Early on in my career as a marriage counselor, I noticed that in a majority of couples I saw, there was mental illness present in one or both parties. I also noticed that in those marriages, progress was incredibly difficult if the illness was not addressed and treated. I learned to shift focus to the illness temporarily. I would offer that person to come and see me individually for treatment or I would make an appropriate referral. I have continued that practice to this day, and I have had tremendous success in marriage counseling, particularly when the mental illness is treated, and the couple is able to move beyond it. Below, I will highlight one common mental illness: Major Depressive Disorder, and I will discuss its implications in marriage.
Having Major Depressive Disorder does not mean that one is depressed all day every day. The person is usually depressed for certain periods of time called major depressive episodes. They last anywhere from two weeks up to several months, or even years in rare cases. During the episode, people typically have a depressed mood for most of the day and most days of the episode. They often experience feelings of hopelessness, sadness, and emptiness. They typically lose interest in activities that normally bring them pleasure. They may sleep much more or much less than usual. Their appetite may increase or decrease, causing their weight to fluctuate. They may also become much more irritable and want to be alone. They often lose energy, and their movements become very slow. They may even feel completely worthless and have desires to end their life.
In light of the description above, it is easy to see how depression can complicate marriage. It can be fairly easy in the beginning of an episode for the partner to be supportive, but it doesn’t take long for them to feel resentful once their needs are no longer being met, and to make matters worse, the depressed person often outright rejects their partner. It makes little difference whether the rejection is intentional or unintentional because rejection always hurts. Also, the negative mood of depression tends to drag the mood of everyone else down, especially that of their partner. Over time, the resentment their partner feels can begin to harden them, and if that continues, the partner can lose the ability to feel anymore, having been rejected one too many times.
It is important to understand that no one chooses to be depressed, and when they are, they don’t like it, and they don’t want to stay that way. Their attitude may suggest otherwise, but that is merely one of the symptoms. We shouldn’t blame the person for being depressed. Instead, we should offer support and encourage them to get help. Depression is treatable. When depression is successfully treated, the marriage is relieved of a large burden that can provide new hope.
When the burden of depression is lifted, the marriage is free to progress. The entire landscape is changed. The couple is then free to connect in ways never before possible. This happens because the partner is no longer experiencing a high level of rejection, and the natural defense mechanisms of the brains aren’t being engaged so often. This allows for emotional safety, which can lead to vulnerability, which leads to intimacy. If you or your partner are experiencing depression, please reach out to a trusted counselor. It can help you get your life back. It can save your marriage.