When Your Spouse is Depressed

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Written by MM Team Member (and my hubby!) – Gary Steffaniak

 

 

Depressionofspouse
If you’ve never been depressed, you cannot understand how depression feels or how hard it is to overcome.

And I’m not talking about just having a bad day here and there.

One friend who struggles with depression told me that when he’s in the midst of it, he’s no more able to “just snap out of it” as someone with the flu is able to run a marathon.

So, is there anything a husband or wife can do to help their suffering spouse?

Are there any examples to show us what to do?

Fortunately, we have a story in Scripture that shows us what God did to pull Elijah out of his depression.

Here’s the story in a nutshell: After three and a half years of experiencing God’s amazing miracles, one right after the other, and after demonstrating a fervent faith and heroic courage in the face of overwhelming odds, Elijah sinks into depression. Elijah’s story exposes the reality that even growing Christ-followers are susceptible to depression. In 1 Kings 19:1-21, we find not only the account of Elijah’s downward spiral, but also the process that God used to help Elijah restore his emotional balance.

Here are six very practical and helpful steps that you can take when your spouse is overcome by the darkness of depression:

  1. Encourage your spouse to take care of his/her physical needs. (verse 5) 
Often a depressed person stops eating. We can’t neglect our physical health and hope to recover from depression. Sometimes a physical exam can reveal a physical problem that has triggered an emotional problem that can be treated.
  2. Allow your spouse to ventilate his/her feelings without judgment. (verses 9b-10) 
Much of the thoughts and feelings that depression brings are irrational. In spite of this, being a good “listener” is much more beneficial than attempting to “fix” your spouse by “telling” them how they should think and feel.
  3. Pray that your spouse will recognize God’s quiet presence and His commitment to walk with them through their dark journey. (verses 12-13)
 Depression convinces us that we are all alone, forgotten and abandoned by God. Trying to convince a depressed spouse that this is untrue with our own persuasive arguments is not likely. Relying on prayer, asking God to reveal His presence and power, will have the greatest impact.
  4. Encourage your spouse to stay connected and involved in manageable ministry. (verse 15) 
Inactivity is a common response to depression and very unhealthy.  A depressed person needs to remain active.  Being used by God in His kingdom work can help a depressed person regain a sense of significance and can contribute to restored health.
  5. Help your spouse get clarity on the truth to correct his/her misconceptions. (verse 18)
 It is common for depressed people to embrace false beliefs and inaccurate perceptions. After they have felt heard and understood, it is essential that we help them re-connect with reality and regain a sense of stability based on God’s truth.
  6. Assure your spouse that you are committed to stay right by their side so they won’t be walking alone in their recovery. (verses 19-20)
 Depressed people often isolate themselves from others, usually leading to further depression.  Be a supportive presence through thick and thin. In addition, encourage your spouse to connect with a broader support network – with others who genuinely care about them and their recovery.

 

What could you add to this list of ways to support a depressed spouse?

 

What has made the biggest difference for you when you’ve experienced depression?

 

Since it’s been a while since my hubby, Gary, has shared a post here with all of you, let me reintroduce you to him! He is the Pastor of Care and Recovery at our church, Metro Community in Edwardsville, Illinois. He’s also an avid Cardinal’s fan and can’t wait to see them “beat the socks” off of the Sox! Sorry if we’re offending all of you, New Englander Messy Marriage readers! We still think YOU are great, no matter how un-great your team may be! ha!

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Linking up with – NOBH, Momma Notes, Marriage MondaysMaking Your Home Sing Monday, Living Proverbs 31, Playdates with God and Marriage Monday

 

  • bluecottonmemory

    Wonderful! Wonderful list! Sticking commitment, unconditional love and support – and praying! Much prayer! When my husband is in tough times, I pray psalms over him – and strongholds are brought down! It is so important to as determinedly minister to our husbands as we do our children:)

    • Gary Steffaniak

      What a great way to love and minister to our family members and friends, by praying Scripture on their behalf. So many times we don’t think we know how to pray for them. We can never go wrong, and never run out of appropriate expressions of prayer, when Scripture is leading the way. Thanks so much for sharing.

  • Hey Gary! A great big YES to spouses that don’t knock themselves senseless trying to rescue, fix, or save. During this fear-filled and uncertain time, simply being listened to and held gently goes a long way in letting that hurting person know that they are not alone, that someone believes in them, and that there is hope.

    • Gary Steffaniak

      Linda, thanks for responding and reminding us of the value of “just being there.” This is something we should be putting into practice even with those who don’t struggle with depression. It’s a much needed human relations skill that is way under used.

  • Kim Adams Morgan

    Wonderful post, Gary. Nice to “meet” you. Depression is a scary thing to go through and prayer is a powerful tool, as is knowing Christ and trusting in His love for us. I think the only thing I would add to your list is this: from my own experience in my 20s and in speaking with many women, people really get stuck on the why of things and can never move past a situation if they can’t solve the why. Many times there are no answers to things. It’s part of life. I (my opinion here) think if people can accept Christ, they will move from the “I” need to solve, to the “He” is in control and can put their trust in Him. For believers, they move away from this trust with depression, part of the enemies lies/decent. (please note- I’m neither a counselor nor psychologist, I have an undergraduate in psychology and behavioral science and people confuse this and start talking to me as if I were; as a lifegroup leader I’ve had people confess suicidal thoughts to me several times in a short period of time) Blessings to you and Beth. Love Messy Marriage.

    • Gary Steffaniak

      Kim, nice meeting you too, and thanks for addressing the “why” struggle. It’s such an easy hole to fall into. One of the best books on this issue is titled, “This Wasn’t Supposed to Happen to Me” by Dr. Bev Smallwood. One of the things she says in her book is, “Asking ‘why’ is a natural response, but the answers (if they come) never satisfy. The deeper answers we seek are elusive an unattainable.”

  • What a great list. I’ve been blessed to have a spouse who isn’t prone to depression, but I have friends and family members who are, so these suggestions are helpful to apply to them as well as to myself!

    • Gary Steffaniak

      Lisa, we’ve all probably got more friends who struggle with depression than we would ever imagine. Thanks for having a sympathetic heart.

  • Nikki

    Great post! Great suggestions!

    • Gary Steffaniak

      Thanks Nikki. 🙂

  • Lisha

    This was such a blessing to read. My husband & I have been walking this road for over a year and this was an encouragement to my heart. Thank you for sharing!

    I’m visiting from the Living Proverbs 31 Link-up!
    ~Lisha
    http://www.theblishblog.blogspot.com

    • Gary Steffaniak

      Lisha, I’m sorry that depression has invaded your family. I’m thankful, though, that this post has encouraged you. Keep holding on.

  • I love what you’ve said about trying not to fix someone. I am prone to that (but getting better!) and from experience i know it’s one of the worst things you can give someone who’s going through a down season. Prayer is big – it not only helps the person going through the season but the person walking it out with them. Great tips, thanks for sharing

    • Gary Steffaniak

      Ngina, my tendency is to try to fix too. It comes way too naturally for me. Thanks so much for sharing.

  • Nancy Sturm

    It’s nice to “meet” your other half. Thanks for a very practical, thoughtful post, Gary.

  • rboerner

    I wish I would’ve learned 2 & 3 much quicker than I did. When I stopped trying to fix it/him and telling him to get over it …and I started praying for my husband, not only did I feel a huge burden lifted off my shoulders, but I saw my hubby more open to suggestions and encouragement. This is an area in my life where I need a constant reminder because I can easily fall back into “fixing” or “making things okay”. Thanks Gary!

  • Thanks Gary (and Beth) for this POWERFUL and, sadly, all too relate-able post and Biblical resource. It has been my observation that people sometimes need to be creative in order to keep their depressed spouses engaged and connected to keep from isolating. Sometimes our “communication” ends up as just being “talking AT” someone. I think that depressed people often want connection, but are not capable of handling intimacy when they are really struggling. Which is why many turn to unhealthy, seemingly anonymous sources for that connection. Ideally, we would all love Christ to be the primary shared motivator for connection, but depression often keeps us from looking UP. If you gotta start checking hockey scores and stats to keep your spouse talking, DO IT. If you have to sit through a PBS Masterpiece Classic to draw them into a conversation, might be a good start. Catching up on the Sports Page or the latest episode of Downton Abbey might be a non-threatening way to crack the surface and begin to get insight into what is going on their head. Or perhaps a new shared interest. Find ways to keep them talking and actively listen. Life is often overwhelming. If someone feels listened to, valued, and Significant, as Gary indicated, they might just Glance UP and see the LIGHT. Thanks Again G&B!

  • This is a good post, and a nice exposition of the scripture. Another thing to note is that the care came from God – and I think that is the tough part, as a spouse you want to have the power to make things better for the depressed spouse. But, the only thing you can do is lead them to the presence of the one who comforted Elijah.

  • Excellent words and tips, Gary. Thanks so much for sharing. The other night I was with a group of people and we were discussing being an “intentional listener” which can be hard sometimes when our spouse is sharing. But what a gift we give when we keep our mouths shut and our ears and hearts open…then responding to them as the Spirit leads. Thanks again…PS Your wife is such a sweetheart and I am so glad the blogosphere has brought us together…

  • mamazee

    As a mom who has depression run in her family, i’m determined to do all i can to avoid giving my children the childhood i had. So, i get even more guilty and stressed out when i feel myself slipping (incidentally, I’ve found that regularly taking a vitamin B complex, and megadosing with Inositol (another B vitamin helps immensely) – my beautiful, sacrificial husband does all of these things, but two other things he does that help immensely – he will laugh at the irrational stuff – and he still expects me to do stuff. His expectations are never huge, but he doesn’t treat me like i’m damaged or broken, or unable. If he tiptoes around me, i just feel even more unfixable, worthless, useless, damaged.

  • Oh man, where was this for my husband when we were engaged?? 😉

    I struggle with cyclical depression. It happens about every four years. And even though I know it happens about every four years, it doesn’t make it any less hard. As a strong feeler (Myers Briggs!) I’ve found that what I “feel” feels like truth, even if it’s not.

    One thing I would add to your great list is to claim a promise of God to hold onto, memorize, meditate on, and choose to believe, no matter how one feels. This is how I “logic” my way out of it, is if I believe that the Word of God is God-breathed, ultimate authority, and absolute truth, that it MUST stand no matter how I feel. And so I have to remind myself daily, hourly, minute by minute that though I feel one way, there is hope and that hope comes from the absolute, unwavering truth of God’s word. A little self-cognitive-behavioral therapy, if you will. 😉

    One verse in particular that I love for these depressed moments is Lamentations 3:22-24: “This I call to mind, therefore I have hope. The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning, great is Your faithfulness.”

    If there’s anyone who got depression, it’s Jeremiah. The whole book is depression. BUT, this he called to mind, and therefore he had hope.

    Even if it’s the only thing that kept him going, it kept him going.

    Thanks for writing. 🙂