Do You Love Someone Who Suffers From Depression?
By Dave Turo-Shields, ACSW, LCSW
Relationships in which one individual is depressed are nine
times more likely to divorce. Wow, the normal divorce rate
is already over 60% nationally! But, it's not always a
spouse who is depressed, sometimes it is a child or an
extended family member.
In this article, however, we'll be focusing on depressed
partners. Most people agree that marriage should be 50/50.
We all know this is an ideal, and, with the ebb-and-flow of
marriage, the percentages slide up and down but should do
so in both directions. For instance, one week the wife
gives 70% and the husband 30% and another week the husband
give 80% and the wife 20%. This is the way "ideal"
Unfortunately, this is not the case when chronic depression
enters the marriage. Let's say that the husband has
chronic depression. The wife may pick up many of the tasks
that would customarily fall to the husband. Depending on
how long this goes on, an avalanche of negative momentum
The longer this process goes on, the more the wife begins
to feel resentful, hence, there is less compassion for the
one struggling with depression. Yet, for the wife, it's
like being a single mother while married. I've been told
by many spouses that it would be easier to be a single
parent than to live with a spouse struggling with
depression, because it's like having a special-needs child
in addition to all the other responsibilities.
I do not make any of these remarks to assign blame or
heighten anyones sense of being victimized. It's very
important to understand that EVERYONE suffers when
depression attacks a loved one. Blame only functions to
create animosity and distance between two loved ones.
Sometimes the spouse of a depressed partner becomes
depressed as a result of living within a "depressed
lifestyle" for too long. Depression is said to be
contagious and can become a shroud over the spouse or
family. It's also vital to consider that depression may
not only be genetic, but it can also be taught. You heard
me right. For instance, our children's most powerful
classroom is the home. Both "Nature and Nurture"
contribute to depression.
Depression works its way into your moods, attitudes,
behaviors, tone of voice, posture, life outlook, personal
hygiene, work ethic, spiritual beliefs and so on. If you
live in a "depression atmosphere" you are constantly
modeling and teaching how to be depressed. I hope this
serves as inspiration for change, not shame. Shame only
feeds the power of depression.
The first step in a plan of action is to know that it is
actually depression that you're dealing with. I won't go
into those details here. You can find those answers at the
website listed in my biography below.
Naming and accepting the problem is half the battle, for
BOTH spouses. Why? Well, when folks are depressed, there
is no obvious scientific evidence to prove it. And yet
people have an instinctive need to what is causing such
pain. The depressed person may project their negative
feelings onto those closest to them, i.e. a spouse, a boss,
the children, the neighbors etc. If you're married to a
depressed person, at times you may question your own sanity.
You might blame external sources for your spouse's
suffering. Without understanding, you might attack your
spouse, assuming they do not care or are lazy. What
appears to be marital problems, may, in fact, be depression.
But certainly marital problems can develop over time when
depression goes untreated.
Another important fact to point out is that men and women
experience depression differently and each will respond
differently when their spouse is depressed. This requires
two separate articles just to begin to respectively cover
gender issues involved in depression.
Here's what to do. First and foremost, realize that
depression is the foe, not your spouse. Developing a "we"
instead of an "I" approach to depression treatment is vital.
A good recovery motto might be best summed up from the
cartoon, Bob the Builder: "Can WE do it? Yes WE can!"
Do everything you can to learn about depression. Seek
professional advice. If depression has been present for a
long time, both the relationship and the depression will
Have individual and marital recovery plans. It's the
surest way to give depression the one-two punch that can
knock it out of your lives. Write your recovery plans down
and spend time reviewing, modifying and noting progress
Once depression is stabilized, create a list of "red
flag" symptoms. This serves as your safety net. If these
symptoms recur it would indicate that prompt attention is
required. Then list solutions you each are willing to act
on if you notice symptoms reappearing. Commit to this in
writing and each of you sign it.
Create external support systems. Note that I did not say
external griping sessions. There's a major difference
between griping and purging. The former only feeds
righteous resentment, and deepens the depression problem
overall, and the latter helps clean you out.
Support pillars can be comprised of friends, colleagues,
churches, support groups and any place you decide is safe
to disclose to. Do not hide your dirty laundry in the
closet, so-to-speak. Depression loves to isolate
individuals, marriages and entire families. It's one of
the primary ways it grows strong.
Do recovery activities together. Attend therapy or
psychiatry sessions together. Participate in online
counseling together. Read a depression recovery book
together. Exercise together, pray together or keep a mood
log together. If your children are at the appropriate age,
educate them about chronic depression. There are good
childrens books on chronic parent illness.
Most importantly, develop the "WE!" It's you and your
spouse against this powerful depression foe. Together you
can do this!
Best recovery wishes and always let me know if I can be of
About the Author
Dave Turo-Shields, ACSW, LCSW is an author, university
faculty member, success coach and veteran psychotherapist
whose passion is guiding others to their own success in
life. For weekly doses of the webs HOTTEST success tips,
sign up for Dave's powerful "Feeling Great! ezine at
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