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How Depression Affects Marriage

Marriage takes work and commitment, especially during the more difficult times. Many challenges can impact marriage, and mental health is undoubtedly one of them. Poor mental health, especially depression, can take a toll on a person and their relationships.

When one or both people suffer from depression, it can feel impossible to find happiness and fulfillment in being together or apart. It is a devastating condition that can affect your health, well-being, and livelihood. Understanding depression and how to heal from it can help you save your marriage – and save yourself.

What is Depression?

Depression is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, think, and act. Signs of depression include:

  • Fatigue
  • Sadness
  • Loss of interest in hobbies
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Low mood
  • Feeling hopeless or worthless
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Trouble concentrating 

Depression can manifest in many ways. Someone with depression may not be interested in your relationship like they used to or may sleep more than usual. They may express negative thoughts and feelings towards themselves and have low self-esteem. They can also turn to negative coping mechanisms like self-harm or substance use. Signs such as these indicate depression, and you should seek help. 

What Causes Depression?

Depression can be caused by genetics, especially if there is a family history of depression. This type of depression is due to a chemical imbalance in the brain. Various combinations of medication and therapy can treat depression.

Depression can be a lifelong illness but may also appear sporadically. It can be circumstantial and solely based on different life situations. Depression can manifest when your work environment is stressful or when the people in your life provide very little emotional support. Isolation can also occur when you feel extremely isolated from others.

Isolation is also a symptom of depression because when you’re depressed, it’s harder to relate to the people around you. Weather can also influence mood, and people that suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) get depressed when the seasons change. 

Depression may be caused by outside influences, including but not limited to:

  • Weight gain
  • Changes in physical appearance
  • Stress
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Coping with grief

Regardless of the cause of depression, many people experience it at some point in life. That’s why it’s important to understand what depression is and how to cope with it. 

Signs of Depression in Marriage

Lack of Connection

When you feel depressed, it’s hard to want to do much of anything. You may feel like the simplest of tasks, such as brushing your teeth or taking a shower, are next to impossible. It may prove difficult to connect with your spouse or ask them how their day was. You might feel like you have no energy to maintain the relationship and don’t feel like connecting with your partner. This takes a toll on your marriage because you become distant from your partner, further isolating you and contributing to your sadness. 

Your spouse may push you away when they are feeling depressed. You may lose that feeling of connection because they seem too wrapped up in their depression to pay attention to you. It is likely that you miss your spouse and who they were before they became depressed. You may even resent the depression for severing that connection you used to have. You find it more difficult to relate to them or know what’s going on in their head. They may not have much to talk about and are more like empty, hollow shells of their former selves. You no longer connect with them because you don’t recognize them anymore, and this is a tell-tale sign that the depression has affected your marriage. 

Intimacy Issues

One of the first things to suffer when there are issues in a marriage is intimacy. Problems in the bedroom are very common when depression occurs in the marriage. When you’re experiencing symptoms of depression, it is all-consuming, and being intimate with your spouse is no longer a priority. When you have depression, every single day feels like a struggle. 

It’s no wonder that bedroom activities are on the back burner when you’re depressed. You don’t have the energy to engage. You may feel guilty for not being able to be there for your spouse in this way. 

Unfortunately, when depression causes issues with intimacy in a marriage, it has dire consequences. Intimacy separates marriage from close friendship, and without intimacy, a marriage can start to fall apart. If your spouse is too depressed to engage in intimate bedroom activities, it can leave you feeling disappointed and unwanted. You may even think, what’s wrong with me? In reality, it’s the depression that is causing the lack of close intimate connection. 

Household Strain

Suffering from depression means that you’re probably focusing on making it through the day. Washing the dishes or folding the laundry are chores that you just can’t get done due to a lack of energy. This strains the marriage because one person has to take on the heavy load of running the household. Especially when you didn’t live together until after you got married, you may experience more troubles from depression after the wedding. Being in a situation you didn’t exactly sign up for can make it hard for a new marriage. Maintaining a household is stressful, and depression can only add to that stress.   

You may feel like it’s your responsibility to take care of uncompleted tasks. Whether it’s cleaning up around the house, taking care of the pets, putting gas in the car, or taking out the trash, small tasks can start to add up when you’re taking care of every one of them.

Marriage is Making You Depressed 

It’s a vicious cycle in a marriage where one or both people suffer from depression. The relationship difficulties caused by depression can worsen your or your spouse’s depression. When the relationship feels harder than usual, it can take a toll on your mind, body, and spirit, not to mention that anxiety can worsen. 

When the relationship feels harder than usual, it’s no wonder that depression and anxiety can strike. You may see an increase in fights and arguments in the relationship, and you may feel emotionally drained. If you’re feeling depressed, likely, you don’t have the willpower to communicate effectively. It’s natural to want to give up the effort when your spouse is complaining to you about the marriage, but you don’t have the energy to fix things. 

Marriage should add to your life and make you feel happier, but with depression and anxiety, it can be harder to move through the challenges that you face. Depression in marriage is tough to deal with and even more so when the marriage itself is the source of the depression.

Spouse vs. Therapist

Another symptom of depression in marriage is when a spouse has to act more like a therapist than a spouse. It is perfectly normal for spouses to talk about their feelings, but trying to talk them through depression can be too much for someone who isn’t trained. 

Feelings of depression can be constant and all they think about, so it can become a chore to have a conversation when it’s all they can talk about. It can also cause anxiety, making you not want to start a conversation so that you don’t have to talk about it. These conversations and feelings are not uncommon when married to someone with depression. However, it’s important to keep in mind that you aren’t professionally trained to handle everything that comes with depression. It’s okay to encourage your partner to seek professional help. 

Feeling Helpless

Feelings of helplessness are common in depression, and they do not stop after you say your vows. It can appear as pre-wedding depression, feeling like you’re just going through the motions without excitement or happiness. And it can appear as depression after marriage when you realize you are both the same people as before, just with a ring and a piece of paper. These feelings are not your fault and not your partner’s fault, but a symptom of an illness. These feelings may come and go, making it even more difficult to narrow down what you’re feeling. 

When your partner has these feelings of helplessness, it is only natural for you to want to help as much as you can. You might go out of your way to give them gifts or take them out to encourage a new perspective. You might sit and talk with them or try to help them solve their problems. But you can only do this for so long without any noticeable change before it wears you down. This can make you feel helpless as if nothing you do is working. You may feel like there is no way out of depression, whether you are experiencing it or whether your partner is experiencing it. Feeling helpless can negatively impact your marriage because you no longer feel like you have any control of the situation.

Alone in the Marriage

Depression is an incredibly lonely and isolating experience. You feel alone as an individual, but when you are depressed, you also feel alone in the marriage. It is likely you may feel like you are the only person suffering and that no one truly understands you. You may also feel like your partner doesn’t know how to help. They may even make things worse in their efforts to help you feel better. This can cause a downward spiral because it feels like the one person in your life that is supposed to be there for you in sickness and health doesn’t know how to. Feelings of loneliness in the marriage often cause marital depression. There’s a snowball effect because the more distant you feel from your partner, the more it adds to your marital depression. 

When you are married to someone with depression, you may also feel very alone in the relationship. You may feel as if you are constantly supporting the other person and helping them out in any way but with no luck or change in the situation. This may cause resentment and guilt because although you know your spouse cannot help the depression, you still feel resentful towards them. You may feel guilty because you know that your spouse is not depressed on purpose. However, you still feel negatively towards them. Maybe you wish that your spouse would get the help they need, which is what’s causing the resentment. Maybe your spouse is already getting help, but it doesn’t seem to be doing much, so you drift farther and farther apart. When you are feeling alone in the marriage because of depression, it can cause a marriage breakdown.

Healing the Marriage

Address Source of Depression

The first step in healing the marriage is to address the source of the depression. You can ask yourself, is my marriage making me depressed? If the answer is yes, ask yourself this: Do I believe the depression ruined my marriage? These are great places to start because they will force you to address whether or not the depression stems from the marriage itself.

If your marriage is causing depression, there needs to be some serious intervention. Uncovering the source of depression may also help you realize that even though the depression seems to be stemming from an unhappy marriage, it could also be caused by external factors like genetics or life circumstances. These are important questions to consider when figuring out how to heal from depression. 

Part of addressing the source of depression is to fight against the depression and find the energy to do some self-reflection. It’s important to note that only the person suffering from depression can truly address what the source of their depression is. As a first step, make an appointment with your primary care doctor to rule out any medical causes such as vitamin deficiencies or hormone imbalances. If this does not explain where your depression is coming from, the next step would be to seek a mental health professional.  

Couples Therapy

A trained professional therapist can talk about depression and can give you the tools to help. They can have the hard conversations someone may need to have but aren’t comfortable having with their spouse. Their education and experience allows them to talk to people about their mental health problems. Getting to the root of the problem helps heal the situation rather than have it eat away at the marriage. 

Therapists are neutral parties not personally involved in your life, so they can give excellent insights that you might not be able to think of on your own. Going to individual and couples therapy for depression can also help with other things stressing you out that may be contributing to your depression. 

Medication

Medication is a great way to combat depression. There is no shame in taking the medication, even if it’s just for a short while, to help you get through a rough patch. If your spouse is feeling depressed and seems resistant to taking medication, you can gently remind them that medication is there to help, and sometimes it’s only temporary. 

Taking medication to alleviate the symptoms of depression can help the marriage recover immensely. If you are treating the depression at its root cause with medication, it may take 4-6 weeks to see any noticeable changes in feelings and behavior. There may be a trial and error period because medications work differently for different people. 

It’s important to be patient when taking the medication route because it can be very effective if given the proper amount of time to work. Be communicative with your prescribing doctor, and don’t stop taking the medication suddenly or without direction from your doctor. If you or your spouse decides to go on medication for depression, consider it a step in the right direction for your marriage.

Other Forms of Therapy

Medication and therapy are important healing tools when dealing with depression in marriage, but they are only two parts of the healing process. When your marriage is suffering because of depression, the person suffering from depression must take better care of themselves.

There are alternative forms of therapy and medicine that you can even practice together. You can try journaling as a couple or as an individual to get your feelings out on paper. Journaling is a therapeutic way to process your emotions and collect your thoughts. Exercising and eating well are also key aspects of maintaining good mental health and are both activities you can do together to strengthen the relationship. 

You can also seek alternative medicine like massage therapy and chiropractic care if you have the resources. Relaxing your body and mind and promoting healing from within can significantly help you if you are suffering from depression. You could even consider a romantic couples massage to get your marriage back on the right track!

Give it Time

It is necessary to give yourself and your spouse time through the healing process. With depression and anxiety, there is no quick fix that can resolve these issues overnight. With Time, dedication, active listening, communication, and understanding, you can work together to combat depression and heal the marriage. 

Conclusion

Tying the knot is one of the most joyous events life offers, but lifelong commitment in sickness and health also means mental health. Dealing with depression in marriage is tough and can put a significant strain on the relationship, but recognizing the signs of depression and knowing how to get help are the best steps to heal the marriage. Your marriage will be stronger than ever with a bit of time, effort, and tender loving care. Depression is not an easy illness to cope with, but with the appropriate support and tools, you and your partner have a chance to preserve your marriage.

It’s important to seek help if you or someone you know is struggling with depression.

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Sofia Bolanos

Sofia Bolanos has over seven years of experience in the mental health field and is an avid peer support counselor and volunteer. She also works closely with homeless populations in the San Francisco Bay Area and provides resources and support to vulnerable individuals within the community. Her goal is to utilize her gift of insight to become a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. As part of her commitment to that goal, she facilitates a monthly support group in which couples are strongly encouraged to attend. She received a B.A. in Sociology from San Francisco State University and is on track to continue her graduate studies in 2023. In addition to her passions for writing and helping others in their healing journeys, she enjoys oil painting, contemporary dance, plant care, and spending quality time with her dog.

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