Supporting a Spouse Through Depression Part 2

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By Brad Tuft

I introduced the Tufts and this topic in Part 1 here.  In Part 1, they explain their story and struggle with depression.  In Part 2 below, they offer some advice and life lessons from their experiences.  – Celeste


So, as a loving husband or wife, what do you do if you feel like your spouse is being swallowed up by depression? What do you do if they weep for hours of the day, or when they lock you out of the room, or storm out of the house and don’t tell you where they have gone? What do you do if the slightest word or phrase said in just the wrong way sets them off in a negative spiral? What do you do when your best friend and confidant screams uncontrollably into a pillow or expresses feelings that they are worthless and that you’d be better off without them? Every life is different and what works for some may not work for others. I certainly learned plenty of things that I SHOULDN’T do when my wife felt that way. However, I give a few major themes here that, at least for us, seemed to improve the situation and our relationship most as we battled with depression.

What Everyone Should Know about How to Support a Spouse Through Depression

Be loving and kind – ALWAYSMy first two suggestions are to “be loving and kind” and “be patient” – always. I kept them separate since I think they are important enough to merit their own space, but the two often do go hand in hand. At first glance it’s easy to dismiss them and say “Yeah. Anybody should do that in any relationship – especially in a marriage.” True. However, if you were to answer honestly, when was the last time you were around someone that reacted quite negatively towards you or even said things to deliberately get under your skin? Did you feel like giving them a piece of your mind? Did you feel like arguing and showing them that they are wrong? Did you feel like you just wanted to get away and not associate yourself with them anymore? At least give them a little silent treatment perhaps?

No matter how justified you may feel in any of these or similar types of responses they do not help. When my wife became her Mr. Hyde-like self under those negative waves of depression, I learned over time, and it did take time, that it didn’t matter what negative or completely irrational thing she said – I needed to respond to her with love and kindness. Sometimes the fruit of that significant effort in self-control wouldn’t be apparent until hours or even days later, but it always helped. Eventually when the real Eve would bubble up, however briefly, from underneath all of that negative emotion she was swimming in, she would always thank me for loving and supporting her and for treating her with patience and kindness. She also mentioned, on more than one occasion, that she felt like a horrified observer about how she acted or what she said while depressed, but was also so happy and grateful for how I responded to her – after I learned my lesson anyway – when she felt so negative and out of control.

It may be that your acts and words of kindness are met with more verbal daggers – be loving and kind anyway. Be loving and kind again and again and again. Choose to be loving and kind no matter what they say or how they act. There may be times when it takes tremendous self-restraint or control – do it anyway. You may feel after dealing for days or even weeks with constant negative emotions from your spouse that it doesn’t help – be loving and kind anyway. Your words and acts of kindness will serve as a healing balm and rock solid support to your spouse as they grapple with what may be the most difficult challenge they have ever faced. Your love and kindness could be all they are holding onto when they are at their lowest. You’ll notice over time that even though your spouse is still going through depression you will feel generally happier if you respond this way and the lows for your spouse won’t be quite as low or quite as frequent. Harvesting the fruit of your efforts, both to develop the capacity to consistently respond with kindness and to notice any improvement in your day and relationship, may take time.

Be patient

A man I admire very much once said “Of course, some days are going to be more difficult than others, but if you leave the escape hatch in the airplane open because you think even before takeoff you may want to bail out in mid-flight, then I can promise you it’s going to be a pretty chilly trip less than fifteen minutes after leaving the ground. Close the door, strap on those seat belts, and give it full throttle. That’s the only way to make a marriage fly.” True words to live by in a marriage, and critical to live by when either spouse is afflicted with depression.

When supporting a spouse dealing with depression, there are going to be days that are more difficult than others. You may be having a particularly bad day yourself or maybe that love and kindness you have been trying to practice doesn’t appear to be paying off. In these moments, choose to be patient. Think of your favorite story or idea that teaches patience. For me, the visual idea of harvest time is powerful and instructive. I can’t make the final harvest come any faster by my efforts, but I can choose along the way to nourish my crop and provide the best environment I can for it to grow. The harvest could represent getting past the worst of depression. Part of the essential nourishment for your marriage (crop) along the way is the love, kindness, and patience that you practiced prior to the harvest.

Find an idea, story, or quote that helps you practice patience. Accept that you and your spouse may be in for a bumpy ride and that it might last a while, but with time things will get better so “Close the door. Strap on your seat belts, and give it full throttle.” It will likely take time to get the counseling, or medication, or other treatment that are right for your spouse but hold fast to the hope that it will come as you persistently work at it. You may also need to be patient with yourself when you feel like you fall short of who you want to be while supporting your spouse during depression. Hold onto hope. Hold onto the idea that things can and will get better even if it has been a particularly rough set of days, weeks, or even months. Sometimes you just need a good meal and a hot shower or perhaps just a new morning to help you feel renewed. As with striving to be consistently kind and loving, I found that as I deliberately tried to be patient in both day-to-day difficulties and over the long run of our relationship, I felt genuinely happier and saw that it strengthened our relationship even during bouts of depression.

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Get Help

Major depressive disorder can significantly affect your ability to function day-to-day and will likely require more than your own efforts to face. If you believe that you or your spouse may be experiencing depression please seek help from competent medical professionals – a good place to start could be with your family doctor who may recommend further avenues of treatment. I certainly don’t pretend to know everything about all types of depression, but for many, counseling, significant changes in diet or lifestyle, and/or changes in body chemistry as a result of medication may be required to treat it. For some, depression is like trying to bake a cake without proper ingredients. How would your cake turn out if you used only half of the sugar or eggs called for in the recipe? No matter how good your intentions, positive outlook, or determination, the cake would never be as good as when the ingredients are added in their proper proportions. For those with this type of depression – my wife included – being able to feel like themselves again requires treatment in the same way that someone with high blood pressure or with a hypo or hyperactive thyroid takes daily medication.

For us, getting the right help also required plenty of patience. It takes time to schedule doctor’s appointments. There can be a considerable wait between appointments or when scheduling with a new doctor or clinic. It may take time to find the right doctor whom you trust, is understanding, as well as competent in these matters. Because brain chemistry is complex and not perfectly well understood, finding the right medication – for those that need it – is often a very specific trial and error method for each individual regarding both the type of anti-depressant and its proper dosage. It can feel daunting or even overwhelming going through the process, but try as best you can to practice patience and to hold onto hope. I reemphasize the cake recipe analogy regarding anti-depressants. They do not produce an unnatural high or make someone artificially happy regardless of how they might feel otherwise. Rather, like using proper ratios of ingredients in a recipe, they can help someone simply feel like themselves again and to react normally to their day to day experiences.

Develop personal strength

This section is about you. Yes, if going through depression, your spouse needs plenty of support including unyielding love and kindness, patience, and probably some professional help, but having your spouse go through depression can definitely take a toll on you as well. Find a way, or perhaps multiple ways, to gain personal strength and rejuvenation. Some find it helpful to write a feelings journal just to conceptualize and express all the emotion they are experiencing.  Maybe you really enjoy nature or just reading a good book. For me, two practices were particularly helpful. I am a man of faith so prayer was a rock solid support. It significantly helped me to express feelings, both highs and lows, to a loving Father and also served as a powerful reset for me at the start of a day before accomplishing what I needed to do as well as to lovingly support my wife.

It wasn’t as apparent then, but the other big help was actually just having a lot of work to do. I had very challenging college courses during much of this struggle and in some ways it was therapeutic to be forced to work and to focus my mind on something I had to get done rather than to ruminate over our challenges and get sad and down about it all. Again, because we all differ significantly, particularly in our tastes for things that we enjoy, your method of finding strength and rejuvenation may be quite different. Whatever your method is to feel strengthened and uplifted, be deliberate both about doing it and enjoying it. There is still much that is good, and fun, and uplifting in the world even when depression makes it feel like it is all out of reach.

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A few final suggestions

There were also other smaller things that we did on a day-to-day basis that helped out quite a bit as well. The first was to just get out of the house. When Eve was depressed, the last thing she ever wanted to do was to get out of the house because she didn’t feel like it. If I stubbornly persisted enough though, she would usually let me talk her into at least going for a drive. Sometimes we would even go to a store or a park. We found that getting her out of the house (or in our case, a small apartment) lightened her mood a bit and helped her focus on things going on around her instead of inside of her.

Nighttime was usually when the depression was the worst for Eve. There were many nights when I would have to simply turn on the light so it wouldn’t be so dark. We also played a lot of board games at 2:00 and 3:00 AM in the morning to help Eve calm down if it was a particularly bad night.

One thing that we’ve had to be careful about is different medications. Although Eve hasn’t had any major bouts of depression for a few years, she has gotten depressed due to an antibiotic once, as well as from a medicine prescribed for headaches. If you or someone you are close to starts a new medication, be mindful that although depression is a less-experienced side effect, it still is one.

Like me, Eve finds great solace and personal strength in prayer. In her darkest hours she would pray fervently for comfort and peace. Although it didn’t cure her of her depression, it carried her through her sorrows, helped her get up out of bed every day, and it gave her hope that she would one day feel relieved of her heavy burden and trial.

Years later….

Our story continues, but thankfully Eve hasn’t suffered a severe bout of depression for years now. We are happy, we think the world of each other, and we have also been blessed with three beautiful children. We look back on those years of depression now as an extremely difficult and trying time, but also as a time of great growth for each of us individually and as a couple. Depression is real. It is hard. It affects many lives, and not just those who are depressed themselves. Based my own experience, if you are supporting a spouse through depression I encourage you to choose to be loving and kind ALWAYS, choose to be patient and to have hope, get help as soon as possible, and remember to take care of yourself and find joy and rejuvenation in something meaningful to you. Both you and your spouse can get through these dark days. Your love, trust, and admiration for each other will deepen profoundly as you lovingly support each other through one of life’s deepest lows.

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About Celeste Davis

Celeste loves dishing out unsolicited marriage advice over at A Thing Called Love Blog. Mom of three, wife of one, she's a big believer in the power of redemption, the power of kindness, and the power of Netflix. Also cheese.

34 thoughts on “Supporting a Spouse Through Depression Part 2

  1. Thank you so much for writing about this. Everyone’s journey with depression is different, but I think your advice is both pertinent and universal. Thank you.

  2. As someone who has struggled on and off with depression, I can say these are some great pointers. Also, I loved that you included to get out and do something for yourself! I can be just as hard for the one dealing with a depressed spouse as it is for the depressed spouse! Sometimes a little “me time” is really important.

  3. Celeste, I am glad to hear things are a lot better with your family. If we can remember, that depression is angry inward. Encourage verbalization of feels and seek help quickly if needed. You have it all down pack. I enjoy reading this article about depression mainly because the subject is familiar. You are doing the right thing. don’t forget to take time out for yourself.

  4. Very thoughtful and moving piece. I am blessed that my husband’s bouts with depression are only seasonal. He sometimes has SADs but this year looks like we are on track for a better year. I think it is so important to be kind and patient with your spouse in any situation. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Mary, I hope you and your husband made it through the winter alright. SADs is so tough, especially because it comes around so often. Thank you for your comments.

  5. Depression is hard on everyone involved in that person’s life. Great tips for the spouse of someone with depression but my biggest thought is the support for the spouse as well. I know you mentioned prayer but there will be days the spouse doesn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel either- we all have bad days. However, dumping everything on someone who is already having a hard time doesn’t exactly help- especially if the big struggle is their depression. It doesn’t help to keep it in either. You need someone else that help you too- great friends or other family members. It is just hard- for everyone. And yes- lots and lots and lots of patience with understanding.

    1. Camille, you brought up such a great point. Friends and family members can be such great forms of support when dealing with (or loving someone who is dealing with) depression. Thanks for your comment.

    1. Yes, we are very blessed to have one another. Thank you for the link to the other article and for taking the time to comment!

  6. Thanks for sharing brad and eve. Everyone’s experience with depression will be different, but the advice you share i think is universal.
    Again, thanks.

  7. I was severely depressed after I miscarried my first pregnancy. It was so so hard. The best thing my husband did was just be there, holding my hand even when I didn’t want to talk or do anything but zone out. It’s amazing how just one persons presence and love can help bring someone back to life.

    1. Oh, Suzzie, we are so sorry to hear about your miscarriage. A loss of ANY kind is devastating. We’re grateful your husband was such a support to you. Lots of love.

  8. In 2004-05 I had a severe bout with depression. It completely rocked my world and impacted my husband and young son. It took about a year and a half for medication to work properly. But I made it. God helped me every inch of the way, even when I couldn’t feel anything or think straight. I am happy to report that my depression is in “remission.” I take my medication faithfully and enjoy every day.

    1. Kerry, it’s so true that it affects you AND everyone you are close to. We’re so glad that you found medication that helped and that you’re doing better. Thanks for sharing!

  9. Thank you for this I’m not sure how easy it will be to be patient I sometimes feel like I don’t have enough strength but I do love my husband and am willing to share what little strength I have. X

    1. Charlotte, we hope you and your husband are doing ok. Hang in there and remember there will be happy times ahead. The storm won’t last forever, and after it is over, your marriage will be stronger and your love will run deeper. Sending hugs and love.

  10. I have been dealing with my husband depression for the Last 4 years he has change jobs 4 times and took a year off, tried 5 different type of meds, he is therapy that seems to help the most of all but it seems that no matter what he does, he can’t be without suffering. I’m very emotionally tired of being strong for him I want to be supportive to him in his struggle but lately all I think about is running away. I’m 29 no kids, no degree, no real Debt. I guess im.hoping for you to tell me everything will be fine like everyone else who I have spoken to has but something inside of me it’s broken and I can’t break free because I’m afraid of what would happen if I decide to go. In a perfect world if I were to go his depression will cure and we both be better off without the other one but I’m afraid that won’t be the case. I can honestly say that I have stay loyal and for the most part loving towards him but I feel I need more than this out of life. So my question is how long does depression lasted for you guys? How did you stay patient and loving?

    1. Mary,
      I’m glad you decided to reach out and post what you and your husband have been dealing with for so long. I’m sorry to hear about your husband’s struggle with depression, and I commend you for sticking with him for so long. He is blessed to have you by his side. I’ve never dealt with depression for longer than a year and a half at a time, so I can’t even imagine what you two have been going through. I’m sorry. First off, is he seeing a doctor for his depression? I imagine he has been to have tried so many different medications. Have they tried testing him for other things? Sometimes depression is an underlying symptom of something bigger going on. I would try and have him tested for things like iron deficiency, vitamin D deficiency, and thyroid disease, to name a few. How often is he seeing his counselor? Does he have suicidal thoughts, and if so, does his counselor know? Don’t feel guilty for wanting to leave. Of course this is draining on you and I’m sure you must be so tired for having to deal with this for such a long time. I don’t have all of the details to your situation, so I don’t feel like I should offer advice on whether or not you should leave, but I do think it would be incredibly helpful for you to see a counselor, preferably a marriage counselor, and I strongly recommend that you do so. If you feel more comfortable going without your spouse then do so. They can help you with your situation, and they have been professionally trained to do so. I also think that you need to make sure you are connected with others (friends and family can be such a strong support system), that you get out just by yourself at times and do things that YOU want to do, and that you take good care of your emotional health. I wish I could offer more advice besides what was written in the post. Stay strong. Pray for strength, and do know that this WON’T last forever, no matter how long it has been going on for. We’ll keep you in our prayers. <3 <3 <3 Sending hugs.

  11. These post are so helpful! My husband suffers from depression and has done for nearly 20years we have been together 9 years. Sometimes I feel I am not the best thing for him. I’m quite tough and not the most sensetive person and where sometimes I think this is good for him because I really try to get him doing things. But sometimes I think he needs a kinder and more caring wide someone a little softer. I really do love him and care deeply for him I just show these in different ways. You advise about alway be kind and caring is going to take time for me to achieve. I hope I can. I run to clear my head. I think one of my biggest mistakes is trying to fix my husband when deep down I know I must support him whilst he fixes himself. I just hate seeing this horrid illness take over and I want to make it better. I must learn to stand back and support him. No mention the lack of closeness in a relationship with depression, this is hard we hardly make love, we do spend a lot of time together but often we feel more like best friends because the depression has stolen his want for anything more. He has spoken to his very good doctor but to no avail. To end on a positive note he has recently changed meds to try and help his sex drive but these new tablets did not help and made him very dizzy, so I suggested he might try nothing for a while and he agreed. He has now been free of meds for nearly 4weeks it’s amazing he seems more real to me. Unfortunately still no want for any sexual relationship but I hope this will come in time.
    Kindest wishes for you all x

    1. Bex,
      We’re so glad that this post was helpful! First off, your husband chose YOU. He doesn’t need anyone else, he needs the person he chose to spend the rest of his life with, through thick and thin, for better or worse. We understand that you want to fix him and cure him of depression, and that he wants to do the same for himself. However, for many cases that is just not possible. You mentioned that he has already spoken to his doctor and also that he has been dealing with depression for 20 years. That is TOO LONG. Something needs to change. No one should have to live with that for that long. I would take him to see another doctor or a psychiatrist. Have you thought about counseling? Has he been tested for other things? Sometimes depression is an underlying symptom of something bigger going on. We commend you for being there for your husband. He is blessed to have you. But enough is enough and he needs more help than what he has already gotten, for his sake, for your sake, and for the sake of your marriage. We’re sorry that your intimate life has struggled as well. We know how that goes too, and it’s HARD. While he make not feel up for having sex, your marriage NEEDS physical intimacy. Cuddle, hold hands, spoon in bed, kiss him on the cheek often, cling to his arm, and be affectionate. He needs these things just as much as you do, he just might not realize it or be able to express it right now. It sounds like you’re doing everything you can for him. Now make sure you take care of yourself as well. <3

  12. Thank you for your words, they were right on. My husband has battled bouts of depression ranging from a “bad day” to “I don’t want to live anymore”. We have been married for 17 years and have two awesome kids. I will say that I have had moments of desperation and fear so gripping that I didn’t know how to help him. I wasn’t sure if he would come home or if he would get through this one. But God is faithful. Those scary times are very few and are getting to be farther in between. I feel that I have been kind and loving and patient almost to a fault. Occasionally, he needs me to tell him to put on his big boy pants and face life. The struggle I have is in discerning the difference.
    One of the other things that I struggle with is feeling like I cannot have a bad day. And if I do, I cannot share it with the one who is supposed to be there for me. I know that my husband doesn’t want me to feel this way, but I think it is just a natural protective behavior. Part of the cause of his depression is that he deals with other people’s problems for a living (he is a pastor), and he really internalizes everyone else’s pain. He sees a counselor and has seen a real turn around in his coping skills by exercising regularly and changing his diet. But life still overwhelms him now and then.
    We are fighting the good fight and most of time we are winning. We still get knocked down, but with God’s help we continue to get back up.

    1. HB,
      Thank you for posting. Yes, when Eve was depressed I went through the same emotions and fears and anxieties over her. I would worry about and pray for her fervently. God IS good and will support you in your fiery trials. Yes, you are entitled to bad days. If you feel like you can’t lean on your husband during those days, lean on someone else. A friend, a family member, and God. We’re so glad to hear that the scary times are getting farther and farther apart. God bless you and your marriage!

  13. I recently got married to an amazing man, the love of my life, the answer to all my prayers. I suffer from depression and I fear that it will come between my husband and I. We have only been married four months, I know that him & I are meant to be together By Gods blessing…I simply fear that my depression will scare him and drag him under. He does his best to support me and just be there, I am not on any meds but I think its time that I seek help, I can barely get out of bed, feel sick to my stomach every morning, anxious, scary thoughts…it scares me that my daughter said Im worried you are sick because you lay down alot under the covers. I dont want this mental illness stealing my joy, stealing me away from my husband and children. Maybe I need to give meds a try again?! Any suggestions

    1. Hi, Sabrina! I know you were asking your questions to the author of this post, but I had to jump in because I have struggled with depression, and it is REAL and can be debilitating. With what you describe about not being able to get out of bed in the morning and fearing the impact it’s having on your relationships, I would say you should definitely talk to your doctor about medication. You should probably start with your primary care doctor or OBGYN. Don’t downplay what you are feeling–tell them just how bad it can be. If they don’t take you seriously, talk to a different doctor. You do not have to live under a dark cloud! Mental illness is just like any other illness–there is no shame in getting medicine and other help. I’d also suggest finding a good counselor. Your doctor may have recommendations, or it’s always good to get a recommendation from a friend if you know of someone who has been in counseling in the past. It can be scary to ask for this type of recommendation, but your closest friends will not think less of you. If you don’t have anyone to ask for a rec, I would suggest contacting your insurance company and seeing if they have a list of providers or just googling someone in your area. You may have to try a couple of counselors before you find a good “fit” for your personality, but don’t give up! It can be so helpful! I pray you will find peace and relief in the coming months as you seek help! You are not alone.

    1. Sabrina,
      Thank you for reaching out. We’re sorry to hear of your depression but glad that you and your husband have each other. Yes, it is time to seek professional help, and the best place to start would be by making an appointment with your family doctor. As Rachel said, don’t hold any information back from your doctor. Let them know how severe it is. The sooner you reach out for help, the sooner you can be treated and start feeling better again. There IS hope and there IS help. Your doctor might prescribe some medication for you, or they might refer you to a psychiatrist. Reach out to them and don’t be afraid to share details with them. They see people who suffer from depression daily, and they are qualified and able to get you the help that you (na d your marriage) deserves. Don’t delay. We’ll keep you in our prayers. <3

  14. I have to admit that I don’t feel kind, and I don’t feel patient. I have been married to a man who deals with his depression with rage. He is angry, nasty and mean when he is down — I have been trod upon for my “kindness” for 25 years and I am ready to walk away. We have recieved counseling together and separately, and I have many interests and friends, etc. My husband’s depression is a huge shadow that lurks over everything in our lives. By the way, he is a psychologist.

  15. I have to agree with Linda. I have been in a 34 year marriage, 28 years of wifes depression, medication only and working about 1/2 the time. I have actually fell into my own depression twice through this and sought treatment from psyciatrist i.e. medication and therapy and both times had a successful treatments. 4 years ago, my wife was in another deep depression struggle (while taking medication) that lasted for 3 years. I have encouraged her to seek help with therapy and possible change of meds. She refuses but is able to get her current meds through PAC or regular Dr, not psyciatrist and therapy. That is her attempt to fight the illness, with what seems to be no thought of what it is doing to me or our relationship.
    When I read your article I agree whole heartedly with your advice of care, kindness and patients towards a spouse suffering from this horrible illness but at what point do you get to the end of your rope? Loose all hope? I generally am an optimist thinker and problem solver, but this is one problem that has persisted and the refusal of my spouse to seek more help is especially tough to watch. I have personally beat the illness myself, but have watched the illness destroy our marriage.

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