Living With a Depressed Spouse

A man sits across from his sad wife, trying to comfort her. If you are living with a depressed spouse, life can seem dark and draining,
When living with a depressed spouse, changing your heart can be a long, slow process. Here are some suggestions to help you heal your relationship.

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

If you are living with a depressed spouse, life can seem dark and draining, and your marriage can look bleak. But with unconditional love and commitment, you can make a difference. Your marriage is not hopeless just because you have a depressed spouse.

Compassion Burnout Is Real when Living with a Depressed Spouse

I lost my wife in 1985. She was still in our home, alive and breathing, but depression held her hostage.

From the beginning of my wife’s depression, I felt my job was to actively help and guide her through her illness. At first I was energized to help. She was sick; I was healthy. Time to step up. For several months, I maintained a good attitude.

But my commitment gradually flagged. I became bitter and resentful. I hated going home. So I found ways to increase the frequency and length of my business trips. It felt like I was doing a heroic thing, and she was failing. I was going to power through while she fell deeper into depression’s grip.

In six months, divorce went from a repulsive thought to an attractive solution. I came to believe a lie that divorce would be best for me, my wife, and our children.

Alcohol became a frightfully close friend. I prayed repeatedly for my wife’s death, convincing myself that it was a loving action on my part. My desperation and self-deception led me down a dark and loathsome path.

Still, I doubled my efforts in helping my wife. But I only became even more exhausted, bitter, and resentful. And then I used my exhaustion as an excuse to avoid spending time with her. I began looking for subtle ways to exclude my wife from activities with our children. As if my depressed spouse was no longer living with us.

My best efforts triggered the worst possible results: My wife’s depression exacerbated. We didn’t talk about it then, but she felt abandoned and judged.

Renewing Your Commitment to Love Your Depressed Spouse

In the fall of 1987, I was sitting on my front porch and sensed God asking me, Are you going to fulfill the commitment you made to Me and to your wife 12 years ago?

I hated that question and waited three days to give God my answer. In what was the worst day of my life up to that point, I answered, “Yes, I will live out my lifetime commitment.” I didn’t expect anything to get better but prepared for a life of misery.

But God reached into my soul and renewed my heart, and this transformation was not easy for me.

As God completely changed my heart, I made a decision to demonstrate unconditional love and unwavering commitment to my wife. Still, my negative emotions did not suddenly evaporate. My anger and frustration did not immediately change to joy and peace. But my love and commitment made all the difference in my wife’s recovery.

Changing Your Heart Is a Long, Slow Process

How did I harmonize this unconditional love with a storm of negative emotions? When I sat on the porch that cold afternoon and answered God, my only emotion for my wife felt like hate. Three days later my emotions softened a bit, but only a little bit.

My unconditional love for my depressed spouse was an action, not an emotion, and living it was hard. Regardless, my wife saw it and quietly began trusting me again.

One thing did change in the twinkling of an eye after my encounter with God. I began looking for reasons to stay married rather than seek divorce. To put it callously, since I had signed up for a life sentence, I thought I might as well make the best of it.

Perhaps my motivation wasn’t pure, but the results were dramatic. I started seeing good in my wife. I started seeing improvement. Now, I had eyes and ears to see glimpses of the incredible wife I had been blessed with.

Starting to Heal, Both in Marriage and Mental Health

I believe my wife saw the change in the frequent tears of appreciation that filled my eyes when I interacted with her. She asked over and over what I was crying about. My only response was that I saw the incredible gift she was to me.

Unconditional love and unwavering commitment were the primary catalysts for my wife’s recovery.

I left my computer career in the year 2000 to help couples living with a depressed spouse or struggling with depression themselves. Early in that decision process, I asked my wife if she remembered when I became fully committed to walk through her depression with unconditional love.

With tears in her eyes she recounted exactly when that transformation happened. She remembered the comfort and confidence she felt following my turning point. She felt at that point she was “good enough,” even when depressed.

There are countless resources to help people who struggle with depression. When delivered with the “wrong heart,” all of these suggestions will fall flat. With the right heart, just about any act of love can help provide life and healing to a depressed spouse.

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