Depression in marriage creates a difficult problem. The parents are supposed to be the leaders, example setters, and encouragers to each other and to their children. When one of the adults has big mental health problems, this changes the balance and affects everyone. Depression in marriage is a destructive third wheel.
Depression In Marriage Creates A Blind Spot
Perhaps the most damaging aspect of depression is the blind spot it creates for the affected person. It distorts their ability to perceive what’s happening to them. They can’t take other people’s perspectives as well as they used to. Beyond this, they don’t realize how much these abilities have been deteriorating as the depression has progressed.
Self- perception can be affected in a number of ways for a depressed person. Because they are in a family, every aspect of their depression touches everyone else. Here are a few examples of how this can present itself during depression.
He or she may know something is wrong, but:
- They can’t accurately understand how it affects others.
- They can’t accurately describe it to others.
- They have too much shame or negative self-talk to take the risk of telling anyone.
- They minimize it to themselves and others.
- They attribute their troubles to outside circumstances, not themselves.
The depressed person doesn’t purposely do these things to frustrate everyone they love. The depression impairs them so they can’t see out from the inside. It’s equally frustrating to the depressed person because they problems continue to go unsolved.
Family Dynamics Change Because Of Depression
The following example shows how the depression dictates the way family dynamics work. Instead of being moved by mutual love and family interest, the depression pushes people around according to its rules.
Your spouse has found themselves in a deep hole from circumstances beyond their control. This could be health problems, job issues, financial responsibilities that have gone badly, fallouts with friends of family, etc. These circumstances leave them depressed and not functioning well.
You see they are in the hole and try to help without falling in yourself. Up around the edge of the hole, you find a few things that look useful. There’s a map of how other people have gotten out of similar holes, showing footholds and good ways to make the climb up. You find a long rope with knots, which looks like it could hold your spouse’s weight. You also find a few shovels that they could use to change the shape of the hole and more easily climb out themselves. It seems there are other possibly useful things around the hole as you keep looking. You are sure one of these will work.
You tell your spouse about all these solutions up here at the top of the hole, hoping to provide some encouragement. It is dark down there and they are feeling lonely. You throw the rope down and tell them how you think they could use it to climb up. You assure them that you and others will hold it tightly as they climb up the knots.
Your spouse tosses the rope back up. Says there’s no way.
Confused but undeterred, you toss down the map of how others have gotten out of holes like this. You explain that the directions are thorough and they just need to follow them. You will be up at the top making sure the way stays clear of any falling rocks or dirt, and will be ready to grab their hand when they get to the top.
Your spouse tosses the map back up. Says that won’t work.
You are feeling a little scared now, but also more confused. Even a little angry. How do they expect to get up if they won’t try something? You finally toss down the last thing in your hands – the shovel. You say that the dirt looks pretty soft in some places and they could probably scoop it in such a way that they could climb on top of it and get out.
Your spouse tosses the shovel back. Says they won’t do that.
The only solution that would have worked is if there wasn’t ever a hole, or if it just fills itself. They can’t possibly do anything to get out themselves.
Well, now what? If your spouse won’t come out, do you and your family just try to live close to the hole now? Do you keep throwing things down hoping something will work eventually? You don’t want to abandon them down there. But you feel torn. You and your kids want to do things that require you to move away from the hole, things your spouse would have done, too. Except now they won’t come out unless a very unlikely or impossible solution comes along.
Solutions For Depression In Marriage
This example illustrates just how difficult it can be to help someone who doesn’t believe they can be helped. Depression can trap a person in their own prison. This is especially true if they naturally think in black-and-white terms, or if they tend to live by more rigid routines. Mental flexibility is crucial for getting out of depression. That paralysis is what you see when your spouse becomes depressed. You may feel like you are losing your life partner right in front of your eyes.
There’s no clear and easy answer to this situation. It really depends on the family, the depressed person’s social connections, and the circumstances surrounding the depression. Sometimes a whole-family approach is better so they don’t feel singled out. Slow reintroduction to social activities and mutual fun activities for the married couple and family can ease the depressed person back into their life.
In other cases, it may just take some time for the depressed spouse to adjust to the situation that caused them such despair (such as grief, lifestyle change, etc). With this approach, the healthy spouse needs a lot of support themselves. It may seem like very little is happening most of the time. The depressed spouse may be ready to go to individual counseling or see their doctor at some point, but it may be alone and in their own time.
Depression in marriage can be draining for everyone involved. Connecting with others who have been down this road can offer you hope for positive change. NAMI is the National Alliance on Mental Illness. They have support groups for family members of people with mental illness in every state. If you need support and guidance because depression is in your marriage, you’ll find many people who are in your shoes.
This kind of mental health struggle can really push a marriage to the brink. Spouses dealing with depression in their marriage need resources and information to help their family get through it. Are you feeling overwhelmed by this right now?
For more help understanding depression in marriage, read more articles in the Depression in Marriage category.
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