Postpartum Depression: Effects on the Marriage
By: Beth McHugh 2006
Postpartum depression can be one of the significant factors involved in marital friction and divorce. Despite the prevalence of the condition, women are reluctant to talk about the effect it has on their marriage.
In previous blogs, we have discussed the symptoms of postpartum depression and requirements for recovery. Today we will look at the impact of the condition on the mother’s primary relationship: the one she shares with the father of her child.
Since the myths surrounding having a baby are all largely positive, it can come as a rude surprise to the mother to discover that the baby she longed for is the catalyst for a bewildering range of symptoms including anger, unexplained and unrelieved sadness, an inability to cope, inability to sleep, and a whole raft of accompanying symptoms that do not “fit in” with the new mother’s usual personality.
But the most confused person of all is customarily the husband. If postpartum depression occurs after the birth of the first child, it is doubly difficult for both parents to negotiate the hazards of married life after birth, as there is no “normal” template to follow from previous births.
Support from the father is important for a happy mother/baby relationship but is critical when the mother is found to be suffering from postpartum depression. My earlier article, Fathers and Postnatal Depression, deals with information on research undertaken on the attitude of fathers in the post-birth period.
It is also possible that the needs of a depressed new mother may be so great that the partner is unable to satisfy those needs, no matter how understanding and supportive he may be. This is where marriages can run onto rocky ground. The mother can often become angry with her partner, or alternatively, may withdraw from him completely. Many women then come to believe that there is a problem with the marriage and contemplate divorce.
It is most often the case that it is not a “difficult marriage” that causes the depression, but that the depression causes problems to appear in the marriage. However, where marital stress is solely a result of the depression, and recovery from depression slowly proceeds, so does the quality of the marriage. Many women have commented that, at the time, they thought their marriage was over. Once the postpartum depression is addressed, the true cause of these feelings becomes apparent. It is the illness talking.
Certainly important decisions about separation and divorce should not be made during the postpartum period. Genuine problems within the marriage should be addressed at a later time, when the mother has fully recovered from her ideal and is able to clearly interpret the status of the relationship without being impeded by the cloud of postpartum depression.
However, most women who have recovered from postpartum depression find
that their relationships with all family members, including their partner,
have strengthened as a result of the experience they endured.