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4 Tips to Support A Spouse Having Depression

Steven Losardo, MFT

Depression of an intimate partner can seem to be a heavy burden to bear, particularly while watching them experience the symptoms. However, it can be equally difficult for the spouse to help but not know where to begin. The good news is that there can be several ways to be supportive when the depression shows up. This blog will review four ways to support a partner in a committed relationship who has depression or low mood.

  1. How you view “The Depression” matters

It’s critical to remember that depression is a diagnosis of the mood, not a diagnosis of the person. Your spouse is not depression, they have depression. They are feeling depressed or experiencing depression symptoms. By changing the way that you label the disorder, you will subsequently change the way you approach your spouse as your view of their behavior shifts to seeing the symptoms and the person separately (Whisman, 2012; Barnett, 2007)

This will help you identify what is and isn’t a depression symptom instead of categorizing everything your partner does that may be abnormal for them as depression, which is common for spouses who are noticing the disorder in their spouse for the first time (Whisman, 2012).

Referring to the separation of the disorder and person to your spouse or around your spouse can also help them start to make that separation for themselves. This will help them identify their own behaviors and make changes to fight the symptoms going forward. One way to do this is when referring to your partner’s issue is say “THE DEPRESSION” instead of things like “you are depressed.” 

  1. Being educated on the disorder can prepare you for what may come

If your spouse informs you that they have a history of depression and that the disorder may reoccur at some point, that is your cue to research the disorder. The more you know about depression, the better prepared you’ll be if symptoms start to arise in your spouse. If you can spot the symptoms early enough, you have a higher likelihood of being able to intervene and provide help. 

For example, Gottman, 2008 explains that depression is extremely common in new mothers or expecting mothers as their hormones are changing and they are experiencing a new stage of their life. Knowing ahead of time that depression may occur can help you put a plan in place to help if/when help is deemed necessary. 

  1. Highlight the things they are doing that challenge the depressive episode

Many people who experience depression have a difficult time doing things that are productive or make them happy. If you notice your spouse has started doing something they used to enjoy or is doing something productive like cleaning, reading, even showering, gently point those things out. Gottman, 2008 points out that it is important to not directly reference spousal depression in the addressing of the highlights. Instead, make it known that it is good to see them doing these things. 

Another critical point is to practice LOOKING FOR positives and SPEAKING TO THEM. 

THINKING positively and JOURNALING about your partner, yourself, and the relationship. IT MATTERS even if you do not see results. It will help your spouse as well as you. Much like when the depression starts, initially, the positive results can be unseen.

  1. First…Take care of yourself 

Barnett, et.al, 2007 discusses the importance of self-care as being imperative to psychological wellness. You are no good to your spouse if you are not taking care of yourself. As the spouse of someone with depression, you have the ability to help them cope and work through depressive episodes as you are likely with them more than anyone else. However, in order to be able to notice depression symptoms, address them, and help your partner work through them, you need to be practicing self-care. There are numerous ways to practice self-care. The methods you choose should be relaxing, mood boosting, and mind clearing so that you can be your best self for yourself and for your spouse. 

Having a spouse with depression can be a little nerve-wracking and overwhelming if never experiencing such a disorder before (either personally or with someone you know). It can seem worse when having a parent with depression while growing up, and now a partner is in a similar situation. It is important to remember that there is no need to feel guilty for not knowing how to help or helping and perhaps making it worse. If the past family of origin experiences shows up in present challenges, it may be time to get professional help.

Managing depression is ultimately up to the person in the experience to go through it and heal. As a partner in the relationship, we can help more than we think. The first steps include being positive, supportive, patient, communicating well, and understanding THE DEPRESSION. Not to be understated, those steps include taking care of oneself first.

References

Barnett, J. E., Baker, E. K., Elman, N. S., & Schoener, G. R. (2007). In pursuit of wellness: The

selfcare imperative. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 38(6), 603–612.

Gottman, J. M. (2008). Gottman method couple therapy. Clinical handbook of couple therapy,

4(8),138-164.

Whisman, M. A., & Beach, S. R. (2012). Couple therapy for depression. Journal of Clinical

Psychology, 68(5), 526-535.

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