— by Rachel Mills
New Zealand has high rates of mental illness, with depression ranking among the most commonly diagnosed. Along with its debilitating effects on those diagnosed, depression can wreak havoc on even the healthiest of marriages. It’s important that along with treating the illness itself that your relationship is also given attention. It’s not an insurmountable challenge, but when crisis hits it can be overwhelming. After fighting through two major depressive episodes in our relationship, we have gleaned some tips to future-proof ourselves and to help other couples walking the same path.
FOR THE ILL PARTNER
- Get professional help – a diagnosis and proper treatment will set you on the path of recovery. Commit to a treatment plan and don’t make changes without discussing them with your doctor and spouse first.
- Make sure to keep yourself safe. Share any suicidal thoughts with your spouse and doctor, and decide together how to manage the risk of suicide while depression is being brought under control.
- Commit to respectful communication with your spouse, even if they seem to be getting it all wrong. The illness is no-one’s fault and your spouse is not a mind-reader – do whatever you can to help them understand what you’re going through and how they can help.
- Externalise the depression so it’s a challenge you’re facing together – you are not your illness and your illness is not you.
- Create a management plan with your spouse – what do you want and need to be able to hang on through the dark days?
- Hold on to objective truth when everything feels out of control – coach yourself to listen to your convictions about life rather than your feelings. Invite your spouse into this process – they can help keep you on the right track. You can borrow your spouse’s faith until yours returns.
- Give yourself permission to be sick – it’s ok to pull out of commitments and simply focus on getting better.
- Lean on a support network of trusted family, friends and mentors. Give your spouse permission to do the same. They need it just as much as you.
- Choose life – as hard and far away as it feels, make a commitment to yourself, your spouse and your family that you will fight for your future. God is still there even if you can’t see or feel Him. Let your loved ones know your commitment so they have something to hold on to as well.
- Identify your triggers and through counselling seek ways of resolving them.
- Make an effort to ‘see’ your spouse and family – you may not be able to do much but do let them know you love them and try as much as you can to participate in life with them.
- Pray for God’s wisdom, protection and light to prevail. Know that He will turn even this for good. All things are redeemable in Him. Invite your spouse to pray with you, especially when you have no words.
FOR THE SUPPORT PARTNER:
- Encourage your spouse to seek professional help.
- Learn all you can about your spouse’s illness – both from experts and from your spouse’s point of view. Ask them what it is like for them and what they most need from you.
- Listen more than you talk, taking time to understand and empathise before gently helping re-orient your spouse towards what is true.
- Develop “truth coaches” or affirmations to use when depression is overwhelming. This is helpful for you as well. “This too shall pass” is one of our favourites.
- Ask your spouse the hard questions – are you having suicidal thoughts? How can we keep you safe? Talking about suicide with a depressed person doesn’t make them more likely to do it – in fact the opposite is true.
- Know your limitations. You cannot fight the battle of depression for your spouse, and you cannot ‘fix’ them. You can be a faithful companion by their side as they fight, and you can help them hold on through the dark days.
- Don’t walk this road alone. A support team of trusted family and friends is crucial for both of you. Most importantly, make use of them whenever needed.
- Look after yourself. The role of support partner is highly stressful, emotional and exhausting. It’s ok to take time away to do things you enjoy doing. Support partners are also at increased risk of becoming depressed themselves, so make sure to eat well, rest, and monitor how you’re coping.
- Feeling frustrated, angry and upset at the upheaval is perfectly normal. Acknowledge these feelings and choose to let them go, so resentment doesn’t have a chance to flourish in your marriage. Remember that your spouse is sick, and it’s ok for both of you to be struggling with this.
- Help your spouse come up with a private code for depressive feelings, so they can communicate with you easily how things are going. Make a plan together for how to deal with the bad days.
- Pull back on extra responsibilities and commitments as much as you can. It’s ok for life to be small while you’re prioritising treatment and recovery.
- Date your spouse. Invite them to participate in life with you, to do favourite activities together, to hug and love and laugh as much as you can. As much as depression can dominate, try to remind yourselves who you really are and the good that there is in your relationship. Pray together often, and lean on the truth of God’s word.
Where to get help:
• Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• Youthline: 0800 376 633 • Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
• Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155 • Samaritans 0800 726 666
• If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.