2 Critical Pieces of Advice for Supporting a Spouse with Depression

Supporting a spouse who battles depression can be emotionally draining and challenging. As a loving partner, it’s natural to want to help them through their difficult times, but it’s essential to approach this delicate situation with care and understanding. Let us explore two critical pieces of advice to effectively support your partner while safeguarding your well-being.

1. Make sure you have your own support. It can be so exhausting and overwhelming to care about someone so deeply who struggles with depression or anxiety. Your empathy can be your biggest asset and your biggest curse here. Your intuition isn’t always the best gauge of how to help your partner because it is soaked in your love for this person and often neglects your own limits and care. If you are working harder than your depressed partner this is a sign you may be somewhere in that zone and need some outside perspective and support. Don’t neglect yourself in the process. Stay connected with your friends, family, etc. Your spouse’s isolation and depression can quickly become your own and they need you to be well – now more than ever. Caring for you is caring for them. Stay engaged in the things that make life worth living for you.

2. Make sure you are approaching your spouse in the right way; this can be transformative. Lead from behind. Accept that you alone cannot fix them. Don’t take on that responsibility because it won’t help you approach them in the wisest way or have the patience required for the journey. They are them; you are you. Keep that boundary intact while supporting your spouse. Things will get better but it does take time. 

Remain steadfast in love, encouragement and support, yet hang back and don’t let your anxiety about their condition take the focus. Start by asking open-ended questions about what is going on, don’t assume you know exactly what is wrong or what they are feeling. Don’t try and correct or reassure, just listen (e.g. don’t say “You are such a good friend though! I don’t know why you say that.” Instead, try “Feeling like you don’t have anything good to contribute again and again is so frustrating.”) Let them fill in the gaps you want to highlight yourself. Solving each problem at hand for a depressed spouse is even worse if successful – it creates a relationship of dependence and doesn’t allow them to heal and develop the type of inner world (perspective, tools, skills, relationship habits) that will stave off depression long term. Self-identified insights are the most potent. Draw them out with love and openness. Ask if they have thought about therapy rather than demand they attend. In our experience, patients who are pushed into therapy by a spouse are rarely fully engaged in the process and cancel or no-show sessions often.

Dr. Mitch Keil
Dr. Mitch Keil

Dr. Mitch Keil is a licensed clinical psychologist in Newport Beach, CA. His specialities in treatment cover a wide range of difficulties including depression, anxiety, addiction, PTSD, and grief/loss for teens, young adults, and adults. As a part of his dedication to the field, Dr. Keil receives regular supervision, support, continuing education, and training for his private practice. He is a lifelong learner and practitioner who is passionate about mental health, philosophy, and psychology.

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