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gillian marchenko

Author and Speaker


5 strategies for YOU when your spouse fights depression


5 strategies...

Everyone, I’m thrilled that my husband Sergei, in the midst of everything else he’s got going on, was able to write a blog post in honor of Mental Illness Awareness Week. A lot of us know that depression is a family illness. I often get questions from spouses of someone who is depressed. Any tips? What can I do? How do I cope? I’ve asked my husband to share some thoughts. Please join me in welcoming him… 

What is it like to live with a person who struggles with depression?

What is it like to love a person who struggles with depression? What is it like to be a family affected by depression? Well, I plan to share 5 strategies for YOU when your spouse fights depression.

But first, this…

Depression is a thief. A pickpocket. Swiping a memory here and there. An emotion, a plan for the afternoon, part of a conversation. A burglar. Leaving behind empty surfaces and containers used to be filled with childhood and marriage and friendship. It is a mugger. Stepping out of the dark. Threatening and taking the carelessness of the night away. A kidnapper. Taking, silencing, tying up, holding captive.

Until days later, or weeks later, she wanders back home, staggering, unsure of what happened or how she escaped.

It is sort of like that. Sometimes.

But here are five specific thoughts I had in regards to my wife’s depression. I hope it is helpful…

5 strategies for YOU when your spouse fights depression

I have learned these seemingly common-sense strategies for loving someone struggling with depression through prayer, in therapy, and in conversations with others. The strategies are also frequently forgotten in frustration or discarded in favor of self-pity or denial. And then they are learned anew. That’s just how it goes.

1. Marriage is about grace, not fairness

Marriage is not based on an exchange of goods and services. It is not about fairness. It is not about each spouse pulling your own weight. It is about grace.

This applies to all marriages, even if both people are mentally healthy (like that is even possible). So, to love someone is to serve them without expectation of them loving you back. It is not based on the quality or even reality of their love. Yes, depression is not fair. But marriage is not fair either.  And grace covers both.

2. Be flexible

Be okay with canceling stuff. Let your spouse know that it is okay if plans need to be changed last minute. Try to take guilt out the equation. They have enough guilt as it is. Let other significant people in your world, like people at work, know that occasionally you have to play it by ear. And don’t blame it on your spouse in front of them.

3. Learn to communicate more effectively

One of the biggest struggles in our marriage has to do with expectations. Yes, I did write about being flexible in the last paragraph but it is still really hard to adjust. Communicating effectively about the mental state of my wife on that particular day helps. We use a color system. I ask: How are you feeling? And she might respond: I am on green. No lengthy conversation necessary, because green means good. Yellow means: This day can either get better or worse; let’s wait and see before we decide to take all the children to the zoo. And red means: It’s bad, I need you to care for me and help me today.

4. Enjoy good days

On green days, the trick is to enjoy them without wondering what color of the rainbow is next. Today is a good day.

5. Express what you are feeling

As we have all learned from various educational cartoon characters, it is not good to bottle up your emotions. But there are appropriate ways to express what you are feeling and there are inappropriate ways. Blowing up at the kids and complaining to them about their mother is inappropriate. Or unloading on your neighbor who just walked out to get the paper. Or very open Facebook status updates… all usually inappropriate.

But talking to a good friend whom you can trust and who genuine cares about you and your spouse – that is quite appropriate and very helpful. I have found that journaling helps, too. In my case, it is writing down prayers to Jesus, who is as reliable as God and as close as a brother.

-Sergei Marchenko, Pastor of Christian Fellowship Church in Chicago, husband to Gillian, and papa to four beautiful daughters.

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  1. jan2 says:

    thanks for sharing and being so open about depression. I had depression too. I think those of us who have special needs/ have special needs kids are more suseptibile to it. Simply because… lets see… appointments, bullying, failing in things others do well, unanswered prayer. Poor self- esteem, now this IS a problem, it seems, within chrisitian circles. I tend to think proper self esteem is what we “special E N” ought to try and promote. Feeling so bad about yourself that you can’t get out of bed is not right and I’m sure that ministers who say “less of me, more of him” don’t understand those with cognitive problems or physical disability
    I’m just trying to imagine jesus talking to one of the disciples and them replying “but lord, I feel so rubbish, I don’t even want to get out of bed, I just want to die” is there anywhere you see that in the gospels? Not that I know. but that is the reality for some special needs families.
    I’m offically agnostic now.
    let me know your thoughts.

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