There are a million and one reasons to dislike Valentine’s Day.  From the over inflated commercialism to the hurt from it not even being acknowledged (yes, us women can be difficult to decipher!)  But if your marriage is struggling due to one spouse struggling with a mental health topic, it can be especially painful to hear about yet another wonderful husband spoiling his wife with flowers and chocolates.   When your partner is struggling with mental illness, even short term, it can feel like you are carrying the full load of your household with no end in sight.

Some of you may be in a really rough marital spot and not even realize it is mental illness talking.  Or behavioral health.  Or a depressive slump.  Or just a little unhappiness.  Whatever you choose to call it, our brains can also get “under the weather” and need healing and care.

Thanks to Mary Tatum, a counselor at 1st Responder Treatment Center, we wanted to bring you some clear facts and help on this topic.

I think my spouse may be struggling with depression / bipolar / anxiety / etc. What are the signs I should watch for?

Overall, if your spouse is reporting feeling “strange” or unhappy, lost or empty, or perhaps lacking motivation for a period of time, it’s a good idea to examine these symptoms further.   There are different signs for various disorders.

  • For bi-polar look for sudden mood changes ranging from intense sadness or anger to feelings of euphoria or power.
  • For depression look for lack of motivation, feelings of meaninglessness, and loss of interest in things the person once loved or enjoyed.
  • For anxiety look for constant worrying and irrational or exaggerated fears that persist.

Is my spouse struggling with a mental illness or just having a “bad season”? How can I tell the difference?

A bad season is usually caused by a significant event such as a death, financial difficulties, or loss of employment. Once life circumstances improve then so do the negative emotions. A mental illness is usually persistent no matter if there are happy or sad events going on in life. A mental illness is persistent and causes daily life responsibilities to become difficult or completely unmanageable. Help is definitely needed in these situations. Even a bad season can be shortened with therapeutic help.

When should I / we seek help from the outside? And what is the best first step?

Help should be sought when one or both spouses cannot handle the negative emotions or life circumstances on their own. Even for short term depression, a therapist can help teach coping skills and provide support which may help the depression symptoms ease quicker.

Should I share with others in his life and ask them to speak to him? i.e. his partner, crew, captain, chief

No, this may be seen as betrayal of trust and feel like an intrusion of privacy which is very embarrassing. If the behavior is severe enough, then others have definitely noticed. It’s best to seek therapy through a private source and empower the spouse to seek support from crew members when he/she is ready.

What are the best/worst things to say to a spouse who is struggling with depression?

Empathy is always the best option for anyone who is suffering. Even if you don’t understand why they’re hurting you can be understanding show compassion for the pain they are experiencing. A phrase like, “I see that you’re really hurting and I’m here to support you. Is there anything I can do to help you?” This will do a lot more good than telling someone to “snap out of it” or to “just accept it and get over it.” The latter implies that you see them as weak and that their suffering is irritating to you. The first shows that you are on their team and that they are not alone through the pain they are experiencing.

What if they are too trapped in the depressive cycle to even recognize or want to seek help?

If a person is suicidal then they should be Baker Acted by calling 911. You should always seek professional help if you recognize that the depression has become life threatening. Each case is different so a professional can guide you step by step.

Are there any things I can do simply around our home to help my spouse? i.e. aromatherapy, changes in diet, music, sunlight

Empathy and support are the most helpful. Being supportive by making his favorite foods or allowing him to have some quiet time can help. Don’t expect your efforts to be fully appreciated however; depression steals a person’s ability to show gratitude fully. Depression robs a person’s ability to enjoy things like they used to, so don’t take their lack of enthusiasm personally. It’s not about you, it’s all about the depression.

How do I keep myself filled up and motivated in my marriage during the seasons when my spouse is consumed by depression or anxiety?

You will absolutely need support for yourself. Good girlfriends, a support group, your own therapist, and uplifting family members can be lifesavers. Living with a depressed spouse can be very lonely and empty. You will definitely need your own support system. Also focus on thing things and hobbies that you enjoy or are passionate about. Make sure you don’t lose your own feelings of purpose and peace.

How do I remind myself that they are struggling with an illness and this is not how they want to act, that they are not intentionally trying to hurt me?

Behavioral health issues can be treated like any medical condition.  When you remind yourself that your spouse’s “thought patterns” are broken, you can avoid the feeling that they intentionally want to hurt you with their words or lack of words and action as the case may be.    If you are in an abusive relationship, physical or verbal, call for help.  The National Domestic Violence Hotline.

Give me some hope. How successful are the treatments for these kinds of mental illnesses?

Fifty years ago I would not have much hope to offer you. Today, however there are treatment options of many kinds available with great success rates. The trick to mental illness is figuring out what routine works for you. What medication adjustments, therapists, psychiatrists, and support systems work for you? Once you find what works then it’s a matter of maintaining the routine. Finding the correct routine can be somewhat frustrating. Don’t lose faith, the trial and error process can be frustrating and tiring but the end result is well worth it.

For more resources, see our Crisis Page.


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On a mission to be and inspire us all to be better humans, to strengthen fire families & marriages, to nurture and encourage fire wives, do "good business" in all areas of my life and of course, love on my 4 kids.

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1 Comment

  1. Kristin Grooms

    Thank you. My husband has been on the force for 22 years and he just entered treatment last week. It’s hard but I’m hopeful. I haven’t been as involved with this group as I could be. Looks like I may need to make a few changes!


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