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What is marital depression and how to avoid it

Newlywed, new mom and first-time home buyer, Sarah is currently playing out her exciting life in Phoenix, Arizona. She recently gave up her job in finance to stay at home with her baby girl, who between bath time and feeding time, keeps ...

An expert weighs in

Marital depression is more common than you think, and it can destroy your marriage if you're not careful. An expert sheds some light on this rarely discussed issue and provides tips for avoiding falling victim to this rising phenomenon.
Unhappy woman

Depression — in all shapes and forms affects millions and millions of people each year. Whether you have a family history of it or find yourself in hard-to-handle situations, depression is not something to be overlooked.

Marital depression strikes when one person feels unusually lonely in spite of being in a relationship, which leads to depression. We asked nationally recognized marriage expert Dr. Scott Haltzman to share all about marital depression and provide tips on preventing it within your marriage.

SheKnows: What is marital depression?

Dr. Scott Haltzman: Research tells us that married people, on average, are happier than unmarried people, and that being married actually reduces the risk of developing major mental illness. However, sometimes the stress of marriage can contribute to feelings of depression. Marital depression generally relates to feeling a sense of sadness, low mood and lack of energy associated with the marriage.

One woman I treated for depression had dealt with low mood and feeling a sense of control and oppression by her husband. When she got a divorce, many of her depressive symptoms of 15 years had resolved.

That being said, there are many people who suffer from depression that blame their partners, but when you look at studies of people who choose to divorce, what you find is that their depressions, on average, do not get better and they do not become happier, unless they were the victims of domestic violence or they remarried in a 5-year period during which the study took place!

SK: What are some tips for keeping the spark alive?

SH: When couples get stuck in routines, it tends to make the marriage predictable, which is calming, but boring. And boring can be the death of marital happiness. Staying energized by marriage requires injection of novel events or activities consistently. That can range from dressing up before a date, switching identities and picking each other up at a bar, learning a new dance together or going camping together.

SK: What are some realistic expectations of a marriage?

SH: People expect marriage to be like the Fourth of July every day. Most days it's like the fifth of July, like any other day with a fair amount of picking up to do from the day before! One of the biggest myths is that you have to be "in love" all the time, or else the marriage is DOA. In reality, many marriages have down times, and that's normal. The difference between the marriages that thrive and those that perish isn't that great often the ones who thrive are the ones that toughed out the rough times, and now they look back and can hardly remember that they had such a difficult time.

SK: What should you do if you feel you may have marital depression?

SH: Don't try to diagnose yourself. Seek out the help of a mental health expert that can help you sort through whether this is marital depression or a different medical problem.

More experts chime in on keeping the spark alive

“Accept ownership for your own happiness. We often look to others or outside events to make us happy. Happiness truly is an inside job.”  Dr. Ingeborg Hrabowy, clinical psychologist

“There are two components to keeping the spark alive: Avoid judgmental criticism and work to enjoy at least some of your time together. It is extremely important to curb your desire to communicate criticism to your partner. Make sure to deliver two or three positive comments to your partner each day. When you do have a criticism, deliver it with a statement that reminds your partner that you still value him. Secondly, schedule activities that you both enjoy participating in together. Let go of upset and areas of conflict during this time and focus on delighting in the activity and your partner.” — Dr. Jill Weber, clinical psychologist

Check out Dr. Weber's book Having Sex, Wanting Intimacy: Why Women Settle for One-Sided Relationships here >>

More on relationships

Moving in with him: Love is art
Women reveal what they wish they knew before marriage
The 5 money personalities (and your marriage) 

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