Living with a depressed husband over an extended period of time can take a toll on you, the non-depressed spouse. Depression is a serious mental health disorder that results from imbalances in brain chemistry and can affect mood, sleep, appetite and energy. If your husband has been living with this condition for a long time, he has probably withdrawn from the marriage in many ways -- leaving you feeling alone and with most of the responsibilities of the household.
Effects on Marriage
Couples in which one or both partners are depressed are nine times more likely to divorce than couples without depression, according to Sari Harrar and Rita DeMaria, authors of "The Seven Stages of Marriage." When a partner is depressed, it can create anger and resentment in the spouse. For example, you might feel as though your husband does not care, that he should be able to snap out of it, and you may suffer burnout from having to manage a household on your own -- not to mention the erosion of intimacy and lack of connection. The longer you stay in a relationship with someone who has untreated depression, the worse your situation becomes.
Seek Treatment First
If you are considering leaving a long-term relationship because of depression -- consider first whether all treatment avenues have been exhausted. If you feel that your husband is still a "good" spouse if it were not for the depression, you owe it to him and your marriage to try and find help. In the article, "What to Do With a Depressed Spouse," psychologist Willard Harley recommends seeking treatment such as anti-depressant medication as well as learning new habits of relating through psychotherapy. Harley contends that while only about one third of those who are depressed seek help, 80 to 90 percent of those who do, improve. Your husband may need you to take the lead in finding that help -- as his depression may have clouded his judgment to the point that he believes the situation is hopeless.
If you husband's depression is severe, and attempts at treatment have failed or been met with resistance, you may have no other choice but to leave. In the CNN Health article "I Lost My Husband to Bipolar Disorder," Sue Sanders describes her experience living with, and leaving, her husband who suffered with severe bipolar disorder. His erratic and dangerous behavior eventually led her to having him committed to a psychiatric hospital -- from which he checked himself out after 48 hours. By the time he returned home, she had packed up her daughter and moved out. If your husband is in denial, refuses treatment, or repeatedly stops taking his medication, it may be time to make a similar decision.
If you do choose to leave your depressed husband, it is wise to set up supports for yourself in advance. Consult a mental health professional and get help for yourself -- you likely have your own issues to work through and possibly feelings of guilt. Work at separating your life from your husband's if you are overly dependent on each other. Consider all of the aspects of your household that will need to be dealt with including finances, joint assets and living arrangements. Spend time with friends who will listen. If you have children, be careful not to speak badly about their father. In general, take care of yourself and be kind to yourself through this difficult time.
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Arlin Cuncic has been writing about mental health since 2007, specializing in social anxiety disorder and depression topics. She served as the managing editor of the "Journal of Attention Disorders" and has worked in a variety of research settings. Cuncic holds an M.A. in clinical psychology.
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