My Depression Caused “Cleaning Resentment” in My Marriage — Here’s What Helped Us

published May 21, 2024
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Resentment between spouses
Credit: Photo: Shutterstock; Design: Apartment Therapy

We’re spotlighting the link between how we feel on the inside and how our spaces look and feel in our Mind, Body & Home collection. This content is presented by DoorDash; it was created independently by our editorial team.

Content warning: The content in this story discusses suicidal thoughts and mental health disorder(s). If this content isn’t for you, we understand. But if you are struggling or experiencing any mental health concerns, please take a look at our resources section below and seek help from a professional healthcare provider.

“I don’t want to be alive anymore,” I said through tears to my husband — my brand new husband. It was a sunny Sunday in January 2020, just six months after I started my career as a high school English teacher. It was three months after we had said, “I do.” 

Our home life (at that point) was what I assumed every newlyweds’ to be: an adjustment. But what was working against us was that my husband wasn’t home with me at night. His job required him to work a second shift, which meant he was gone by the time I returned home in the afternoon and he didn’t get home until 11:30 p.m. when I was already in bed asleep. On top of that, he had to work every other Saturday, too. 

In our first few months of marriage, resentment had already started building on his side from the lack of cleaning and organization on mine. While my husband, who was working a physically demanding job and long hours, made sure the home was thoroughly cleaned every weekend, I was sleeping, sitting on the couch, reading a book, or watching TV.

I didn’t feel like cleaning. I didn’t feel like doing anything. All I felt like doing was quitting my job from the mental torture it was putting me through every day. The environment I was in as a teacher was so negatively impactful for reasons I’m not at liberty to discuss that it made me wish to not be alive anymore. I can honestly say this was the lowest I’ve ever felt in my life and the only time I’ve truly felt this way. 

And while I was battling these crippling feelings, I was becoming withdrawn. Distance was being created in my brand new marriage until the Sunday afternoon we finally let it all go. “I think you should see a doctor,” my husband finally said, gently. 

And that’s what I did. After meeting with a behavioral therapist, it was confirmed: I was battling depression and anxiety, which was affecting my day-to-day behaviors, including the lack of motivation to help my husband clean the home. 

Why Is It So Difficult to Keep the Home Clean When You’re Depressed?

In my experience, sometimes getting out of bed felt too hard to do, so you can imagine that the last thing I felt like doing was scrubbing a toilet. 

Lack of motivation, excessive sleepiness, and being withdrawn are all common symptoms of depression. That’s because serotonin levels in the brain are lower, which psychologist Scott Lyons says is a major factor from a “biochemical perspective” for people with depression. “Serotonin plays many roles in the body, specifically behavioral regulation of mood, anxiety, impulsivity, learning, and, more recently understood, effort/motivation (the distribution of energy into action).” 

So when someone is experiencing lower serotonin levels, on top of the hard-to-cope-with feelings depression naturally creates, it makes sense that cleaning their home or anything else doesn’t sound like fun.

“Trying to maintain your regular ADLs (activities of daily living) can become not only difficult, but can [also] exacerbate your struggles with depression,” says Mariam Hager, founder and psychotherapist at Heart Mind Soul Practice. “When faced with the need to clean, tidy up, [and] maintain personal hygiene, all while feeling like you’re walking through quicksand or barely able to focus, it makes a prime breeding ground for negative thinking and critical self-talk which only adds to the burden of someone struggling with depression.”

While it’s understandable to acknowledge the hardship of depression, it’s easy to wonder if a messy home makes those feelings worse. According to both of the experts I spoke to, it indeed can. “A messy or unclean home can certainly impact someone’s depression,” Hager says. “I find it’s mostly because of the constant reminder of what feels like failure.”

“Every person is different, but a cluttered or messy space can certainly amplify depression,” Lyons points out. 

How to Support Loved Ones Who Are Battling Depression

Four years post-conversation, I can happily say my depression is much better! Having an open discussion with my husband helped us both. I was able to address my mental health and get the help I needed, and my husband realized there was more going on behind the scenes than his assumption of pure laziness. Plus, the meetings with my behavioral therapist and medication (along with leaving the classroom behind altogether), greatly helped things as well. 

If you suspect a loved one or friend is battling depression, one of the best things you can offer is your support and grace — especially if it’s someone you live with who’s not cleaning as much as you’d like at the moment. “Having honest and open communication about how to manage a household is always important, but especially crucial when struggling with depression,” echoes Hager.

“Coming to an agreement about what is ‘good enough’ for your particular household during this time will help reduce resentment and shame. Decide what tasks feel OK to delegate out, such as hiring someone to help out with cleaning, automatic tools such as a robot vacuum, laundry pickup/drop-off, or even hiring an organizer.”

When it comes to cleaning, both experts provide tips for those battling depression or other mental illnesses that are reducing their motivation to stay on top of home-cleaning chores. “A great way to build motivation is to start small. It doesn’t have to be everything at once,” says Lyons. “It’s also important to ask for help when you need it; give yourself the grace needed if you know that you are going through something.”

“Helping clients to simplify what needs to be done versus what they ideally would like to do helps reduce some of the overwhelm they feel and helps to reduce perfectionism,” Hager says. “Creating systems to utilize, such as visual aids (calendar, baskets for organization, or increased garbage cans) throughout the home can help increase utilization and help the overall cleanliness of their space.”

What to Do if You Have Depression

I truly believe what helped me the most to overcome my depression and anxiety was talking about it openly and honestly with my spouse and seeking professional treatment. I had a general idea of what was causing my depression and anxiety, but it wasn’t until I sat in the behavioral specialists’ office that I was able to identify other root causes outside of my teaching job that were contributing to my mental state. My specialist prescribed treatment options for me, which I can say greatly helped my mood, too. As of now, I have been off my medication for almost two years. 

Another factor that helped me was changing career paths. I realized that teaching wasn’t for me and not worth my mental health, so I searched for something else and found a full-time writing job.

If you find yourself battling depression or anxiety that’s affecting your day-to-day life, especially the cleanliness of your home, know that it’s OK to speak to a professional. At first, I didn’t like the idea. I didn’t want to admit that I was struggling mentally and that it was making me feel like I was falling apart. I was embarrassed to consider leaving the teaching profession at the risk of looking like a failure, as I had family members who expressed they didn’t think I was capable of the job. But hearing the resentment it was causing on my husband’s side and experiencing the panic attacks was enough to tell me that I didn’t want to continue down that path. 

The best decision you can make when struggling with depression and anxiety is to schedule an appointment with your doctor or make changes in your lifestyle that eliminate sources of stress, depression, and anxiety if you’re able to do so. Prioritizing your mental health and making certain changes for your situation is key to waking up every morning feeling refreshed and excited about every day and keeping a healthy, clean home. 

Mental Health Resources

If you (or someone you know) are struggling with mental health and need support, visit one of the following websites below or call any of their helplines: