I get a lot of emails from wives whose husbands are dealing with some form of depression. The descriptions given run the gauntlet from clinical depression, to a chemical imbalance, to bipolar disorder, to manic depressive disorder. And, in today’s very tough economic environment, folks feeling as though they are just not able to cope and who therefore shut down their feelings as a result are very much on the rise.
Of course, the depression affects everything in the husband’s life – including your marriage. And, many of the wives who write to me want my advice on how to handle the husband’s recent request for a divorce. It’s logical to think that the depression is clouding the husband’s perception and / or his ability to feel affection. Many wives tell me that their depressed husbands “feel nothing for anything or anyone, including me.” So, again they logically blame the depression for robbing them of what was once their happy husbands.
These are tough situations because many of the wives know in their hearts that all of this negativity and divorce business is the depression talking, not the husband that they love. So, in the following article, I’ll offer tips and advice on how to best cope with this situation.
Know That You Can’t Tackle This Alone. People Who Are Depressed Have A Medical Condition: Before I get into telling you how to handle the request for a divorce, I first want to stress that no matter how much you love your husband, unless you are a medical professional who deals with depression, you can not and should not handle this alone. Most people who are severely depressed need medical help. This is a disease just like diabetes or cancer. It’s no one’s fault, but it can be managed.
Many wives tell me that they believe if they just love their husband through this or can make him happy or can show him that the marriage can be a positive influence in his life, his depression will lift. This can sometimes appear to happen, but it’s not likely that severe depression is going to go away on it’s on. And many times, the marriage isn’t the cause of his depression, so fixing the marriage is not going to miraculously make it go away (although you should fix the marriage, as this is affecting you too.)
If your husband is not under a doctor’s or counselor’s care, gently suggest that you want him to be happy and believe that seeing someone could really help. If he already has a doctor, let that doctor in on what is going on. It may be that the depression truly has nothing to do with his wanting a divorce, but you don’t know this so you should mention it so that the doctor can follow this up and dig a bit deeper. With that said, know that this isn’t your fault and that you can only do the best that you can. It’s just not a reality that you and you alone can make someone else happy or cure them of a medical condition through sheer will or positivity. These things can and do help, but it often takes much more than good intentions or a loving relationship.
How To Respond To Your Depressed Husband’s Wanting A Divorce: Many wives are very tempted to do one of two things here. The first is to flat out tell the husband that you both know full well that this request is the depression talking. The other reaction is to try to be over accommodating and affectionate, hoping that if you can make your husband happy in the marriage again, the depression issue will just disappear.
The problem with both of these tactics is that they don’t validate your husband. Your reactions are insinuating that he is wrong and that he’s not mentally able to form his own perceptions or decisions. Many men tell me that this makes him feel like a child and that they very much resents this.
The better way to handle it is to listen calmly and to focus on the happiness issue. Tell him that you’re deeply sorry that he’s not happy right now because you love him and that his well being is your top priority. Tell him that for your part, you’re going to focus on things that you can do to improve the relationship and communication between you. This is what you are able to control and contribute. What he is able to contribute is to see if he can work with his doctor so that he is approaching this from a healthy place. Tell him that you are fully aware that this still may result in the marriage ending, but at least this way you both know that you took control over what you could, and should you have to walk away, you will be able to hold your head high and will have peace in your heart knowing that you handled this in the most healthy way that you could.
You and I both know that you have no intention of allowing this divorce to happen or in letting your marriage end, but you should not share this information with him. If you do, he will think that you are attempting to manipulate him or that your loving stance is only meant to ultimately change his mind. You need him to be open to and receptive to you, so you can’t do anything that would run counter to this.
At the end of the day, you can’t force him or fool him into being happy with life in general or with his marriage. But what you can do is support him as he struggles, conduct yourself in a way that brings about positive rather than negative feelings, and have a certain degree of confidence that the combination of dealing with the depression and focusing on making the marriage better will turn this situation around so that you are both much happier in the end.