Sunday, December 10, 2023

How Does Depression Affect Marriage?

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Have you or your partner been grappling with depression?

If you’re experiencing depression, there’s a possibility that your mood is affecting your partner as well.

Depression is a prevalent condition that can impact individuals of all ages and genders. While depression is an individual diagnosis, it can have adverse effects on your interpersonal relationships, including your marriage. Given its widespread prevalence, it’s important to explore how depression can influence your partner and your marriage.

First things first- let’s understand what depression is —

Depression extends beyond occasional sadness; it’s a pervasive mental health condition marked by persistent fatigue, cognitive changes and a profound loss of interest in nearly all activities. It’s not just a fleeting response to a challenging day; it’s a sustained and often irritable sadness that disrupts your life. Depression’s impact can range from mild to severe, eroding joy and distorting your outlook towards life. It manifests as irritability, heightened stress reactions, and at its worst, it can lead to suicidal thoughts.

Recognizing depression involves identifying signs like chronic fatigue, hopelessness, indecision, feelings of emptiness, worthlessness, loss of interest in once-beloved activities and a debilitating lack of motivation.

When five or more of these symptoms persist for at least two weeks or an extended period of time, it may indicate clinical depression, also known as major depression, a serious condition warranting immediate evaluation by a medical or mental health professional, both for the sake of your well being and the health of their relationships.

How does depression affect your marriage?

Over time, depression reshapes one’s self-perception and perspective on the world, changing behavior and personality, making the affected spouse seem like a different person. Research suggests that couples with depression face a higher risk of marital conflict, driven by altered perception and negativity. This may lead to hurtful interactions, withdrawal, and, in severe cases, an increased risk of divorce.

Here are some ways depression can affect your marriage — 

  • Anhedonia- Depression can profoundly impact your marriage by causing emotional detachment, often due to anhedonia, a depression symptom that is responsible for robbing joy from shared activities and creating strain on your relationship.
  • Communication problems- Depression can result in reduced communication and misunderstandings between partners even if the presence of depression in the relationship is acknowledged. Despite a spouse being informed about your depression, the symptoms may still be misinterpreted as intentional emotional detachment or a decline in affection and attraction. Sometimes it can be hard to communicate how you’re feeling with your spouse which can lead to emotional withdrawal and challenges for your spouse to comprehend your emotional state.
  • Emotional distance- Depression can cause you to become emotionally distant making it difficult for spouses to connect on an emotional level. If this emotional gap is not addressed in a timely manner it can strain the marriage and leave you feeling isolated or lonely. 
  • Low sex drive- Depression can often lead to a decrease in libido and sexual interest. Sex plays a huge role in marriages. So a lack of it can create tension in the relationship, and may even be misinterpreted as a lack of attraction or desire for your partner. 
  • Increased conflict and stress- The stress and frustration that can result from living with depression or with a depressed partner can often lead to conflicts within the marriage. Arguments and misunderstandings can occur more frequently and sometimes the stress and helplessness of being the caregiver can take an emotional and physical toll.
  • Impact on your social life- Depressed individuals often shun themselves from socialising which in a marriage can affect your socialising as a couple. This can make it difficult for the non depressed partner to maintain their own social connections and support their depressed spouse at the same time. 
  • Financial strain- Suffering from depression or being a caregiver often leads to work performance issues which can result in financial difficulties. This added stress can further strain a marriage. 
  • Feeling unsupported- Sometimes its hard to understand what your depressed partner needs and even harder to communicate if you are the depressed one. This gap in communication can be misconstrued as lack of support by your spouse. If you don’t fully understand the condition it can be hard to find the best way to offer help.

How does depression in marriage affect the spouse?

Depression can lead the non-depressed partner to experience a sense of helplessness and bewilderment. During such times, it’s natural to grapple with stress, and frustration when your spouse is dealing with depression. Since the changes in your relationship are primarily driven by depression, your typical efforts to improve things may seem ineffectual and in extreme cases possibly causing you to question the viability of the relationship’s future.

When your partner is depressed, it’s common to internalise it, believing that their feelings reflect a lack of care for you or a perception of your own dullness and uninterest. In reality, it’s not about you, as they are likely experiencing these emotions across various aspects of their life. 

Does depression commonly lead to divorce?

What to do if your spouse lives with depression

First and foremost, understand that depression is treatable. If your spouse lives with depression, seeking professional help can be a big first step. If they’re reluctant to make the commitment, offer to accompany them and show your support.

Other ways you can support your marriage during this time include:

  • Learn more about depression to understand what your spouse is going through, This will also help you recognise the signs and symptoms of depression.
  • Make an effort to do things together to reduce symptoms like anhedonia.
  • It’s extremely important to create a supportive and safe environment for your depressed spouse.
  • Acknowledge and talk about depression. Don’t try to will it away without properly addressing it.
  • Consider revisiting peak experiences where they felt the most joy and happiness.

What to do when depression affects your marriage —

Limited data exists on the link between depression and divorce, but research indicates that depression can lead to increased marital conflict due to altered perceptions and negative viewpoints. While depression isn’t a direct cause of divorce, it can contribute to marital problems, potentially increasing the risk of divorce if left unaddressed. The strain of depression on the marriage, particularly when both partners struggle to cope effectively, can be a factor in the decision to divorce.

Learn the signs and symptoms of depression —

Education plays a significant role in identifying depression. Engage in reading and discussions about the potential signs and symptoms that may signal the presence of depression, or even if it has already taken hold.

Seek help —

It’s crucial to emphasise that depression is a condition with effective treatments available and it is vital for both the person experiencing depression and their spouse to seek professional assistance.

Approaches such as therapy, medication, lifestyle adjustments and support from family and friends can be highly effective in managing depression and enhancing the overall quality of the marriage.

Fostering open and empathetic communication, gaining knowledge about depression and being a supportive spouse are all important steps for couples to take to successfully navigate the difficulties that depression may introduce into their marriage.

Get out in front of the pain rather than letting the depression get out in front of you!

Vinita Alvares Fernandes
Vinita Alvares Fernandes is an Economics graduate, a writer and a Trinity College certified public speaker and communicator

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