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Sally Connolly, LCSW, LMFT has been a therapist for over 30 years, specializing in work with couples, families and relationships. She has expertise with clients...Read More
Question: Does depression cause problems in a marriage or do problems in a marriage cause depression?
Answer: Yes and Yes.
When half of a couple is depressed, the relationship suffers. Sometimes the relationship suffers and then one of the partners becomes depressed.
Stress in a Relationship When One of the Partners is Depressed
Depression in one person affects those around and involved with him or her. It touches the quality of each member‘s life, as well as their thoughts about the depressed person and their overall happiness with the relationship.
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Those who are depressed are generally apathetic, sad, tired, and negative. They have little energy for the tasks and pleasures of couple and family life. Much of what they talk about is negative and even those experiences that might be seen as neutral or positive may become negative when seen through the lens of depression.
Normal responsibilities and relationship tasks are not handled. Partners and older children often find themselves picking up the slack as they notice what is not happening. Spouses do a lot of things on their own without the depressed partner. All of these changes in the family dynamic can lead to feelings of resentment and anger.
Emotional connection, intimacy and sexual desire often disappear cascading into loneliness, sadness and disappointment in the marriage.
Many people who are not depressed or have never struggled with depression have questions about why the depressed person can’t just get on with life and do the things that would make him or her feel better. Impatience, feeling overwhelmed by the situation and a lack of understanding on a partner’s part can create additional problems as couples struggle with the depression.
Depression or Sadness from Problems in the Marriage
Events can trigger depression, especially for people who are already prone to bouts of the blues or depression.
A high level of conflict, uncovering an affair, feeling lonely and distant from your partner are just some of the patterns in a marriage that can trigger depression.
Depression evolves especially for those who believe that their partner is unwilling to work with them to change the pattern, who lack the communication skills to work through things or who do not have openness in their marriage. Life seems out of control.
People who have had other experiences with depression are more likely to become depressed by marital problems, especially if the pattern continues over time.
For those new to the depression it can be transient and clear up as problems in the relationship abate.
A few words about postpartum depression
Women can experience postpartum depression immediately after the birth of a baby or up to a year later; however, it most often occurs within the first 3 months after a baby is born.
Postpartum is different from the “baby blues” as it can last for a long time rather than clearing up as new routines of sleeping and eating evolve. It seems to be triggered by sudden hormone changes coupled with risk factors such as prior bouts of depression and poor support from spouse, family and friends.
What Can Couples Do When Depression Affects their Relationship?
1. Learn the signs and symptoms of depression. Education helps a lot. Read and talk about what symptoms to look for that might indicate that depression is creeping in or maybe has already come to roost.
2. Acknowledge and talk about the depression. Keep communication open. Recognize when it is there. Bring it out in the open and talk about it lovingly, without judgment.
3. Depersonalize it. Talk about it as “the depression”. No one chooses depression and depression is not the person. Depression affects people and those who love them. Discuss it as a factor in your life that is sometimes present and also sometimes not there at all.
4. Share with each other about how the depression is affecting you and your relationship with the depression. Try to frame it in non-judgmental ways. That’s where the “depersonalizing” comes in handy. You can each talk about it as if the depression were an unwelcome visitor that is affecting each of you.
5. Develop a plan of action. Each person wants to take responsibility for their own lives; however, it is helpful when couples can work together and, in the context of a loving relationship, talk about changes in conversation and behavior.
Each of you can share what you need from each other while in this period and find ways to help each other out or take care of yourself until this period is over.
6. Seek help. This can be from family, friends or a professional therapist. Get out in front of the pain rather than letting the depression get out in front of you.
Depression does not always lead to divorce. Accepting the depression as a factor that affects the marriage and learning how to lovingly work through it can help couples grow stronger and more connected to each other. Take our online depression assessment and gain insight into your emotional wellbeing.