Be a Better Spouse for a Depressed Partner

Considering how prevalent depression is, it's not surprising that many marriages have at least one spouse who suffers from depression. Over time, untreated depression can really take a toll on relationships.

Research shows there is a two-way link between depression and marital distress. Depression can cause marital difficulties as your spouse becomes lethargic and loses interest in once-enjoyable activities. Marital stress can also increase your spouse's risk for developing depression. Depressed patients who have an unsatisfactory marriage are generally slower to respond to depression treatment and more likely to experience a relapse. Furthermore, your partner's degree of anxiety and depression predicts both his and your marital satisfaction.

In an article in the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, author Winne Kung writes that the marital context of the depressed person affects a patient's course of depression along four overlapping dimensions:

1. Creating or buffering stress

2. Providing or depriving the spouse of critical social support

3. Validating or diminishing her sense of self worth

4. Generating positive or negative interactions

With these dimensions in mind, here are a few tips for becoming a better partner to a depressed spouse.

1. Learn the symptoms of depression so you can recognize it. Realize that depression is an illness, not a shortcoming in your partner.

2. Encourage her to seek treatment and stay engaged in her treatment. Be open to marital therapy. Studies show it's effective in reducing depression symptoms.

3. Don't push your partner to "change" his depression (you can't) or be too parental. 

4. Adjust your expectations for the relationship and be realistic.

5. Treat depression as an outside force that is acting on your marriage, not as something that your spouse is intentionally causing. Remember: he doesn't want to be depressed.

6. Stay engaged in the relationship. Provide social support and reinforce her sense of self worth.

A relationship with someone who is has a mental illness is stressful. In fact, the additional marital stress of living with depression can trigger depression in you. It's important to find ways to care for yourself and manage your own stress level. Find time to relax and engage in enjoyable activities; seek support through friends, family, professional counseling, or support groups; and be clear about your own needs and feelings with your partner.

Depression is a highly treatable disorder, so it may help to think of it as a temporary or manageable condition.




Kung, Winnie W. "The intertwined relationship between depression and marital distress: Elements of marital therapy conducive to effective treatment outcome."Journal of Marital and Family Therapy Jan 2000

Rogers-Doll, Beth Ph.D. "Depression in Marriage: Supporting Your Depressed Spouse." April 2005 Newsletter. Web.