Life ebbs and flows. It is normal to experience peaks and valleys. Marriage and depression are no different. So, what do you do when you’re struggling with an unhappy marriage and depression at the same time?
Depression can be a difficult experience and an unhappy marriage can be wearing. Each alone can be difficult to navigate. However, struggling with an unhappy marriage and depression at the same time, can make you feel like you’re drowning.
When struggling with an unhappy marriage and depression, it’s critical to first understand what is happening and what you are experiencing. The next important step is to make choices that help you move towards finding balance.
What Is Depression
Depression is common. The National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) found more than 300 million people in the world live with depression. About 20% of Americans will experience a significant episode at some point in their life.
If you, or a loved one, has depression, remember you are not alone! Seek help now to reduce depressive symptoms and improve quality of life. If you are in the Chicago area, our qualified counselors in Glen Ellyn or Jefferson Park are happy to help.
Depression affects how you feel, think and behave. It can be a constant feeling of sadness, hopelessness, and loss of interest that influences everyday tasks.
Depression isn’t a weakness and it isn’t something people just overcome.
Depression is a real illness and it affects people in many different ways. Every angle of an individual’s life can be disturbed by depression, and in so, negatively affect those around them. Working through depression is possible with time, a willingness to change, and support.
Married couples commonly experience times of unhappiness, doubt, and despair. But how do you determine if it’s a rough patch or chronic dissatisfaction? Couples are unique in their interactions. However, these are some common problems:
- Communication: How you and your partner communicate is essential. If you and your partner are constantly trying to get your point across, communicating maybe an issue. Misunderstanding motivation, words, or actions creates distance and conflict in a relationship. This is particularly true with how a couple communicates about problems that are not easily solvable.
- Lack of commitment: Commitment is the promise to keep going and work together towards agreement or resolution no matter what. It means being invested in your partner on all levels.
- Infidelity: When that trust is broken, such as when a partner cheats, it brings on a sense of betrayal, bitterness, confusion, and unhappiness for both partners.
- Finances: Money is a sensitive issue in marriage because money symbolizes power. Finances can cause tension or frustration when there is a lack of agreement on how money should be used.
- Sex: Chronic sexual issues in a marriage create frustration and dissatisfaction. These can be physiological or emotional inhibitions, a mismatch in libido, sexual style differences, or lack of vitality. Sexual issues can play a huge role in whether a marriage is perceived as happy or unhappy.
When an Unhappy Marriage and Depression Coincide
Struggling with an unhappy marriage and depression at the same time is challenging. Depression may affect one person in the relationship, but depression effects extend beyond that person. The disorder itself may not lead to a divorce, but the consequences of not addressing the depression may.
Depression can lead to less productivity, less engagement, and less enjoyment of previously enjoyable experiences in the depressed spouse. The partner may begin over-functioning in the relationship to compensate. This leads to exhaustion, frustration, anger, or resentment. The partner may also have a hard time understanding what the depressed partner is experiencing.
Additionally, those with depression may unintentionally experience more interpersonal stress. Interpersonal stress occurs when someone perceives difficulty in a relationship as a threat to his or her well-being. Although unintentional, this affects choices, actions, and reactions, creating a web of relationship difficulties.
All of this leads to reduced relationship satisfaction, more complaints, and a negative perception of the marriage. Blame and hopelessness may exacerbate depression, creating a viscous cycle, further increasing marital distance and dissatisfaction.
Both depression and an unhappy marriage require lots of time and energy to improve. It can be taxing to attempt to fix both at the same time. By focusing and improving the depression first, positive gains can be made in the marriage. Working with an individual and couples counselor can help maintain progress in both areas, even though one may be the main focus for a time.
Causes for depression remain not easily understood. Depression may also continue for long periods of time or reoccur. Boland and Keller found over 75% of depressed individuals have more than one depressive episode, often relapsing within two years of recovery.
The key to preventing relapse is creating a plan to not only work through today’s depression, but adopt tools to handle potential future episodes. Everyone is different and no single plan works for everyone, but consider these ideas:
If You Are Experiencing Depressive Symptoms:
- Depression can be treated. Speak to your primary care physician to consider medication options and seek counseling through a trained professional. Counseling can be significant in improving depressive symptoms.
- Consider joining a support group to share experiences, feelings, information, and coping strategies in a safe space. Support groups also provide the opportunity to gain insight and perspective by hearing others’ journeys.
- Establish social support with your partner, friends, and/or family members. Social support limits isolation, improves ability to cope, and boost self-esteem.
- Over-communicate with your partner to create new dialogue and understanding. You probably feel like you can predict your partner’s responses, but assumptions are inaccurate. Active listening and “over-communication” leads to greater understanding, validation, and empathy.
If Your Partner is Depressed:
- Learn what you can about depression so you can understand your partner is not doing this to you. Also, your partner may not realize they are depressed. Share your concern with your partner and what you’ve learned about depression.
- Get your partner involved with making healthy meals and exercise together each day. This will improve your connection with your spouse and studies have shown exercise can be effective.
- Depression makes just about everything seem too much. Help your partner break tasks down into smaller chunks. Practice patience and understanding.
- Focus on companionship with your partner. The enjoyment of joint activities will reduce loneliness and enhance connection.
- Develop social support for yourself and encourage a social support network for your partner. Social support can improve your ability to cope with stress, help reduce emotional pain, and promote mental health.
Staying in an Unhappy Marriage
You may be wondering if you are struggling with an unhappy marriage and depression at the same time if staying is worth it. Opportunities to create a stronger relationship occur when both partners decide to work together to overcome depression and marital dis-ease. However, when one partner is unwilling to commit to progress, it may be better to part ways. In fact, evidence shows staying unhappily marriage lowers well-being even more so than divorcing.
By no means am I suggesting divorce in such situations. Simply know that a willingness to work towards change together is paramount. Neither depression nor an unhappy marriage operate in isolation. It takes more than one person to fix it. Assistance from a therapist trained in couples therapy can be of particular help in getting a marriage back on track.
Moving Towards Positive Change
Marriage is about both of you. Compromise is required, with each person working towards middle ground. Little steps can lead to giant leaps in growth. A therapist can help uncover resources available to make progress towards compromise.
Talking with a licensed counselor may feel like a big step, but it can lead to the most success. Depression and an unhappy marriage can be hard to work through without professional support. If you are in the Chicagoland area, talk with us to learn more about your options.
Even though you may be struggling with an unhappy marriage and depression at the same time, there is hope. You and your partner can jointly reduce depression and improve your marital satisfaction. I hope that you can make the choice to move forward together.
Jean Tschampa, PharmD, LCPC, CADC, C-IAYT, BCC