When your spouse is feeling depressed it can feel like the world is ending. Watching your loved one suffer and feeling helpless in the face of it is one of the worst feelings in the world.
Fortunately, when your spouse is feeling depressed, there are things that you can do to support them through it. Almost more importantly, there are things that you definitely shouldn’t do to help your person manage and get through their depression.
Here are 5 of things you can do and 5 things you shouldn’t do.
#1 – Acknowledge but don’t fix.
When you see your spouse feeling depressed, it’s important that you don’t run away from them.
Dealing with depression and sadness is daunting and the instinct is often to run away because we don’t know what to do.
The most important thing for you to do when your spouse is feeling depressed is to acknowledge to them that you see that they are depressed. Just knowing that your partner is aware of how you are feeling can help people manage their depression.
Once you have acknowledged their depression, is it important that you don’t try to talk your partner out of it. Don’t say ‘but your life is great, why are you depressed?’ or ‘it’s such a pretty day out – be happy’ or ‘snap out of it.’
All of those things will only serve to let your spouse know that you don’t, in fact, understand the place they are in and it will only make them feel worse because they know all those things to be true but can’t snap out of it nonetheless.
So, when your spouse is feeling depressed, acknowledge what you see but don’t, don’t, don’t try to fix it
#2 – Give them space, if they want it.
Many of us, when we are feeling depressed, need some space to help manage it.
It’s a lot of work trying to be positive for someone when we are depressed so giving us space can be very helpful.
That being said, giving us too much space can make us feel alone and even more mired in our depression so it’s important that you don’t abandon us completely.
Perhaps you could go for a run and then come home and just be in the house, not being overly cheerful but checking in on your person to let them know you are there. Perhaps you could suggest a movie to take your partner’s mind off of the depression, even if just temporarily.
Ask your partner what they want as far as space. Hopefully they can be self aware and let you know what they need. Once you know, making every effort to give it to them will help them manage the depression and hopefully ride it out.
#3 – Make a plan and stick to it.
What I did so that my boyfriend would know what to do when I was struggling with depression is, when I wasn’t depressed, make a plan for what I did need when I was feeling down. That way, if I wasn’t able to articulate what I needed when I am feeling depressed then he would have a resource to help him help me.
For me, when I am feeling depressed, there are a few things that always help. They are: a hike, a movie, sex, Pad Thai and a nap. All of those things I know will help me manage my depression. They might not get rid of my depression but the distraction of a movie and a nap, the endorphins produced by a hike and sex and the sheer yumminess of Pad Thai are all things that can help me through.
Once my partner knew what I needed when I was depressed it was way easier for him to help me through it.
So, make a plan with your partner about what they need when they are feeling depressed. Knowing what your spouse needs will make it way easier for you to feel like you are doing good helping them.
#4 – Be positive but be real.
It is important that, when your partner is feeling depressed, you make an effort to be positive. Misery loves company so if you are down when your partner is down, it might make things worse.
That being said, being overly positive, to the point that you are cloying and annoying won’t help at all. Don’t tell them that their life is good, that people love them, that the sun is out, that they have no reason to be unhappy, that they should just snap out of it. None of these things will help and could only make things work. People get depressed, even if all of those things above are true.
When your spouse is feeling depressed, be positive. Tell them that you love them and that you see them and that you accept where they are right now. Tell them that you will be there for them, no matter what.
If you are feeling down yourself, perhaps because your partner is depressed, be honest with them and take some time for yourself. If you can’t be positive, you aren’t good for your spouse.
#5 – Seek help but don’t push.
When your spouse is feeling depressed, it is important to know that help is out there.
Oftentimes, when those we love are struggling, it’s easy to get mired in the now – in the tears, the anger and the chaos that can result when your spouse is feeling depressed.
Fortunately, there are lots of resources out there for both people living with depression and for those who love them. Seeing a therapist or a life coach, getting involved with a support group, talking to your primary care doctor or getting involved with NAMI are all great resources for dealing with depression. Make yourself familiar with them and use them as you see fit.
It is important to know that you can’t force your spouse to get help. Until they are willing to accept that they are depressed and be willing to reach out to a doctor or therapist, any attempts by you to get them help will be useless. What you can do is share the resources that you find with your partner so that they know they are out there.
Sometimes, when people are depressed, they get so hopeless that it’s hard to believe that anything could possibly help. So, make the info available for when they are ready.
When your spouse is feeling depressed it can sometimes feel like the world is ending.
You love your partner but the chaos caused by the depression can be hard to deal with. Fortunately, there are things that you can do to help mitigate the damage and perhaps make change going forward.
Make sure you acknowledge your partner’s mood but don’t try to fix it, give them space but not too much, make a plan for how to manage, be positive but not cloying and know that there is help out there.
Depression gets worse the more it goes untreated so it’s important that you pay attention to your spouse’s depression and if you see it getting deeper, consider reaching out to your family doctor for help. They can help you take the first steps towards helping your spouse get better.
I am a NYC based Certified Life Coach and mental health advocate. My writing has been published on The Huffington Post, Prevention, Psych Central, Pop Sugar, MSN and The Good Man Project, among others. I work with all kinds of people to help them go from depressed and overwhelmed to confident and happy in their relationships and in their world.