A Reader Writes…
I am 30 and my husband is 32, we have been married for 4 years and together for 12 years. We have always had a wonderful relationship, the odd argument and stress as all couples do but generally very in love, feeling close and safe together.
About a year ago we decided to start try for a family, he freaked out for the next few days and we decided to leave it a bit longer until he felt he was ready. I really do want a family but it has to be right, we need to both want it and I haven’t put pressure on him.
Looking back I believe this is when things started to slip, though it has only been the last 6 months that we’ve really drifted apart. He’s started sky diving, exercising lots, spending lots of late nights out with his friends which he never did before. I wanted to give him space and don’t want to be the stereotypical nagging wife, so supported him in all off this as I know if I fought against it he would want to do it all the more.
To be honest it wouldn’t bother me whatever he did so long as the time we spend together is good and I feel loved. Here lies the problem, the more I’ve given him space the more he has just drifted away from me and shows me no love or affection, he avoids my kisses and doesn’t answer when I say ‘I love you’ which really hurts.
I really thought he was having an affair because his personality and our relationship had changed so much after I thought I knew him so well, but I confronted him on this and he told me he wasn’t having an affair and I believe him. It even got to the point one night when I was so upset because he wasn’t answering my calls or texts and it was late and I didn’t know where he was so I went to stay at his sister’s for a few nights because I couldn’t bear the rejection and uncertainty.
I hoped that this would make him realise how upset I was and snap him into making an effort but really it made him shut down more. He’s told me that he loves me and that I will always be special to him, but that he isn’t sure if we are good together any more, he says he doesn’t trust his feelings so I can’t push him to make a decision, I need to wait and act normal and give him time. I’ve been doing that for months and things aren’t getting better.
I believe he is depressed and my leaving did push him into going to the doctors, he’s been on tablets for 2 weeks now. I know I need to wait and see how this affects things, but I’m struggling, it’s so hard being around someone you love so much and want to be intimate and loving with but you are constantly being pushed away. The hurt and rejection is constantly taking over my emotions, I’m struggling to detach myself.
I guess my question is…how do I know if his depression is causing the problems in our relationship, or if the problems in our relationship are causing his depression? How should I behave and what should I do to know if this is fixable? I really want it to be fixable but I need to start to see an upwards spiral rather than what feels like never ending heart ache and rejection.
What a good question. Is depression causing the problems in your relationship or our the problems caused by his depression? It also begs bigger question: How to help a depressed man?
You need to understand why men or in fact anybody gets depressed. The best way to explain is that depression equals suppression. We don’t like to rock the boat, so instead of expressing unwelcome feelings like anger or anxiety, we tell ourselves something doesn’t matter or rationalise our fears away. Slowly but surely, all our feelings are shut down – including the nice ones – and the world seems incredibly grey. That’s why he needs big jolts like sky diving or wild nights with the lads to feel half human again.
How does having children fit in this picture? Could it have been the trigger for your current problems? Most possibly. It could have been that he was unhappy wondering if he wanted to be in this relationship and bringing kids into the picture would trap him forever. Conversely, it could have brought stuff up from his childhood – like he felt overlooked when a younger sibling arrived and unconsciously he worries that your love will be diminished by a baby too. (Have a look at my book I Love You but You Always Put Me Last to understand this phenomenon properly.)
Returning to your question, ILYB and depression have their roots in the same place so which comes first is a bit like talking about chicken and eggs? What counts is how you’re going to move forward. To be honest, drugs will take the edge off the greyness but will not fix the fundamental problem ie: he needs to be more assertive and express his feelings more (I cover this also in ‘I love you but you always put me last’).
You also both need to understand the connection between events and your feelings. We think it’s really simple. For example, he turns his back and you feel heart ache. However, it all depends on our interpretations and beliefs. If you think ‘he’s depressed but still needs my support and understanding’ you could feel sympathy. If you think ‘he’s rejected me again’ you will feel anger or despair.
Your husband also needs to look at HIS interpretations and beliefs too, for example, if he thinks ‘I will come last if we have children’ then he will feel despair. If these beliefs are spoken (rather than suppressed) they can be challenged and he can discover if they are true. This process is called CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) and works really well for depression. So please suggest he has a course.
My wife and I have been married for over twenty years, with most of them being very good. Although we have had the typical arguments, overall, it has been a really good marriage. In the past few years, she has seemed to be bothered by getting older and has experienced a few minor health crises. She is a teacher and has worked in a school, where there are very few men her age. One of these has been a friendly colleague, yet they never spent time together or talked outside of work. She has been working at this school for as long as we have been married, and generally gets along with all her female co-teachers. She did, however, struggle with one of her female colleagues, in that she was one of my wife’s superiors who was quite abrasive and insulting in comments and actions. I know from previous incidents that she made my wife feel inadequate and doubtful of her ability to be a good teacher. This happened many years ago, and although they have mended their differences, I do not believe that she truly trusts this woman or feels comfortable around her.
Here lies the problem. This woman has recently become involved with the male friend my wife has, and she is really struggling with this relationship. Although she has not said anything to her friend, she does not believe that this woman’s motives for pursuing him are pure. She has started to obsess over this, almost to the point of believing from what she has told me that maybe she belongs married to him, not me. All of this is really confusing, as we have two children and a relatively stable life. Tearfully, she told me last night that when she heard that they were involved, she wondered why the woman would want her friend, yet she has had thoughts of being married to him. When I asked her why she thought her friend was good enough for her, but not this other woman, she insisted that she was just feeling sentimental and protective of him. I am truly confused. Can you offer any suggestions as to why this is happening or how I should respond?
Andrew G. Marshall says
I think you are right to consider this as something important – perhaps even an existential crisis. So how should you respond? When our partner is unhappy, it is very easy to see it as a criticism of ourselves – and get defensive. Equally unhelpful is to be the nurturing parent and try and make everything better – without giving her the time to dig down and see what is really the matter. So what should you do? Listen. Ask questions. Summarise the main points that you have heard. She does not need advice (or action) which is a trap many men fall into. Just take her seriously and be curious about the UNDERLYING problem. My suspicion is that it will be personal – perhaps what is at the bottom of her lack of confidence. It will be about what makes her life meaningful. There might be things she would like to renegotiate in your marriage – because any long term marriage, however happy, needs to change and grow. I would suggest that you also read my book ‘It’s not a midlife crisis, it’s an opportunity’ as it will give you some idea of the tasks that need to be done in our middle years.