What to do when one Spouse is Depressed

Are you depressed? Is your spouse depressed? Do one of you THINK the other is depressed?

I recently had a series of phone sessions with a woman named Regina (name changed) who lives in Canada. I asked Regina what her husband thinks is the problem with their marriage. She explained, “Ted says that the problem with our marriage is that I’m depressed. He thinks if I wasn’t depressed, we’d be fine. And so it’s up to me.”

It IS common for depression to accompany marital strife. But what causes one spouse to be depressed?

We usually think of depression as an affliction caused by an INDIVIDUAL’S mental state. But, as is often the case, the problem is the way we see the problem.

In marriage, although depression is something that may afflict only one spouse; it’s often caused by BOTH spouses. In order to understand what I mean, let’s consider what it REALLY means to be depressed.

The dictionary definition of “depressed” is: “to press down” or “cause to sink.”

And, in fact, a depressed person feels that someone or something is PRESSING DOWN on them and not allowing for the relief they seek.

Regina’s husband had good reason to think that Regina was depressed. She threatened suicide, had the habit of breaking $200 china against the $5000 breakfront, sometimes cut the laundry with scissors rather than folding it neatly, and would break down in tears for no apparent reason. The interesting thing is (are you ready?): Regina ONLY did these things in front of her husband!

No one other than her husband ever heard Regina threaten suicide or see her break down in tears. Her husband never came home to find china pieces or shredded laundry on the floor. It ALL happened in front of him! And (listen carefully and try to put the pieces together), it always happened after they talked.

There’s much more to Regina’s circumstances, but here’s the bottom line. Regina was desperate for her husband’s attention. She wanted to make an EMOTIONAL connection. She wanted him to be part of her inner life. But Ted couldn’t connect with Regina. He didn’t know how to make her feel understood. He didn’t know how to make her feel special, how to treat her differently than everyone else in his life. Ted wasn’t a bad person. He didn’t do anything wrong. He rarely got upset. But he was very controlled and detached. And so Regina had all this emotion PRESSED DOWN inside her but no one to share it with. Ted was there, but emotionally unavailable.

Regina’s outbursts were her way of trying to get Ted’s attention. She just wanted him to care about her and what she did. So she did things he simply couldn’t ignore. Of course, this is not really the kind of attention Regina wanted. But she was frustrated and was trying to release what was PRESSED inside her.

When one person in a marriage is “depressed,” it can be caused by a marital dynamic between BOTH spouses. And the solution can be a MARITAL solution not an individual one.

If you or your spouse feels depressed, you should explore how your relationship might be causing the depression. As much as one of you might want the other to get INDIVIDUAL help, it could be that it’s your MARRIAGE that needs attention.

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