Mood Disorders, Marriage, and Divorce

We all experience good days and bad days. But for some people, emotional swings aren’t simply the result of having a bad day or experiencing temporary sad feelings triggered by an unpleasant event. 

Mood disorders are clinically diagnosed mental health conditions that can affect someone’s overall emotional life and well-being. And for people married to someone with a mood disorder, it can present some serious challenges. 

What is a mood disorder?

A mood disorder is an umbrella term for a class of mental health conditions that affect a person’s emotional life. Someone with a mood disorder can experience extreme emotional highs and lows, sometimes back-to-back. 

But these extremes aren’t just a short-term reaction to life events. For people with mood disorders, these emotional swings can be overwhelming and persistent, seriously impacting their daily lives.

What causes a mood disorder? There’s no clear consensus on what causes them. Many mental health professionals believe chemical imbalances in the brain are the cause. Trauma and difficult childhood life events are believed to contribute to these highs and lows. And because mood disorders have been found to be highly heritable, there is also a biological component. 

What are some known mood disorders?

According to the Mayo Clinic, a mood disorder means the affected person’s “general emotional state or mood is distorted or inconsistent with (their) circumstances.” And this can greatly affect that person’s ability to function. 

Depending on the particular disorder, symptoms can be very different. 

Major depressive disorder

Major depressive disorder is what we commonly call depression. It’s characterized by persistent sadness or hopelessness, and the affected person may have lost interest in activities that once interested them. When depression is at its worst, it can lead to self-harming behaviors and suicidal thoughts.

Persistent depressive disorder

Persistent depressive disorder, formerly called dysthymia, is usually not as severe as major depressive disorder. But it can be chronic, sometimes coming and going for years. 

People with persistent depressive disorder often struggle to be upbeat, even in the happiest moments. Some of the main hallmarks of persistent depressive disorder are long-term feelings of hopelessness and a general lack of self-esteem. 

Bipolar disorder

Formerly known as manic depression, bipolar disorder involves episodes of depression that cycle with periods of mania and impulsivity. Mania can be expressed as high energy, intense elation, or extreme irritability. Most often, there will be an alternating mood swings between these episodes. 

Cyclothymic disorder

Cyclothymic disorder is a milder form of bipolar disorder. While there is a swing between periods of depressive symptoms and hypomania, neither are as severe as they are in bipolar disorder. 

Borderline personality disorder

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) affects a person’s ability to regulate their emotions and feelings of safety and stability. People with borderline personality disorder may have an unstable self-image and engage in reckless driving or other self-destructive behaviors. They often have an overwhelming fear of abandonment.

Seasonal affective disorder

People with seasonal affective disorder suffer from periods of depression during certain times of the year, most commonly during winter. Scientists believe that seasonal affective disorder can be linked to the lack of daylight during the winter months and the disruption of the body’s circadian rhythm. 

Premenstrual dysphoric disorder

This disorder is often experienced by women 10 to 14 days before their period and gradually eases at its onset. Premenstrual dysphoric disorder can present as sadness or irritability and can be debilitating for many women who suffer from it. 

Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder

Most often seen in children, disruptive mood dysregulation disorder is typically characterized by severe outbursts and temper tantrums inconsistent with the immediate situation. 

How do mood disorders affect relationships?

Feelings and emotions are foundational to all relationships. But people with mood disorders have emotions that are out of sync with what would be considered “normal” in everyday life events. These feelings can come out of nowhere, and the person can lose interest in things they used to enjoy in the relationship, including sex. 

If your spouse is experiencing moods that seem abnormal or inconsistent with the situation, it can cause conflict, misunderstanding, and feelings of helplessness. You may feel like you are constantly walking on eggshells, and you’re unsure what version of your spouse you will encounter from one day to the next. It can be difficult for you to understand what they’re going through and eventually put a huge strain on your relationship.

Read: Divorce When Substance Abuse Is Involved

Relationship tips for mood disorders 

Navigating a relationship with a spouse with a mood disorder can be stormy. But there are some ways through if both of you are willing to extend the effort.

  • Educate yourself. Understanding the disorder and what your loved one is going through can help you empathize and support them when they are in the thick of an episode.
  • Don’t use the disorder as an excuse. Your spouse may suffer from a debilitating mental health issue, but they should take personal accountability for the things said and done and make an effort to get help.
  • Check in with each other. Regular, honest communication lets both of you express your feelings and needs. 
  • Establish boundaries. Although you want to be supportive, you also don’t want to be an emotional punching bag. Be clear about what behaviors you’re willing and not willing to support. 
  • Seek professional help. Not only should your spouse consider getting help for their mood disorder, but couples counseling can help you both understand how it affects your relationship and how you can best support each other through it.
  • Get some social support. Dealing with a spouse’s mood disorder can feel isolating. Talk to a supportive friend or family member, or join a support group specifically designed for family members of those who struggle with mental health issues. 

Given enough tools and professional help, you and your spouse may be able to work through a mood disorder. But many people go years and decades without a diagnosis or professionally guided treatment. This can place a significant burden on the relationship. Unfortunately, many marriages don’t survive a spouse’s mental health struggles and end in divorce despite their best efforts.  

Read: Why Hello Divorce Is Better Than Other Online Divorce


Mood Disorders Overview. The Mayo Clinic.

Head of Content
Communication, Relationships, Personal Growth, Mental Health
As Hello Divorce's Head of Content, Katie is dedicated to breaking down the stress and mess of divorce into clear, helpful content that delivers hope rather than fear. Katie most often writes about the emotional toll of divorce, self-care and mindfulness, and effective communication. Katie has 20+ years of experience in content development and management, specializing in compelling consumer-facing content that helps people live better lives. She has a Master's in Media Studies from the University of Wisconsin. Katie lives in Texas with her husband and two adorable cats, and you can find her hiking and bird watching in her free time.