Back in the day when my own bout with depression was secretly lingering and increasing, I fell in love with Ray. Feeling like God had heard my desire to be married by age twenty-five, I felt like I was on cloud nine. I had met a guy who was everything on my list and more. I thought to myself , “If this is the person he is now, I can’t wait to see the person he becomes. And I want to be there for it.”
When I finally got married – as with all marriages – his failings and faults as a partner would surface. What used to be outgoing and personable was loud and talking to much. What used to make me laugh was now irritating and juvenile.
As if that weren’t enough, he was confronting me and pointing things out that he felt I needed to change and let go of. But in my mind, the fault lay always with him, never with me. He didn’t understand me. He didn’t appreciate me. He was trying to make me do things that weren’t innate to me. “This is just how I am. I can try but you can’t expect me to change to the measure that you want because that’s just not me.”
Thing is, I did change. And I was constantly changing. But it was a change that neither of us expected and much less were prepared for.
Ray admitted one day his growing distress at an abrupt and inexplicable change in my demeanor – his previously funny, open, and affectionate wife. I no longer complimented. I criticized. I harshly judged everything he did or said. I didn’t think he was enough anymore. Whenever Ray attempted to clear the air by asking what was wrong – a question I’ve always despised because answering it would mean actually having to talk about it – I would always respond with anger in telling him nothing was the matter.
Over time, his self-esteem diminished. He began to justify all the thoughts that he had begun believing about himself – that he was a horrible husband, he didn’t have what it took to comfort me, that I didn’t want him anymore and much less desired him, that he was useless.
The most puzzling aspect of it all was that no matter how hard I wanted to love Ray correctly, I couldn’t. I knew the damage I was causing but I felt powerless to change. Even worse, I had given up hope to fix it.
Sometime after getting married, I began to experience new levels of self-awareness as God, in spurts, began to give me new understanding. It’s as if I were reliving parts of my life and rewriting them through the perspective of depression – the real culprit behind it all. It was like the main character that was behind the scenes but imposing its will in every chapter since it made its appearance. The firt chapter that I’d rewritten recounted a life of low-self esteem that made way to envy and jealousy. The next chronicled every decision of my life being predicated by a longing to make my parents proud by wanting to live the life of someone they would be proud of due to shame for what I put them through in my adolescence. In another I dealt with the unpleasant realization that I’d lived the majority part of my life from a place of depression, not, as I had thought, low self-esteem. And last came the hardest chapter to reinterpret, the one that told of my current unhappiness, my long undiagnosed depression was causing my husband and I and how the damage had to be repaired.
On more than one occasion, I told Ray that if he wanted to leave, he could – I didn’t find it fair for him to stay while I recovered because he didn’t deserve the treatment he was getting. Divorce – one of the most baffling responses to depression.
What does depression look like?
Depression has the ability to warp reality for the one affected.
It blinds its victims to self-awareness and works as a barrier to the decision to even seek treatment. It causes you to deny that there’s anything wrong with you.
You become so adept at keeping secrets that you begin to take personal responsibility to build protective walls that expose themselves as negative reactions and feelings towards your partner.
It kills one’s capacity to love.
Depression negatively affects relationships and has, as expected, has an adverse effect on the one depressed and the nondepressed surrounding them.
It’s so effective at warping reality that you and your partner could relive the same memory and yet be starkly different. This difference in memory of events could cause the afflicted one to feel that they’re not longer in love or that they never were.
Depression leads to self-imposed limitations. These limitations suppress drive and dreams. It kills relationships. It destroys passion, closeness, and intimacy.
Left untreated, the likelihood of divorce increases by almost 10%. You don’t want to brush it under the rug because it’s a killer. It won’t get better with time because all time does is pass. However, time coupled with intent and action to get better will work every time.
Effects of Depression on Husband/ Wife
Living with a depressed spouse could be like living with a stranger – even after years and years of marriage. It’s a family affair affecting both the depressed and the not. It can brew confusion, resentment, frustration, and pain.
The presence of this ailment adversely affects relationships – more than just marriage – and has a severe and often times, crippling emotional impact on the non-depressed.
It’s not uncommon for the partner of someone suffering from depression to feel like they’re not loved by their partner anymore. They begin to see how depression has the ability to kill their partner’s ability and capacity for love – whether receiving it or giving it.
“Love and depression speak different languages.”Anne Sheffield
Anne Sheffield, Author of Depresion Fallout, coined a term called just that – depression fallout. She uses this to describe the stages what the undepressed spouse of a depressed partner goes through. According to her, they go through five stages:
- Confusion – you start wondering why your partner no longer has the endearing qualities that made you fall for them in the first place. Nothing you used to do together holds their interest anymore. You’re rejected and unwelcome.
- Self-doubt – no matter how hard you try, things get worse.
- Demoralization – your self- esteem is not at rock bottom. You now believe you have little to offer, are less attractive, and difficult to live with.
- Resentment – the fight now becomes negative rather than positive. Since healthy communication is no longer an option as the path to reconciliation and understanding, everything begins to simmer.
- Distancing – you long to be free from the thing – or person – that’s making you unhappy. Whether it’s a temporary separation or a permanent divorce, you’ve reached a point of hopelessness and your desire to be free is stronger than your desire to keep fighting.
I was the depressed spouse in our marriage but reading about these five stages and what happens in them, I was able to see Ray in them.
1.Confusion: I recall a few times when in the beginning of all of this when Ray mention how I was no longer as affectionate and happy as I was when we were dating. He had no idea what happened to cause such a shift – he didn’t know if he caused it, if I wasn’t happy, or what it could’ve possibly been.
2. Self-doubt: Because he didn’t know the source, naturally, he blamed himself. This was a simple conclusion for him to make because he noticed the changes after we got married. To him, it made sense, then, that it had to be because I was unhappy being with him – that I had realized he wasn’t the person I thought he would be.
Naturally, he began doubt himself as a man and a husband. He deemed himself as unlovable and unworthy – like there must have been something he did to deserve the treatment he was getting from me. I remember on so many occasions, him asking me what he’d done because I there is no way I was treating him like that for no reason. He embarked on the journey of sacrificing himself to the point of unhappiness in order to make me happy. Nothing worked.
3. Demoralization: Because nothing he did worked – through no fault of his own – hopelessness began to set in. He began to lose hope in himself, in me, and in us.
4. Resentment: He then reached the point of guarding himself. He began to tell me that he didn’t deserve this – he didn’t do anything. He was becoming increasingly done with putting up with me.
5. Distancing: This was the most hurtful stage – for both of us. At this point we were roommates – and not even good ones. It got to the point that he would rather be at work than come home. We would go days without talking and when we did, it wouldn’t last long. There was no connection. No emotion. Just heaviness.
It was also at this stage that the both of us contemplated a separation or even divorce. He suggested I go back to VA with my family to see if that would me up to some measure that I could come back refreshed. I rejected the idea and said that it wouldn’t help.
A few days later, I wrote him a sort of letter explaining to him, through tears, that if he wanted to go, he could go. And it wasn’t because I wasn’t willing to fight for us or because I didn’t love him but because I had already put him through so much that I didn’t find it fair to ask him to stick around while I figured it out.
Ask Ray and I’m sure he’ll tell you that each phase feels like you’ll never get out.
Is there anything I can do, then, to help?
Those who suffer from this ailment – and I am one of them – are usually unaware that this is what’s affecting them until it slaps them in the face; they can no longer deny it.
Treatment of depression involves much more than just popping pills. Whether it’s prayer, psychologists, psychiatrists, meditation, or all of them combined, it has to be treated. Left untreated, and it becomes one of the most powerful of all relationship destroyers.
Baffling, however, is that most of us who battle with this illness strive to hide it either because we are unaware of its presence or for fear of judgement or stigmas.
We need little more than encouragement to talk through the presence of common ground. Don’t fight or negate our feelings; no one wants to feel that what they’re feeling is wrong. Reminding us of how good we have itis for naught when we don’t feel that we have it good. It belittles what we feel.
When going through depression, we become attached to our feelings; they become our best friends. And nothing is more real to us than they are.
The best thing you can do as the undepressed partner is to validate our feelings. Without having to validate what we think is causing our unhappiness, you can sympathize with the way we feel. We want the right to feel. We need support. We need to help knowing what’s real and what’s not.
Here are some actionable steps you can take as the undepressed partner:
Don’t fall into the trap of the blame game.
The afflicted don’t want to act the way they’ve been acting and the partner plays no part in how their spouse is feeling. Both feel stuck, neither at fault. Accept that the depressed is subject to involuntary reactions and that it’s normal. This is a giant step towards being able to help the right way because you’ll no longer blame them but what’s ailing them.
Really listen and be compassionate.
Encourage the depressed spouse to talk about what they’re feeling or going through without passing judgement. Don’t offer solutions. Just let them talk. And listen.
Avoid making it about you.
Agree to leave the marriage discussion for another time even if they confess that they’re questioning their love for you. Remember that they’re confused, they no longer see what’s true and what isn’t. It can be tough, but refuse to take anything they say personally. Again, just listen intently.
When they’re ready, be willing to aggressively attack the problem with them. This can be individual therapy, couples therapy, medication, community – be ready to try everything.
Depression and faith
Depression is a problem that affects body, mind and spirit. It can distort every part of life greatly – even our faith.
Still, seeking God’s help is critical. Even when your depressed partner is no longer praying or cultivating their relationship with God – as I did – pick up their slack and pray for them until they’ve regained the strength to do it themselves.
God is the ultimate source of joy. A relationship with Him often leads to the right steps to take, the right resources, and most of all – patience. In order to develop any sort of comprehensive plan to tackle this, we need to know the way we think, the way our spouse thinks, and even outside support from family and friends. This is all found through faith in Him.
If depression can be so tragic even when God is in the mix, imagine what lengths it can reach when He’s ignored. Don’t let this happen!
What once seemed like a dead end will find a way in Him!
MUntreated depression is dangerous both to the ill and their partner. Experts, in fact, are finding that depression is not a byproduct of divorce but the cause of it. It’s a growing and major home-breaker. As long as it goes untreated, the deck is stacked against you.
While one partner exhibits symptoms of depression – loss of sex drive, anxiety, emptiness – the other partner reacts by blaming themselves for the relationship’s problems which leads to anger and resentment.
Thankfully, as the partner, you don’t have to stand idly by. While you will have to suffer some hits and some low blows, that doesn’t have to be the end. You have in you the a great measure or divine authority and power that is potent enough to turn everything around. Don’t be afraid to use it!
You also have, in your arsenal, a few actionable steps that I gave you for how to deal with a depressive spouse the best way I know how as the one who’s suffered depression.
You don’t have to sit back and let depression take hold of your marriage anymore. It isn’t as powerful as you’ve been made to believe. While it grabs a hold of everyone it comes into contact with, that contact carries within it an opportunity – an opportunity to fight it and fight it without mercy.
Please share your thoughts on this topic and your experiences. Remember that often times, all that’s needed for someone to start talking about their struggle with depression is common ground with someone else.