How to Help a Depressed Spouse

Katy Kandaris-Weiner, LPC

Married couples can rely on each other to be there when times are tough. This is evidenced by a Pulse Survey conducted by the Census Bureau that found married respondents are less likely to experience mental health problems in general and during declines in work-related income.

A healthy and happy marriage can protect you from depression, but it won’t always be roses and rainbows. Marriage can be hard, especially while working through complex situations, extended familial drama, and the birth of a child.

This article will help you: 

  • Understand depression in marriage
  • How to notice depression in your spouse
  • What to do if your spouse is depressed
  • Tips for helping your spouse through depression

Who’s At Risk of Depression Within Marriage?

There have been numerous studies comparing symptoms and risk factors of depression within men and women that consistently show women are twice as likely to experience depression than men. Similar statistics extend to unhappy marriages.

Depression can occur in anyone. However, certain events and personality traits can hurt or help people’s resiliency against depression. The risk factors of depression within marriage include:

  • Pregnancy and birth
  • Family history
  • Alcohol and drug abuse
  • Chronic illness
  • Past history of mental health illness
  • Unhappy feelings about current marriage

You don’t need to be in an unhappy marriage to experience depression. Depression is also not a sign that your marriage is unhealthy. Every person is at risk of depression.

How to Tell Your Spouse Is Depressed

Chances are, you know your partner well. You may even know them better than anyone else. If your spouse is acting strangely or different than usual, you’ll most likely be the first to know.

However, the tells of depression can be subtle, and you may need to take off your rose-tinted glasses to tell if your spouse is dealing with depression. 

Symptoms of depression in marriage include loss of things they once enjoyed, apathy, and difficulty sleeping.

Loss of Enjoyment

Most married couples enjoy certain activities together. These activities could be anything; weekly board game nights, watching movies, hiking, doing puzzles, cooking together, and sharing a meal. If your spouse is depressed, they’ll likely disengage from these activities.

Depression makes it hard or impossible to enjoy things that used to bring happiness. If you notice your spouse canceling plans or disengaging with friends and family to spend time alone, keep an eye open for other symptoms.

Expressing Helplessness

If you notice your spouse saying things that are darker than their typical outlook on life they could be experiencing depression. Language to look out for include:

  • Self-criticism or self-loathing
  • Not speaking up for themself
  • Sayings like “I’m not good enough” or “Things never work out”

Language isn’t the only way helplessness can be expressed. Not finishing sentences, trailing off, or shutting down conversations can all be signs of depression. If you notice your spouse talking or acting differently than normal, talk to them about it.

Acting Reclusive

A common symptom of depression is withdrawal. Instead of going out with friends or enjoying dinner with family, they may prefer to stay inside. This doesn’t always alleviate the symptoms of depression.

If you notice your spouse becoming more withdrawn then they typically are, then they could be expressing symptoms of depression.

How to Help a Spouse With Depression

If your spouse is depressed you’re in a unique position to help them because you live with them, and you share a special relationship. However, it’s important to recognize that you’re not a mental health professional.

Dealing with a depressed spouse is not just a project to complete. Depression could be a long-term issue your spouse has to deal with on occasion. Try your best to be patient with them and be proactive in helping them in their mental health journey.

if your spouse is depressed, encourage them to get therapy

Encourage Therapy

You can’t force your spouse to attend therapy. However, you can encourage them to attend therapy. This may be one of the most important things you can do for your partner during this time.

This may be easier said than done. Not everyone enjoys hearing they should seek therapy. Here are the things you should consider while encouraging your partner to seek therapy:

  • Language: Take an empathetic, loving, and compassionate approach to the language you use while talking about therapy. Trying saying something similar to, “I love you and I love our marriage. I want to see you succeed and I think working with someone about your struggles with depression could help you and our marriage. What do you think about that?”
  • Timing: When you bring up the topic of therapy is just as important as how you bring it up. Think about what time of day the two of you are most calm and available. 
  • Space: When talking about this subject your spouse may feel upset or embarrassed. Make sure you bring up the topic of attending therapy in a space that won’t exacerbate those feelings. A private location they feel safe and comfortable in is your best option.

You might think you know how your spouse will react to talking about therapy. You may even be dreading the conversation, but you might be surprised how they react. Do the loving thing, for you and your spouse, and encourage them to seek therapy.

Ask Questions and Learn More

The more you know, the better. You’ll likely feel a level of distance from your spouse as they begin to withdraw or become irritable. Understanding depression and how it works will equip you to help your spouse, and feel better about their actions.

There are two ways you should seek to learn more about your spouse's depression:

  • Read
  • Listen

There are so many online resources about mental health. A good place to start learning about mental health is the Inner Balance blog and Educational Resources. Here you’ll find in-depth guides on various forms of therapy, mental health struggles, and topical conversations like The Gottman Method vs EFT —an article comparing two forms of couples therapy.

While you have discussions with your partner about their struggle—listen. Don’t offer any kind of solution and instead ask thoughtful, loving questions about what they’re feeling. Knowing you’re listening to them without judgment will improve their sense of safety.

Care For Their Physical Needs

Loss of appetite is normal for someone who is depressed. Lack of self-care also tends to accompany depression. 

You can care for your spouse by taking care of their physical needs. You can always ask if they need anything, but it might be better to take a proactive approach. For example:

  • Make sure their water bottle is filled
  • Make them food
  • Stay on top of household chores

Asking them to take a shower could come across as rude so use your best judgment while helping them care for themselves.

Tips For Helping Your Spouse Through Depression Treatment

You can be an active help while your partner attends therapy. Here are some things you can do that will help your spouse through therapy.

Explore New Comforts

Depression can cause people to stay in more than usual. For some, leaving the house is a chore therefore they’d prefer to stay in. However, staying in and being inactive only adds to worsening symptoms

One thing you can do is to help your spouse get outside of their depressive environment by encouraging new experiences. This could include:

  • Hiking
  • Dining at a new date location
  • Going to a museum

If you think your spouse could use some time away from their typical space, it’s important to be patient. If they don’t want to join you on outings that’s ok. It may take time. However, there is plenty you can do to create joy within their sphere of comfort. Ideas for this include:

  • Building a pillow fort and eating pizza
  • Making a surprise dinner
  • Gifting a self-care package with bath bombs and other self-care items

It’s easy to hope for the best, but your spouse may not respond to these efforts the way you’d hoped. Remember, depression makes it difficult to enjoy anything. It might be a while before your spouse can enjoy the things they used to.

getting outside can relieve depression symptoms for a depressed spouse

Encourage Couples Therapy

Depending on your partner’s treatment plan couples therapy could be an option. Couples therapy is a great opportunity to work through mental health issues together with the help of a trained counselor. 

In couples counseling, you’ll learn how to better communicate with your spouse, achieve a better understanding of their actions, and change your behaviors to make the relationship synergize. 

You can encourage couples counseling the same way you can encourage individual counseling. However, you can emphasize how you want to put in work and improve your marriage and ensure that you can be there for them in the best way possible.

How Inner Balance Can Help You And Your Spouse

Inner Balance Counseling is dedicated to providing quality clinical mental health therapy and a safe space to explore mental health challenges. We recognize the importance, joy, and difficulty of marriage.

In addition to individual counseling, couples counseling through Inner Balance means investing in your relationship. You’ll learn about each other as individuals as well as how to communicate healthily.

If you’re interested in starting couples counseling, request a consultation to begin the process. We’ll follow up with you accordingly.

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Katy Kandaris-Weiner, LPC

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