Depression can be tough not only on the person grappling with it but also on their relationships. If you’re sharing your life with a depressed wife, for instance, her mental health will have a direct bearing on both of you – as a couple as well as individuals. While living with a depressed wife, you may find yourself getting caught in her mood cycles or experiencing an inexplicable sense of suffering.
At times, you may even find yourself at the receiving end of extreme reactions or angry outbursts. In such situations, you may desperately look for ways to cheer up your depressed wife. However, healing your depressed wife is not your prerogative or responsibility. Nor are you equipped with the right skills to do so. But you can definitely help her get better by offering the right kind of support at the right time.
Counseling psychologist Kavita Panyam (Masters in Psychology and international affiliate with the American Psychological Association), who has been helping couples work through their relationship issues for over two decades, writes about the ways you can help your depressed wife as well as some of the warning signs of depression you can keep an eye out for to make sure you get her the necessary help at the right time.
How Do I Know If My Wife Is Depressed?
Chris didn’t make much of his wife’s tendency to spend a lot of time by herself. She seemed withdrawn and distant in some moments, agitated and angry in others. At first, Chris attributed the changes in her demeanor to a hormonal flux. Maybe it was a spell of PMS that had dragged on, he thought.
Over time, these behavioral traits became more and more pronounced. Chris’ wife started sleeping in a different room, waking up long after he had left for work and going to bed soon after an early supper or sometimes even without it. Any attempt to establish contact or elicit a conversation would only aggravate her agitation and make her withdraw even more.
This went on for months before Chris was finally able to identify his wife’s behavior pattern as a manifestation of a depressive state of mind. If you’re going through a similar situation, you’re probably wondering, “How do I help my wife deal with depression? How to cheer up my depressed wife?” Well, before we get to the ‘how to help a depressed wife’ discussion, let’s first try to understand what the signs of a depressed wife are:
- Feeling of hopelessness: A person going through depression tends to lose hope. They feel it’s impossible to overcome the pain and suffering they are experiencing. They also feel a sense of shame, guilt, self-loathing, and worthlessness. They lose all motivation to move forward
- Lack of sexual intimacy: Depression or declining mental health is bound to affect sexual intimacy in a marriage. If your depressed wife avoids intimacy, it’s a warning sign. Her depressive state of mind will have a direct bearing on her libido levels. It causes her to experience a low sex drive, which explains the lack of intimacy in the relationship
- Erratic sleeping pattern: One of the most common signs of depression is an unpredictable and erratic sleeping pattern. If your wife is sleeping too much and still waking up exhausted, it’s a sign. Alternatively, someone with depression could also experience insomnia due to overwhelming thoughts and anxiety
- Suicidal thoughts or attempts: This is one serious sign you just cannot ignore. A person suffering from depression often loses hope and looks for ways to put an end to all the pain and sorrow. You may feel your depressed wife pushing you away and isolating herself. Seek professional help at the slightest hint of any such thought or action. If your depressed wife won’t get help, try to calmly talk to her about it
- Change in appetite and body weight: Depression can take a toll on physical health as well. If you see your depressed wife overeating or eating too little, consider it a sign. She’s probably trying to cope with her miserable state of mind. If you notice a sudden and drastic increase or decrease in her body weight, it’s likely that she’s depressed
- Losing interest in activities that she once enjoyed: If you see your wife not wanting to indulge in hobbies or activities that she once enjoyed doing, it could be a sign of depression. People suffering from depression tend to lose their sense of self and go into self-sabotage mode. They avoid socializing and run away from responsibilities. They don’t feel like taking care of themselves and lose interest in relationships, career goals and sex
These are a few signs of depression that your wife could be going through. There could be other symptoms as well like anxiety, mood swings, alcohol addiction or substance abuse, angry outbursts, concentration issues and difficulty in decision-making. Look out for physical symptoms as well like fatigue, chest pain, headaches, low energy levels and decreasing vision. If you are stuck in such a situation and your mind is clouded with questions like “how to help my depressed wife” and “how do I help my spouse with depression”, allow me to help you.
How Can I Help A Depressed Wife? 7 Tips
Depression is a condition that is defined by inaction and hopelessness. However, to help a depressed wife your outlook toward this mental health issue should be exactly the opposite. It’s imperative to take swift action and remain hopeful about the outcome.
The field of mental health has seen steady progress over the years. While it is still considered a taboo subject for many, things are not as bad as they were a few years ago. By working alongside a competent therapist, the affected person can manage their depressive state of mind better and may even bounce back from it fully.
But for any of it to happen, the person suffering from depression has to be willing to seek help. If you are dealing with a depressed wife who won’t get help, understand that it could be because she feels that her issues aren’t legitimate or serious enough to warrant professional help.
This is where, as a spouse, you can play an important role in nudging her out of this state of inertia, making her acknowledge and accept the state of her mental health, and taking small but concrete steps toward tackling depression. Here are 7 effective ways to deal with your “how to help a depressed wife” dilemma:
1. Create an activity list
Depression means inaction. If you notice that your wife does not get intimate or she is constantly fatigued, tired or drained of energy, these could be signs of depression. Mental exhaustion due to unaddressed emotional issues can spread to other parts of the body, resulting in physical symptoms such as back pain, aches, feeling butterflies in the stomach. Any other kind of pain or physical symptoms that cannot be pathologically correlated to a physical condition could be a result of psychosomatic issues due to depression.
It’s her body’s way of signaling her to slow down. So, the first step toward helping your wife deal with depression is to create an activity list to tackle the inaction. This list can include all the activities that she may have given up on – essential activities such as shopping, running errands, basic hygiene practices such as bathing or combing, as well as self-care activities such as yoga, art, exercise, walks, etc.
Then, encourage her to start resuming these activities one at a time. The key here is to start small. Ask her to accompany you for a short walk after dinner, and then, gradually build up. These baby steps will ensure that she doesn’t get overwhelmed and slump back into inaction.
Likewise, each activity on the list should be dealt with or practiced on different days, reserving one day per activity. So, you can create a weekly plan with her to schedule these activities. At the same time, keep reminding her to not aim for perfection but progress. Also, remember to slow down if you notice her feeling exhausted or overwhelmed.
As a spouse, it is also equally important for you to remember that making little progress every day is what counts. Don’t expect her to make giant leaps right from day one. It will only result in disappointment, and eventually, put her back in the loop of inaction.
Related Reading: 5 Ways Depression Affects And Destroys Relationships
2. Discipline is crucial for your depressed wife
Depression tends to make a person lose their sense of self in a way that they let go of themselves completely. They stop taking care of themselves. If you’re living with a depressed wife, you would have noticed that she spends most of her time sitting, sleeping or even staring into nothingness. As the depressive state grows, this inaction begins to eat into a person’s ability to carry on with day-to-day routine tasks.
One way to help your depressed partner is to create discipline around her routine. For instance, ensuring that she brushes her teeth when she wakes up, eats breakfast, bathes, listens to music and so on, can go a long way in preventing her condition from escalating. Remember to be gentle, patient and calm while you convince her to follow her daily routine.
In your bid to help her, take care to not push her beyond her capabilities. It’s important to remember that the abilities of a person in a depressive state are very different from those who are not dealing with such mental health issues. She may get tired very quickly, which can impede her ability to carry on with even the most basic tasks.
In such a state, if you push her, she may become even more withdrawn, leaving you to think that your depressed wife is refusing help. But that’s not the case. It’s simply beyond her ability to keep up. So, you must tell her that it is okay to sit down, take a break, and then resume when she feels ready. The key is to not overdo any activity but also not bypass it completely.
3. Help her build a safe connection
“Why is my depressed wife pushing me away?” This question is not uncommon when your spouse is grappling with mental health issues. To be able to step out of this zone, she needs to have a safe connection or environment where she can express her thoughts without the fear of being judged. Try to create a secure space at home and around her so she feels free to communicate her feelings and thoughts.
If you can be that person for your depressed wife, then nothing like it. But that may not always be possible, and if it’s not, don’t consider it a sign of an unhappy marriage or a reflection of your relationship with your spouse. Don’t take it personally if she finds it difficult to open up to you. In such circumstances, you must encourage her to turn to a friend or any other person she knows she can lean on.
However, if she doesn’t have such a person in her life, joining a support group can be immensely helpful. Feel that your depressed wife won’t get help because stepping out, meeting and talking to strangers could be too overwhelming for her? Well, in that case, you can motivate her to join an online group that offers a safe space for people with depression to cry, express their anger or vent.
For instance, I run a WhatsApp support group for depressed women, where they help each other heal together. There are several such online programs available today that you can leverage to help your depressed wife.
Related Reading: My Encounter With Depression: Thoughts Of A Damaged Soul
4. How to help a spouse with depression? Tackle her anxiety
Feeling anxious is one of the most common signs of depression. Since depression begets inaction, a person’s to-do list can keep growing and spiraling out of control. As these tasks pile up, they trigger anxiety over how and when they will be finished, whether someone can help her finish them or if she will be able to do them all on her own.
When you see her in that state, you will probably look for ways to cheer up your depressed wife. However, going from being anxious to cheerful is not an easy transition. You cannot drive that instant shift, no matter how hard you try. Instead, focus on helping her feel the full extent of her anxiety. Remind her to stay in the moment and not go into flashbacks that can further aggravate the anxious feelings.
When a depressed person feels anxious, the only way for them to emerge out of it is to sit through and process their feelings without fear and panic. They must acknowledge and accept what they’re going through and handle it in a calm manner. Getting this across to your angry and depressed wife, who is caught in the throes of anxiety, may not be easy. But, with gentle nudges and soft reminders, you can get there.
5. Direct her toward mindfulness
Depressive feelings can be triggered or enhanced due to the emotional baggage of past events, traumas or issues. One of the most effective answers to your “how to help my wife deal with depression” question is to practice mindfulness. Whether you’re learning to deal with the issues of a depressed newlywed wife or have been sharing this journey with your spouse for years, it’s an important tool that you can incorporate into your life to help your partner feel better.
Mindfulness means being in the moment without letting the mind connect the dots and wander to different places, times and events all at once. By letting the mind wander, a depressed person can become totally displaced. If your depressed wife refuses help, you can work with a mindfulness coach or a counselor to learn techniques that can help her stay in the moment and feel the full extent of her feelings rather than push them away or try to fight them.
This doesn’t require her to pause whatever she is doing. Mindfulness can be practiced alongside doing one’s job, helping the kids with their homework, reading a book, making a cup of tea or whatever else that a person may be doing.
Related Reading: Am I Going Through Depression? I Think I Have All The Symptoms
6. Encourage your wife to seek professional help
If you’re living with a depressed wife and your marriage is riddled with issues, you could help your spouse and yourself by going into couple’s therapy. If you’re dealing with a depressed wife who won’t get help, then convincing her could be a task but try communicating your feelings and concerns to her and see how she responds. Similarly, if the issue lies elsewhere, you must encourage her to seek therapy.
A competent therapist can help her make a conscious choice about whether she wants to take a break from this toxic connection in her life, work on it or sever it altogether. Once she understands that she has a choice and does not have to put up with the circumstances dealt to her, she can begin her healing process.
Alongside, if you want to help your depressed wife, you can start by working with her to get to the root of her stress or whatever is triggering her state of turmoil. It could be anything – a toxic connection with her parents or yours, with you, at work, with a friend or neighbor. It’s also possible that there isn’t any specific reason. She may, herself, not be able to understand why she’s feeling depressed.
Having said that, it is important to identify the triggers or any underlying issue there might be. Unless the root cause is identified and addressed, your depressed wife may not be able to break free from the trauma she is going through. This is not going to be an easy or a quick journey but taking the first step is what counts the most. If you are stuck in a similar situation and are looking for help, Bonobology’s panel of licensed and experienced therapists is only a click away.
7. Help her find a creative outlet and financial independence
Do you feel that you’re dealing with a depressed housewife even though she doesn’t admit it or hasn’t slumped into a full-blown depressive state? Well, the sadness and irritability you have been noticing in her behavior could be among the early signs of a depressed wife that must be nipped in the bud. One simple yet effective way you can help your wife deal with depression is to encourage her to find a creative outlet or work toward becoming financially independent.
If your wife is a homemaker, she may feel stifled because she is dependent on you for her expenses. Besides, just being confined to the role of shouldering domestic responsibilities may make her feel stripped of an identity of her own. This is especially true if your wife has given up her career to take care of the household.
In such a situation, validate her feelings and help her find her calling or any other creative outlet that she enjoys. Encouraging her to restart her career or exploring remote work opportunities to become financially independent can be an effective way to counter her feelings of sadness before they translate into a depressive state.
If your wife is a working professional, then juggling the pressures of home and work can trap her in a monotonous loop where she is unable to find the time or energy to pursue the activities she finds joy in. Doing your bit in the domestic and parenting department, so that she gets some ‘me time’ to follow her passions and interests, can be an answer to your “how to cheer up my depressed wife” dilemma.
It can be a frustratingly helpless experience to watch your depressed wife slump deeper and deeper into the dark, lonesome hole of dejection and apathy. With the right mindset and know-how, you can help her help herself. Also, remember that you can’t fix her. So, don’t hesitate to seek professional help if things spiral out of control.
At the same time, remember to practice self-care. While dealing with such a situation, it is necessary that you take care of yourself as well. Seek individual therapy if needed. Your wife’s actions and behavior can be too much to deal with. They may feel like a personal attack. A professional will be able to help you find ways to cope with your spouse’s mental illness.
Sleep well, exercise regularly, eat a balanced diet and involve yourself in activities that bring you joy. Don’t lose touch with your hobbies and interests. Know that you’re not being selfish. You’re just taking care of yourself so you can take care of your wife. You need to have enough energy and emotional bandwidth to help your depressed wife.