Depression puts strain on marriages

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For many single individuals, the idea of marriage seems like the pinnacle of happiness. After all, what could be better than spending eternity with your best friend and love of your life?

For some people, however, depression can put a strain on marriage, making married life even more of a challenge than it usually is, and even pushing some couples to divorce.

Depression if untreated can have devastating affects on marriages.  (Photo by Chris Bunker)
Depression, if untreated, can have devastating effects on marriages. (Photo by Chris Bunker)

John Livingston, an associate professor who teaches missionary preparation, introduction to the LDS Church and marriage and family classes, estimates that “Out of 100 marriages, maybe six … marriages will have some form of depression.”

For these couples and their families, depression can be devastating.

“Families will sometimes overcompensate to make up for a messed-up family,” Livingston said. “Wives or husbands will make up excuses why significant others couldn’t make it to events, and children will not invite friends to their home.”

BYU professor Mark Ogletree, who teaches living prophets and marriage preparation classees, has seen couples negatively affected by depression.

“Couples may resort to divorce over depression, depending on how serious it is,” Ogletree said.

Ogletree, who has owned and operated his own marriage and family therapy practice, has seen cases where depression changes a family’s dynamics.

“Depression can lead to all kinds of problems,” Ogletree said. “I’ve seen a marriage where a wife who had depression stayed in her room all day watching television while her husband worked, made meals, did all the laundry and took care of the kids while his wife was in this reclusive state.”

Ogletree pointed out that some husbands or wives will be in denial at first that their spouse even has depression.

“Depression can be hard for some couples to accept,” Ogletree said. “Some spouses will deny that their husband or wife has depression, which, in turn, can worsen the depression.”

An article from the New York Times, called “Personal Health: Trying to Cope When a Partner or Loved One Is Chronically Depressed,” by Jane E. Brody, mentions that depression can be hard for spouses and children to face and handle.

“It is a two-way problem,” Brody wrote. “More than half of depressed adults report that their families and household members fail to understand their condition and do not help them cope with it.”

It’s important that when someone has a spouse with depression, he or she doesn’t deny it. Instead he or she should learn to help their spouse fight depression.

“When a person denies that their spouse has depression, it can leave that person dealing with depression to become worse, since they don’t feel that the person they love so much doesn’t care, comfort or want listen to them,” Ogletree said.

Ogletree mentioned that when a couple works together to overcome depression, it can be the most effective treatment.

BYU graduate Jenny (name changed) has faced many hardships and challenges battling depression.

With the help of her mother, Jenny realized she had depression and learned that her father struggled with it as well.

“My mom actually caught on that something wasn’t right,” Jenny said. “She knew my dad struggled with it, and she was always telling me I needed to be happy.”

Jenny has since found ways to be happy. She is now married and finds support and love from her husband.

“One of the biggest ways my husband helps is he doesn’t allow me to wallow in sadness,” Jenny said. “He’s kind and will listen to me be upset, but after an appropriate amount of time he tells me ‘no more tears,’ and then usually does something a little on the ridiculous side to try to get me to laugh and be happy.”

While depression can be difficult, it is not a prison sentence. There are solutions particular to both the person with depression, and his or her spouse, that can address needs of each and enrich their relationship.

“Couples should take this opportunity to grow together,” Ogletree said. “Reading books together about depression, exercising together and doing fun things together can help a spouse with depression to become better.”

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