“What’s wrong with you?” my husband shouts at me.
I turn away from him, a blank look on my face. “Nothing, just leave me alone.”
While every marriage goes through its ups and downs of course, there is one very serious subject that may be more than a normal “down” and turn into a permanent “down”:
Personally, my husband and I have both struggled with depression in our marriage — I definitely had some postpartum depression after our first daughter was born and I struggled with it for almost a year before I clawed my way out of the dark hole. (At the time, I didn’t recognize it, nor do I know if I would have accepted pharmacological help.)
And while I think, of course, there is no substitute for depression other than seeking professional help and working with one’s doctor as necessary, there are a few ways to support a partner through a depressive episode, many of which my husband exemplified during our time dealing with depression.
“Let your loved one know that you see how they are struggling. It can be tempting to avoid the issue and sweep it under the carpet, but such behaviors serve to reduce communication and increase the underlying stress. Make a special time to talk — away from kids and work issues — to hone in on the roots of the stress and depression. Communicating does not mean that you need to try to ‘fix’ the issues; it’s most important that you simply listen and allow space for open discussion,” explains Carla Marie Greco, PhD.
#2: Reach out
“It’s easy to feel ashamed or embarrassed by feelings of depression or stress, yet these issues are extremely common. It’s often a great idea to reach out to a local support group, private therapist, or minister for gentle guidance and support. Asking for help from others can take immense pressure off the marriage. This helps by relieving the emotional pressure within the marriage and also allows the objective input of trusted professionals,” says Dr. Carla.
“Stress-relieving neurochemicals surge throughout the body when we exercise. Whether you take a walk with your spouse after work or encourage a run in the local park, exercise will naturally help relieve stress and depression. When stress and depression begin to rise, many people feel too tired to exercise. Although your partner may want to become a couch potato, exercise in the great outdoors is incredibly curative,” suggests Dr. Carla.
#4: Increase Self-Care
“Don’t forget that a partner’s mental health issues also affect you on a deep level. While you look out for your spouse, it’s also vital that you engage in self-care activities of your own such as outings with friends, exercise, and simple treats like quiet bubble baths,” recommends Dr. Carla.
#5: Get Away
“If at all possible, arrange a weekend getaway with your spouse. Having quiet time away from the pressures of home and work can put fears and anxiety in perspective. The get-away need not be lavish or expensive to be healing. Take journals with you — one for you and one for your sweetie — to allow for unfiltered writing and reflection. Use the time away to walk, talk about hopes and dreams, and let the pressures of life slip away. Although a micro-vacation may offer only a temporary respite, such times can offer just enough relief to get back on track,” Dr. Carla says.
#6: Give Some Space
I don’t know about you, but my first inclination when my husband is upset or stressed is to demand an answer. Why are you upset? What can we do to change it? Is it me? You think I’m fat, don’t you? And while my pestering comes from a good place (I love him, after all), I’ve noticed that my persistent demands also tend to have the opposite-than-desired effect of pushing him even further away. Although it’s hard, it may be best to give your partner some space to figure things out on his or her own.
#7: Support His/Her Hobbies
Obviously, a sign of depression is loss of interest in hobbies, which unfortunately is also a self-feeding cycle because not engaging in life and the hobbies that one loves can lead to even more depression. If your partner is exhibiting signs of depression, along with encouraging professional help like therapy and medications, try to carve out specific time for him or her to spend time doing the things they love. For us, my husband and I both know that the other one will start to get depressed without time for our mutual hobbies and with three (going on four) young children at home, it’s a constant give and take with each of us carving out time for the other to ward off that depression. When I had PPD, this actually looked like my husband taking extra childcare duties so I could go back to school, which may sound like torture to some people, but to me, provided that fresh interest in life that I needed.