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Depression and Divorce

How does depression affect marriage and relationships?
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Depression: Partners in Agony

Depending on the extent of the depression, the depressed spouse often tunes out and gives up on life. A depressed person may sleep too much, or too little. Depressed people often stop eating much, or overeat, and may have difficulty concentrating and conversing.

"The depressed person often feels responsible, but they feel like they can't do anything about [their inertia]," says Ahrons. "Many of them don't even know why they are depressed."

Meanwhile, the other partner feels compelled to pick up the slack, especially if there are children. They may be very understanding and sympathetic at first, say Ahrons and Sherman.

How Depression Can Lead to an Angry Marriage

But as exhaustion and frustration increase, the feelings of the unaffected partner may turn to anger or resentment. If the depressed partner doesn't enjoy engaging in activities the couple used to do together, that's another source of irritation, Ahrons says. "The other partner either has to do things on their own or stay home, too," she says.

If a partner has never been depressed, he or she may have a hard time understanding the mood disorder. That can be difficult if you're a very upbeat type, Ahrons says. She says she often hears an upbeat partner say of a depressed spouse: "Why can't he just pull himself up?"

The partner who isn't depressed may also feel cheated, says Dan Jones, PhD, director of the Counseling and Psychological Services Center at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C. That's understandable, he says, because the depressed partner is typically not much fun.

"Most people fall in love because they are enjoying each other's company and having fun together," he says.

"The depressed person will [often] give the impression he doesn't care," he says. "It's hard to feel intimate with someone [who looks like he does not care]," he says.  There is often a loss of interest in sex by the depressed person, which further strains the relationship.  

If the depression persists for months, or years, both partners can feel the distance between them widening. The non-depressed spouse will often think: "How can he be depressed?  "We have a happy marriage," says Anita H. Clayton, MD, professor of psychiatry and neurobehavioral sciences at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville. But sometimes, one has nothing to do with the other. Other times, the depression is due to marital dissatisfaction.

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