, you’d be looking for an expert with all sorts of practical or physical problems, so why not for emotional/mental issues!
Also, see this list with all my depression articles.
Looking after yourself!
It’s not easy supporting someone with depression. So you’re going to have to take particular care of your own well-being.
Make sure you take note of the need to meet your essential emotional needs. You’re entitled to time for yourself, your own interests and friendships.
Here’s what I’d like you to do for yourself…
7 things you can do for yourself when your spouse is depressed
- Take time out to spend with family and friends, read, walk, or whatever helps you to feel better.
- Tell your spouse when you’re feeling tired or stressed so that they know what’s causing you to be less than supportive.
- Choose a hypnosis download for yourself to help you switch off and relax. I highly recommend it.
- Talk about what’s happening to trusted people. I highly recommend you speak to a counsellor. It will help you get things off your chest and get advice on how to help your spouse.
- Remind yourself that you cannot fix your spouse, you can support them. Know that your support will make a big difference in their recovery.
- Remind yourself that you’re responsible for your own happiness (and ultimately, so is your spouse or partner).
- You’re entitled to your own feelings. Aim to become more aware of how you’re feeling, take note of them and ask yourself when and why and what you can do about them (if anything).
I’m so glad you’re showing such an interest in finding out how to help your spouse with depression. For you, it also counts that knowing what you’re dealing with and understanding what you can do about it, will help you feel more in control of the situation.
And, there’s a good chance you have issues of your own to deal with. That’s why it’s essential you take good care of yourself as well as support your spouse.
Know that this period too will pass and that, ultimately, you’re much stronger than you might think you are. There’s every chance you’ll come out of this period more knowledgeable, wiser, compassionate, stronger and closer together. I’m rooting for you!
Image by Gerd Altmann
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