Depression is an individual diagnosis, but the condition can negatively affect your interpersonal relationships, including your marriage.
Depression is more than an episode of low mood. It’s a mental health condition that also features persistent fatigue, changes in your ability to think, and a loss of enjoyment or interest in almost all activities.
These symptoms can affect your ability to function in important areas of life, and they can put strain on your interpersonal relationships, including your marriage.
Even when a spouse is aware you’re living with depression, the symptoms can be mistaken for deliberate distancing or a loss of relationship interest or attraction. It’s not always easy to remember that depression is at the heart of these changes.
Depression can have widespread effects on marriage. If your spouse lives with depression, they may seem not only disinterested in things you both once enjoyed but disinterested in you as well.
“One of the hallmark symptoms of depression is anhedonia, which means to experience a lack of pleasure in a previously enjoyable activity,” he says. “This can cause a lot of confusion with a spouse that has depression.”
If you’re the person living with depression, anhedonia can cause you to question whether you’re still in love with your spouse. It can make you assume your feelings have changed, but the reality is that your ability to experience joy has changed as a result of depression.
“However, the issue isn’t the marriage,” adds Helfand. “The issue is depression, and that must be treated in order find joy in the relationship once again.”
For many couples living with depression, anhedonia can also drastically decrease sexual intimacy, which can make both partners feel undesirable.
Other symptoms of depression also affect a marriage. Cognitive changes may make it difficult to remember things your partner has mentioned or asked you to do.
You may not have the energy or motivation to do chores that you’d usually take on.
It’s natural to feel times of helplessness, stress, and frustration when your spouse lives with depression.
Because depression is driving the changes in your relationship, your typical efforts to make things better can feel ineffective, and that can cause you to wonder whether the relationship is beyond saving.
“If you partner is depressed, it’s easy to take it personally,” Helfand states. “You might think that they don’t care for you anymore, or perhaps they find you dull and uninteresting. The truth is that it isn’t about you, and they are probably having that experience in many other areas of their life.”
Limited data exists on the causal relationship between depression and divorce.
You may be at an increased risk for depression after divorce, but it’s unclear how much of a role depression contributes on the road to divorce.
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“Depression itself doesn’t necessarily lead to divorce, but it can contribute to marital problems that, if left unaddressed, may increase the risk of divorce,” says Marissa Moore, a licensed professional counselor from Springfield, Missouri.
“Divorce can be a result of the strain that depression places on the marriage, especially if both partners are unable to effectively cope with it.”
First and foremost, depression is treatable. If your spouse lives with depression, encouraging them to seek professional treatment can be the first step.
If they’re reluctant to make the commitment, you can offer to go with them and take a couples therapy approach.
Other ways you can support your marriage during this time include:
Learning more about depression
The more you know about your spouse’s diagnosis, the more insight you have into their behaviors. Being able to recognize the symptoms of depression and how they are emerging in your relationship can help you take them less personally.
Continuing to do things together
Behavioral activation, a component of cognitive behavioral therapy, is considered an important step in the treatment of depression. It involves engaging in rewarding, meaningful activities to help reduce symptoms like anhedonia.
Helfand recommends helping your spouse engage in behavioral activation by continuing to do enjoyable things together, like taking a walk outside, visiting friends, or trying some new foods together.
Creating a supportive environment
Moore recommends creating a supportive environment at home. This means focusing on being patient, actively listening, and encouraging open communication about depression.
“Foster open and honest communication,” she says. “Discuss how depression is affecting both of you and your marriage.”
Revisiting peak experiences
Helfand suggests making a list of instances in your spouse’s life where they felt the most joy, happiness, or contentment — and then recreating them to the best of your ability.
“We call this peak experience in psychology, and it can be a great way to discover the formula for someone to start [managing] their depression.”
Depression is a mental health disorder that can have lasting effects on your marriage.
Symptoms of depression can look like emotional distancing and loss of attraction for a spouse — but it’s depression, not the relationship, that’s creating turmoil.
Treating depression can help your marriage return to a more harmonious place. And educating yourself about depression, encouraging open communication, and recreating joy can help during the treatment process.