How to Help Your Spouse With Depression

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How to Help Your Spouse With Depression. Standing on the sidelines when a partner battles depression can feel like a helpless experience. You might feel confused, frustrated, and overwhelmed. You might feel like every attempt you make to “help” your partner is either rejected or, worse, ignored. You might even begin to feel responsible for your partner’s depression in some way. You are not alone.

Depression is an isolating illness that can negatively impact relationships and leave loved ones feeling helpless and afraid.

The mood in major depression is often described as sad, hopeless, discouraged, or feeling down, but it can also include persistent anger. Angry outbursts and blaming others is common. Social withdrawal and lack of interest or pleasure are common among depressed people. Family members notice that depressed people seem uninterested in finding joy anymore.

All of these factors can make it difficult to know how to help a depressed partner. But your support is important. You can’t cure your partner’s depression, but you can help your partner along the road to recovery.

Do you feel depressed?


This depression quiz is based on the Depression Screening Test developed by Ivan K. Goldberg, MD, the founder of Psycom who was also a renowned psychiatrist.

What to Do

What You Can Do

1. Learn about Depression In Other to Help Your Spouse With Depression

While the essential feature of major depressive disorder is a period of at least two weeks during which there is either depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure, depression is not a static illness. People with depression can have very good days, even a few good days in a row, only to experience significantly depressed mood once again. There is an ebb and flow to depression that isn’t always understood by loved ones.

Depression can include the following symptoms:

  • Feelings of sadness, tearfulness, or hopelessness

  • Changes in appetite (including weight gain or loss)

  • Sleep disturbance (sleeping too much or too little)

  • Loss of interest or pleasure in normal activities

  • Fatigue (even small tasks can require extra time)

  • Anxiety or agitation

  • Anger outbursts

  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt (including ruminating on past events)

  • Trouble thinking, concentrating, or making decisions

  • Frequent thoughts of death, including suicidal thoughts

  • Unexplained physical symptoms

An important first step in helping your partner is to understand the disease. Symptoms of depression can vary, and can change over time. You can certainly read about depression and consult a professional for more information, but the best way to understand how your partner experiences depression is to ask open-ended questions and use empathic listening.

2. Offer Support to Help Your Spouse With Depression

How to Help Your Spouse With Depression

You might feel like the best way to be helpful is to find the best available treatment in your area, find support groups, or talk to other people battling depression to find out what “works,” but often the best thing you can do for your partner is simply show up.

You don’t have all the answers, and that’s OK, but what you can do is sit and listen. You can hold your partner’s hand, offer hugs, and be present. You can respond with encouraging statements:

  • “Tell me what I can do to help.”

  • “You are important to me.”

  • “I am here for you.”

  • “We will get through this together.”

3. Encourage Them to Seek Treatment

How to Help Your Spouse With Depression

For many people with depression, symptoms are severe enough to cause noticeable problems in daily activities, such as work, school, social activities, or relationships. Other people, however, might not recognize that they’re depressed. They might not understand the symptoms of depression and think that their feelings are just something they have to endure.

All too often, people feel that they just have to will themselves better, but depression seldom improves without treatment. You can help your partner by encouraging treatment and being there during appointments.

Help your partner consider getting treatment by doing the following:

  • Share the symptoms you’ve noticed

  • Express your concern

  • Express your willingness to help, including making and preparing for appointments

  • Discuss what you’ve learned about depression

  • Talk about treatment options, including psychotherapy, medication, and lifestyle changes

4. Create a Supportive Home Environment

It’s important to remember that your partner’s depression isn’t anyone’s fault. While you can’t fix it, your support will help your partner work through this difficult time.

Changes in lifestyle can make a big difference during the treatment process. Because depression can zap a person’s energy and affect both sleep and appetite, it can be difficult for depressed people to make healthy choices. You can help:

  • Focus on healthy eating. Get your partner involved in planning and cooking healthy meals together to encourage better food choices.

  • Exercise together. Daily exercise can boost your mood. Plan a daily walk or bike ride to inspire getting back to exercise.

  • Help your partner stick with treatment. Whenever possible, drive to appointments together and sit in the waiting room. Psychotherapy can be emotionally exhausting in the early stages. Having support helps.

  • Create a low stress environment. Routines can help depressed people feel more in control of their day-to-day lives. Consider creating a daily schedule to handle meals, medications, and chores.

  • Make plans together. Depression can cause a loss of interest in pleasurable activities. To that end, depressed people sometimes avoid social interactions. Make a weekly date to rent a movie, go for a hike, or even play board games. Start small to help your loved one begin socializing again.

  • Give positive reinforcement. When people feel hopeless, they tend to judge themselves harshly. Be sure to point out strengths and areas of improvement to help your partner see progress.

5. Focus on Small Goals in other to Help Your Spouse With Depression

Depression feels overwhelming. When someone is severely depressed, even the act of getting out of bed can feel like a monumental task.

You can help your partner by setting and acknowledging small goals and daily achievements. Breaking down larger tasks (i.e. applying to new jobs) into smaller tasks (i.e. update resume, write cover letter, research available openings) can help your partner take small steps toward returning to normal daily activities. For people who struggle to get out of bed each day, focus on getting up, taking a shower, and eating a healthy meal.

Your partner is likely to improve with treatment, but you will need to practice patience and understanding when working through a depressive episode.

6. Know the Warning Signs of Suicide

The risk of suicide is always elevated during major depressive disorder. It’s important to know the red flags and get immediate medical assistance:

  • Talking about suicide

  • Getting a means to attempt suicide, such as purchasing a gun or stockpiling pills

  • Extreme mood swings—very high one day and deeply discouraged the next

  • Social withdrawal

  • Preoccupied with thoughts of death

  • Noticeable changes in normal daily routines

  • Feeling overwhelmed with hopelessness

  • Engaging in risky or self-destructive behavior, including drug or alcohol abuse or reckless driving

  • Giving away belongings

  • Saying goodbye

  • Getting affairs in order

  • Developing personality changes

Caring for a partner with depression is emotionally taxing for the caregiver. It’s important to practice self-care and increase your own support network during this time.

7. Be an Active Listener 

It can be difficult to sit back and listen when what you really want to do is jump in and help, but your partner needs you to be supportive, not in charge ln other to Help Your Spouse With Depression. Try these active listening skills:

  • Be fully present when talking. Put away your devices and create time to listen

  • Use nonverbal cues like nodding, eye contact, and leaning in to show that you’re listening

  • Paraphrase what you’re heard and ask follow up questions

  • Use empathic responses like, “that sounds difficult,” or, “I can see why you’re struggling right now”

  • Withhold judgment and advice

Signs of Depression

Signs Your Partner Might Be Depressed 

Depression can cause someone to lose interest in both the people and the activities they love. It can also cause low motivation. Depression impacts nearly all areas of life, including sleep patterns, eating habits, work or school, hygiene, socializing, self-worth, and relationships.

While it’s important to have a doctor or licensed mental health professional diagnose depression and create a treatment plan, you might be the first person to notice symptoms in your partner. If your partner exhibits any suicidal thinking, get help immediately.

Dealing with Conflict to Help Your Spouse With Depression

How to Deal with Conflict with Your Depressed Partner

Depression and relationship conflict can exist in a cyclical pattern because depression can trigger irritability, angry outbursts, and withdrawal from loved ones, but relationship conflict can also spark feelings of depression. The two overlap.

Caring for and living with someone coping with depression can be emotionally taxing, but there are steps you can take to work through and prevent conflict.

  1. Establish clear and healthy communication patterns. Transparency is very important when dealing with complex mental health issues. Daily emotion check-ins that focus on feelings and triggers establish transparency and normalize talking about feelings and symptoms. It also helps to set clear boundaries. If you need a break, say that. Holding in your own needs to care for your partner will only cause resentment and empathy fatigue.

  2. Self-care plans are essential. Both partners need specific self-care plans to use daily to keep stress levels as low as possible. Your plan should include how and where you receive support, daily exercise that fuels energy for you, time away from providing care, and hobbies that give you emotional space from the caring role.

  3. Take a pause. Sometimes conflict sneaks up on you even when you’re practicing self-care and adhering to one another’s boundaries. It’s OK to pause a conflict to step away from the anger and frustration. Come up with an agreement that if one partner calls a pause, that’s the signal to shift gears and do a needs assessment to figure out how both partners can work through the issue in a calm and productive way.

Dealing with Denial

What If My Partner Denies Having Depression?

When one partner in a relationship is living with depression, it becomes a shared experience. This is even more complex when the depressed partner denies having depression.

Denial of depression can occur for many reasons, including:

  • They really don’t feel like anything is wrong

  • Embarrassment

  • Lack of awareness about symptoms—many symptoms overlap with what people consider medical symptoms, like fatigue, headaches, and gastrointestinal distress

  • They’re low on energy and they don’t want to talk about it

  • They feel hopeless and don’t see any way to feel better

  • They are functioning well enough that they don’t think they have depression

  • They rationalize their symptoms as normal ups and downs of adulthood

How to Approach Them

How to Approach Your Partner About Help

First, prioritize your self-care. It’s exceptionally difficult to help someone else when you are running on empty.

Second, focus on helping, not fixing. Try the following:

  • Educate yourself. Books, articles, and your own therapy can all be useful tools as you learn to navigate your supportive role.

  • Ask your partner how you can best support them. What do they need to feel supported?

  • Offer to seek therapy together to work through this difficult time.

  • Reinforce that you are a team and you will support your partner through this.

  • Reach out to close friends and family for additional support.

How Depression Affects Relationships

How Depression Affects Relationships

Depression can negatively affect relationships because it can result in conflict, disconnect, and poor communication. One partner might feel isolated and alone. If the depressed partner is experiencing a low mood, the other partner might feel worried and anxious about their overall wellbeing. Depression also affects everything from work, to socializing, to sexual desire, so the ripples of depression within relationships reach beyond low mood. Depression can affect financial stability and employment.

Given the complex nature of depression and the many ways it affects both partners, it’s important to identify communities of support to help both partners work through it together.