After you deliver your bundle of joy, many couples are shocked to discover that there is little joy to be found. On average, 15% of new mothers experience postpartum depression. As weeks of “baby blues” extend into months of anxiety, anger, and sadness, many marriages can suffer from the strain.
Couples should take special care to make sure their marriage survives the trial of postpartum depression, as many cases can be severe, even leading to psychosis. Here are some tips that all couples should consider with a diagnosis of PPD to help fortify the relationship during the tough road to recovery.
Get Medical Assistance
The first step toward protecting your marriage is to seek the advice of medical professionals. Depression is not simply a series of bad days or a sad feeling that can go away with willpower. It’s caused by altered brain chemistry compounded by the intense life changes accompanied with welcoming a child into the home.
A woman suffering from PPD may feel reluctant to get on antidepressant medication. This is a natural feeling, as people often feel as though they could be doing better if they tried harder. This attitude unfortunately comes from spouses as well. Many partners assume that if their wives were to “snap out of it,” things would return to normal.
Both partners should discuss the need for medication. It’s the first step toward protecting women, spouses, and children from the harmful effects of pervasive depression.
It’s also essential to discuss the need for mental health screening. Many women will deny that they even have depression at all and blame the symptoms on sleeplessness, loss of work, increased financial pressure, breastfeeding, or birth control. All of these circumstances can contribute to the severity of depression, but they are not the root cause.
Supporting spouses should be adamant about seeking professional support as soon as symptoms of PPD appear. Thoughts of self harm, suicide, harming family members or children, or unexplained changes in mood that increase violence, obsession, or anger are especially serious and should be addressed immediately by a psychological professional.
Increase Your Education
Many women with PPD feel as though their spouse can’t really understand what they are going through. The depression causes a divide in the relationship where one spouse feels consistently misunderstood and the other feels more and more at a loss over how to help.
It’s especially important for supportive spouses to learn as much as they can about postpartum depression and psychosis. Increased knowledge will give you the tools to:
- Say what needs to be said. Many supportive spouses are worried about saying the wrong thing or making things worse. The more you learn about depression, the more you’ll be able to know what to say when your wife is having a particularly rough episode.
- Increase your empathy. When you do not understand the causes and symptoms of an illness, it’s easier to distance yourself from it. This is the wrong approach for your marriage. Instead, education will allow you to see things from your wife’s perspective to empathize with her.
- Feel empowered. When one partner is suffering and the other is trying to hold things together, it can feel like you are both drowning in your respective challenges. Learning the prognosis for PPD can help you cope with day-to-day stresses without feeling resentful towards your spouse.
Education is one of the most powerful tools to bring your together to common ground when depression seems to be dividing you.
Stop the Blame Game
Whenever illness hits a marriage, it can be easy to slip into the trap of defining yourself (or your spouse) by the disease. In the case of PPD, many supporting spouses struggle with placing blame on their wives instead of the illness. Take care to catch yourself before playing the blame game.
For example, a woman with postpartum depression may never feel able to keep a clean house or even get out of bed in the morning. Her spouse may feel resentful about the burden of housework and the loss of support from a fully able spouse and think, “If only she’d help out. She’s always too tired. My wife never does any of the work anymore. I have to do it all myself.”
Similarly, women with depression may also feel resentment. For example, she feels unable to meet all the obligations she has as a wife and mother, so she wants her spouse to help bear the load. If she perceives her spouse is not picking up the slack, she may feel angry toward him for not seeing how much she needs help.
Sometimes, this type of thinking cannot be corrected without guidance. If either spouse is feeling angry or resentful toward the other, consider going to counseling to address cognitive distortions and defined expectations. Blame and unmet expectations placed on either partner will only escalate marital problems.
Postpartum depression can have a profound impact on marriages. The impact increases with the severity of the disease and the health of the marriage. Seeking help and counseling is one of the best ways to ensure your marriage does not become a casualty. For more information on treating postpartum depression and psychosis, contact us at NeuroHealth Arlington Heights.