Depression is a complex thing with many faces. It can look like happiness one day, followed by the deepest form of sadness the next day. It can cause confusion, frustration, and has the ability to upset everyone in its path. Now imagine what it's like to be that person dealing with depression... it's horrible, and I know this because I have lived with depression for over 15 years. But here's something we don't always talk about... how it feels to be the person in love with the person with depression. My heart feels heavy just writing about this because it cannot be easy. As hard as it is to be the one living with depression, it must feel so incredibly tough to be their spouse -- bearing witness to everything that you're going through and feeling helpless because they've never experienced depression first-hand.
Although I have learned to successfully manage my depression without prescriptions, I still have those days: the days where I just want to cease to exist. Those days where every single inch of my body hurts because my emotional state hurts. Prior to marriage, it was easy to hide those days because I would simply lock myself in my apartment and deal with it all by myself. Healthy? Definitely not, but it's really tough to reach out when you're in those depressive states. Now, I have nowhere to hide; my husband sees it all. He has also become the target for my outbursts simply because he is there. For a man who has never experienced depression, this cannot be easy. In fact, it's confusing as hell, and the only reason I know this is because we've talked about it.
I never felt as though I could communicate to my past partners about my depression because I honestly never felt as though they would understand. That's a huge fear that people who live with depression face. The only reason I chose to open up to my husband is because he made me believe that it was safe to do so. That changed everything. I am now in a marriage where I can truly be me -- even on my worst days, I can be me. I no longer have fears attached to my depression and I feel 100 percent supported. This has changed everything about the way I approach and manage those bad days, and I owe it all to my husband.
Here are six ways you can support a spouse with depression:
Show Them Unconditional Love
Love has the power to heal everything. When your spouse is experiencing a low day, show them more love. It may feel more difficult to do this when they're in a funk and taking it out on you, but it's on these days that they need to experience love the most. No need to smother or hover, just show them love throughout the day in a language that truly speaks to them. What I mean by that is if they appreciate loving words over physical touch, use words. Show them the true essence of unconditional love. Even if they don't reciprocate the love, they do feel it.
Support Them Even When They're At Their Worst
Depression isn't pretty. In fact, it can be downright ugly. This is why they need your support the most when they're at their worst. As bad as things get, do not lighten up your support. Even if they're trying their best to push you away (common for people with depression to do so), you must continue to support them. It's so easy for people with depression to forget that they do have support around them, especially when they're in a depressive state. During these times, you must remind them of your support.
Know When to Give Them Space
Sometimes your spouse will tell you they just want space, but what they mean is, "I need you." Other times they will tell you they need space and they actually need space. It's your job to interpret what they truly need, and you can do so by asking them questions and connecting to them emotionally. When your spouse tells you they want space, face them and connect physically (hold their hands or place your hand on their thigh) and clarify the statement by asking them if they truly want the space. By creating that physical connection, you're showing them that you would willingly sit with them through this. If they truly need the space, this is when they will tell you.
Understand What They Truly Need
Talk to your spouse and ask them what they need. It's honestly that simple, all you have to do is ask: "What do you need right now?" and then give them that. Create a mental list of the things that bring them joy and happiness and offer those things when they're in a depressive state. Maybe it's a marathon of their favorite show or movie set (Sex In The City and The Hobbit always works for me), or indulging in their favorite dessert, or cuddles on the couch. Understand what they truly need during these times and then lovingly offer it to them. TIP: You don't always have to ask. You could always just show up with their favorite ice cream and say "This is for you."
Hold The Space
Your spouse will experience those days where their moods are so low, they will completely lose their ability to communicate effectively. All you can do is hold the space. Energetically create a sacred space for them to feel safe to enter once they're ready and hold that space for them. You can do so by telling them: "I can see that you're having a really difficult day and I just want you to know that I am holding this space for you. I'm here for you in whatever capacity you need me."
Create An Action Plan
This is the most important tip I have to share about this topic. Sit down with your spouse on a good day -- a day where they're feeling happy and calm. Open up a dialogue to co-create an action plan for their low days. How do they want to approach those days? What would they like to experience on those days? And what would help them shift through those days? As the spouse of someone with depression, it's easy to unconsciously become an enabler by giving into their behavior or letting them slump around the house for days on end because it's harder to confront them. Don't let that happen! Co-create an action plan to inspire them to get through those days so they can shift into a happier state of mind. For example, I told my husband that yoga always helps me feel better and even if I have zero desire to leave the house, a yoga class has the power to shift my energy. On my low days my husband will always suggest yoga, and that serves as a reminder of the beautiful action plan we co-created to help get me through those horrible days.
Bottom line, communication is key. Show your spouse that you will love and support them unconditionally and make them feel safe enough to open up to you about their depression. The home should always feel like a safe, sacred space for your spouse and you play a huge role in building that. Believe me, your spouse will appreciate you for this more than you could possibly imagine. I wouldn't be where I am today without my husband's support, and for that I am infinitely grateful.
If you -- or someone you know -- need help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.