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In the Summer 2009 issue of esperanza, the new anxiety and depression magazine,   the effects of depression on a marriage or long-term relationship are explored. Depression in one spouse complicates the challenges of marriage, but couples can thrive when they work together to manage the illness.

Hand in Hand

Marriages thrive best when depression becomes "our problem"

by Sharon Anne Waldrop

esperanza Magazine Summer 2009 coverAs a professional party entertainer, Phil S. of Sanbornton, New Hampshire can light up every face in the room with his comedy magic show and balloon twisting. But he can't cheer up his wife, Cedar, when she's experiencing a period of depression.

"It's very hard for me when my wife is suffering and she can't talk to me about it," says Phil, 45.

Every marriage has its challenges, but the issues multiply when one spouse has depression. Communication problems arise, or deepen, when a spouse withdraws during a depressive episode. The other spouse may feel shut out—not to mention angry and resentful at having to shoulder more responsibility for household tasks and child-rearing.

Withdrawal can also affect the couple's social life, leaving the well spouse prey to boredom and frustration—or determined to pursue a separate social life, which may deepen the emotional distance in the marriage.

A study of 774 married couples, published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology in October 2004, found a strong correlation between depression (and to a lesser extent, anxiety) in one spouse and marital satisfaction for both spouses. The more severe the depression, the less satisfied both partners were with the marriage. In discussing the results, researcher Mark A. Whisman, PhD, of the University of Colorado at Boulder, drew a strong connection between seeking mental health services and survival of the marriage.

The fact is, depression in one partner affects both parties in the marriage. About half the adult population (ages 15 and older) in the U.S. and Canada is married, but no hard statistics turn up on how many of those marriages are affected by mental illness. Given that major depressive disorder affects 14.8 million American adults in a given year—or about 6.7 percent of the U.S. population ages 18 and older—the potential number of married Americans touched by depression could be as high as 28 million annually.

In Canada, meanwhile, government agencies calculate that about 11 percent of men and 16 percent of women will experience major depression in their lifetimes, with more than a million Canadians experiencing a major depressive episode annually.

The widely publicized statistic that half of all marriages end in divorce has come into dispute in recent years, with social scientists pegging the peak figure in the U.S. closer to 40 percent. It's impossible to quantify the link between depression and divorce, but several studies done in the 1990s suggest that a history of depression increases the probability of separation and divorce, perhaps by as much as 70 percent.

While many factors go into deciding which marriages fail and which survive, one big influence seems to be how proactive both members of the couple are in dealing with the depression. Although each partner has a different role to play—the spouse with depression must take steps to manage the disorder, while the spouse who is well should seek education and provide support—it's working together that helps the marriage thrive…

Read the full article, "Hand in Hand," from esperanza Magazine