• By: Nancy Wasson, Ph.D.

    Just in the United States alone, depressive disorders affect approximately 18.8 million adults in any given year.

    Statistics show that only 20 percent of those who experience this diagnosis will receive an appropriate treatment plan. Many individuals will be too embarrassed to seek help and will suffer in silence, sometimes for years.

    The effects of can negatively impact every aspect of a person’s life—marriage, home life, work and friendships. And the burden of living with a depressed spouse can take a heavy toll on the quality of a marriage.

    Untreated it poses a very real threat to a marriage. Recent research indicates that when one spouse suffers from depression, the likelihood is increased that both spouses will have an unhappy marriage.

    This is because mental health and unhappy marriages are closely entwined. The harmful effects are not limited to the one spouse but also affect the partner.

    The depressed spouse will experience less happiness, satisfaction and contentment in the marriage. At the same time, the partner will struggle with handling the increased isolation and social withdrawal of their spouse, the loss of emotional intimacy (and often sexual intimacy as well), and the prevalent negativity in the relationship.

    When one spouse is unhappy, the despondency colors everything in the relationship. The down spouse sees the world through a darkened lens that limits his or her perspective. Any negative events are interpreted even more negatively; neutral events are also interpreted negatively, and the positive happenings are often overlooked.

    It’s as though individuals have blinders on that keep them from seeing any positive, hopeful opportunities right in front of them. Even if they did see them, they wouldn’t have the energy to follow through.

    The depressed spouse often loses interest in activities that used to bring pleasure and may experience fatigue and listlessness. There can be loss of sleep or sleeping too much; eating too much or too little; or problems with focusing and concentration.

    Feelings of love and sexual desire may become dulled or absent. The biggest danger when this happens is that the depressed spouse may erroneously conclude that this means he or she is no longer in love with the mate.

    Many individuals report that they feel detached from what is happening, as though they are watching a movie. There can be a profound feeling of separation and isolation from others and a desire to avoid social contact. There can be feelings of sadness, hopelessness, dejection and resignation. Or there can be feelings of irritation, agitation, anger or emotional numbness.

    Another danger to the marriage is that the other partner can become depressed from the cheerless atmosphere and energy in the relationship. It can be viewed as contagious when it creeps into a partner’s outlook, attitudes, moods, conversation, behaviors and reactions. When this happens, both spouses may feel they are helplessly sinking lower and lower into despair.

    Blame and shame are involved and can cause additional problems. If a spouse doesn’t understand that the partner is sick and not just lazy or uncooperative, then she or he may blame the partner for things he can’t help at the time. This stirs up feelings of anger and resentment for the spouse.

    The spouse may be ashamed to admit that he or she can’t handle the depression alone and thus refuse to see a physician. This feeling of shame reflects the belief of numerous people. They may feel that they should be able to just “snap out of it,” which is what family and friends may tell them, also.

    In one research study, 54 percent of people surveyed believed that depression is a personal weakness. In reality, it has nothing to do with personal weakness or willpower or character.

    It is an illness that involves the body, mood and thoughts. It’s not just a case of the “blues” that a person can “get over.” Thus, common misunderstandings about it can add to the problem.

    It’s vital for both spouses to have a thorough understanding of the disorder—what it is, what it isn’t, what to expect, and what treatment options are recommended. It’s also important to recognize that before marital problems can be effectively treated, the root cause needs to be treated. This means that the spouse needs to see a physician or mental health professional for an assessment and treatment recommendations.

    What can a spouse do when their partner refuses to seek help? This is a common situation, and there’s no one answer that fits all situations. It’s important to get the partner to the doctor or mental health professional, even if the spouse has to schedule the appointment, take time off from work, and accompany the partner to the appointment.

    Sometimes the parents or siblings of a resistant spouse can be enlisted to encourage him or her to take action and seek treatment. At other times, a close friend or minister can help to convince the spouse to consult with a physician or see a therapist.

    Another strategy that a concerned partner can use is to send a confidential letter to the spouse’s doctor, detailing the concerns and symptoms observed. This only works when the spouse has to see his or her physician for some other reason, such as a required annual physical, to get a prescription for medication, or ongoing monitoring of some condition. The physician can’t respond to the partner’s letter due to confidentiality, but at least the information has been conveyed.

    If all else fails, the partner can consult with a therapist herself or himself to get individualized recommendations on how to handle the situation. Together, they can create an appropriate plan of action while the therapist provides emotional support to the partner.

    Wasson , N. (2006, Nov 06). How depression can threaten your marriage. Retrieved from http://www.twoofus.org/educational-content/articles/how-depression-can-threaten-your-marriage/index.aspx