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I don’t: How marital difficulties can lead to depression

marital difficulties

Successful marriages are strongly associated with health, happiness and longevity. All marriages have their share of difficulties that can be overcome when couples work on them together. In fact, overcoming difficulties fosters resilience in relationships and strengthens the bond between partners.

Sometimes, marital difficulties persist over time and lead to depression in one or both partners. These feelings of depression may be mild or severe, but are often accompanied by the following:

  • Grief over the loss of the imagined “perfect” marriage
  • Doubt as to whether the “right” person was chosen
  • Fear over possibility of divorce
  • Guilt from personal responsibility for the marital difficulties
  • Anger at the partner’s perceived role in the problems

Barriers to problem-solving

When marital difficulties lead to depression, solving the underlying problems resolves the depression. Unfortunately, this is often easier said than done. The reason why problems are not getting solved must first be uncovered. Listed below are some barriers to martial problem-solving and how to handle them:

  • Loss of collective consciousnesses. Working together requires more than like-mindedness. It requires collective consciousness, or staying on the same wavelength and tuning in to one another. Emotional and physical intimacy, similar daily schedules (including shared meals and bedtimes), open communication and shared humor all promote collective consciousness. Emotional or physical infidelity, extended periods of separation, differing spiritual values and practices, and unspoken resentments all undermine collective consciousness.
  • Poor marital hygiene. Marriages require healthy daily habits to survive and keep communication open. Respect, responsibility, generosity, courtesy and affection are just a few daily habits required, particularly during difficult times. The skills of healthy conflict resolution and compromise develop with practice and experience.
  • Secrets. Except for planning a surprise party or special gift, secrets should never be kept from spouses. Guilt, fear or allegiances to others are some motivations for having secrets, but they only serve to alienate others and prevent cohesiveness.
  • Alcohol use. Even when used in moderation, alcohol is a mind- and mood-altering substance and a central nervous system depressant. Alcohol use can result in poor martial hygiene at best and addiction at worst.
  • Rage. Everyone is prone to varying degrees of flare-ups, but when anger cannot be controlled it can be frightening and dangerous for spouses. Rage usually has an underlying cause itself that needs to be addressed. Seek help immediately in cases of domestic violence.
  • Narcissism or other personality disorders. Narcissism in one of the partners, particularly the wife, has been associated with attenuated marital longevity. People with personality disorders are often very skilled at masking them during the courting process, but over time they undermine marriages.
  • Addiction. Substance use, gambling, Internet addiction and similar behaviors only make difficult situations worse and should be treated as soon as possible.
  • Mental illness. Certainly depression can cause marital difficulties, just as marital difficulties can cause depression. Other mental illnesses can also create marital problems and require prompt treatment. Marital counseling should be an integral part of the treatment process.

Other barriers to martial problem-solving may also be present, such as financial problems, illness in the family or other life crises, but these can usually be overcome if underlying relationship problems are resolved. Other barriers may represent a larger problem.

John Gottman, Ph.D., renowned author who wrote the famous book, “Avoid the Four Horseman for Better Relationships,” describes four behaviors that are toxic to marriages and make problem-solving impossible. These include criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling. These behaviors, along with rage, personality disorders, addiction and mental illness, most likely require professional help. Rage, addiction and mental illness may also be life-threatening, so seek prompt intervention and treatment.

About us

Sovereign Health of Arizona offers the highest quality care for women recovering from trauma and abuse, substance use and mental health disorders. Our individualized care provides women with support in their recovery using a multi-disciplined team of professionals who utilize many different approaches to treatment. Our location in Chandler, Arizona, includes therapeutic strategies that empower women to manage any type of stress using techniques that last a lifetime. For more information, please call our 24/7 helpline. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at

Written by Dana Connolly, Ph.D., Sovereign Health Group staff medical writer

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