Just be there for them.
Depression is quite the mental illness. It’s a thief of joy, a thief of sanity, a catalyst for crying, and, at times, a symptom of pain.
Depression doesn’t make sense to those who are affected by it. Everything can be going fine, or nothing wrong is happening, and one single thing can unleash a tidal wave of emotions for seemingly no good reason.
Quite frankly, it can be torture, and because we don’t always understand it, it can be difficult to explain what we’re going through to our spouses. Sometimes we’re too overwhelmed with our tears to ever articulate what’s wrong. That, of course, can be hard on a spouse who wants to help but doesn’t quite understand or know how to.
If you have a depressed spouse, here is what they need from you that they might not be able to tell you.
1. Active listening without the intention to “fix” anything
Active listening as defined by Skills You Need is “fully concentrating on what is being said rather than just passively ‘hearing’ the message of the speaker.” In order for this to be achieved, the listener (i.e. you) has to listen with an almost blank slate.
Those who suffer with depression want to be heard and not told what to do because the truth is no one person can “fix” depression. We’ve heard the “this is how you stay happy” advice. We’re tired of the “think positive thoughts” garbage. As well-intentioned as you may be, you can’t fix it. What is precious to us is to be with someone we can express our frustrations, fears, tears, and everything else to.
Hear your spouse; don’t try to solve their problems for them.
2. Take in what your spouse has said and bring them back to reality
When depressive episodes occur, feelings of loneliness, failure, and a myriad of other negative emotions can become overwhelming and distort reality. As the spouse of someone suffering with depression it’s very important that you put things back in perspective.
Gently remind your spouse of the positives and the truths, and don’t let them focus solely on the negative. While your spouse is in this mood, they need to be reminded of what’s real and what isn’t. Address their concerns, address their fears, and reassure them you’re there for them. Remind them that they’re not alone nor are they failures. And lastly, remind them that they are wanted and needed.
3. Have patience
Patience is like gold for those suffering with depression. It’s a necessary trait for our spouses to have because it comes in handy when complications arise. More than likely, there will be many nights of tears, disappointment, and a rehashing of the past. Those of us who go through it deeply appreciate the patience of our spouses.
As mentioned above, depression has a way of isolating people and making us feel alone. So when patience and love abound in marriage it’s one of the greatest gifts that can be given. Please, have patience. Your spouse desperately needs it.
4. Be supportive
A good support system is imperative to a marriage that has depression as a factor. Though this is true, support can mean different things to different people. Support for me means being encouraged and gently nudged to do productive and positive things. This is an excellent substitution for giving advice because it builds me up and galvanizes me to do what I love and what helps me.
Support for someone else could mean being told positive affirmations or participating in self-care activities. In order to give the best support, you need to know what kind to give. Don’t be afraid to ask.
5. Look out for them
Of course, the intention to do this is a given, but there are specific ways depressed people need to be looked out for. Some might need their spouse to remind them to take their medication(s). Some might need moral support when going to therapy. Mental illness is just as serious as a physical illness, and that means you will have to play the role of caretaker. It’s an important and necessary role to take on. One that is appreciated. Additionally, stay attuned to your spouse’s particular needs, and help them pick up the slack they can’t carry themselves.
The best ally for someone suffering with depression is their loving, supportive family, and that especially includes their spouse. I don’t know where I would be without my husband’s constant love and support. Without him, I don’t know where I would be or what I would have done if he wasn’t in my life. Your spouses need you, and they will appreciate your desire to understand.