Updated: Jun 8, 2020
If one person is depressed, it can put a strain on any marriage.
Penny, 43 from Hampshire, emailed with a plea for help last week.
“I love my husband very much but he’s currently struggling with major depression. I do have some insight as to what he must be going through as I’ve had a history of depression. But, I find myself so ill equipped and unable to help. For the last two weeks he's stopped coming home, sleeps on other people’s sofas and doesn’t want to be with me or the kids. I find this extremely difficult. He calls sometimes but he is drinking and often doesn’t make sense. He rants and tells me I’m the one to blame and I’ve cheated on him but I haven’t. It's all happened so fast and is a devastating blow to say the least. I don't want to push him away and feel so desperate not to lose him for myself and our children. But I feel really upset and angry at the same time. I asked him to talk or spend time with us but it’s all too much and just makes him angry. Can you help me with some assistance and advice? What can I do to save my marriage? Is it even possible? Can I save my husband and look after my children at the same time? Should I try to get some marriage counseling with my husband? What do you think?”
Thank you so much for reaching out and I can sense how desperate you feel with your husband having left the family home, drinking heavily and falsely accusing you of things that you haven’t done.
You mentioned that you’ve had a history of depression and it’s good to hear that you're not currently suffering from a depressive episode. That’s a heartfelt story in itself because depression can be very debilitating. However, you do recognize that depression can affect people in many different ways and you are not clear on how to help your husband in spite of previously suffering the same condition.
A big problem is that when one person is depressed you're into a very difficult situation because depression tips a marriage into a one-sided affair with the person suffering depression often unable to see that their depression is a problem. This is simply because the ‘dis-ease’ of depression blanks out a logical perspective and may tell the sufferer “They are better off without you.” As untrue as this is, the sufferer may feel the need to hide away. This was certainly my experience.
Let’s Talk About The Drinking
When depression and alcohol are mixed, like the chicken and the egg, it’s hard to know which came first. Research[i] tells us that people who’ve been diagnosed with a mental illness (around 20% of the population at any one time) drink 69% of the nation’s alcohol.
So the question is: did the alcohol tip the drinker into mental illness or did the mental illness cause the sufferer to turn to alcohol?
Depressed people may drink to lift their mood or escape from feelings of guilt or despair. But alcohol, which is a depressant, can increase feelings of sadness or fatigue. Conversely, people can experience depression after the effects of the alcohol wear off or as they struggle to cope with how the drinking has impacted their life.
Of course, none of this really touches how you can mend your relationship with your husband but it is important to understand that alcohol can play a big part in someone’s mental health. If your husband is staying away because of his depression, it maybe difficult to communicate with him whilst he’s in this frame of mind.
Yep, Depression Can Run Deep
It’s hard to accept but someone with depression is usually facing some deeper problems; stuff we may never even know about. They say that if a feeling lasts for more than 15 minutes, the roots are buried in the past. It’s important to realize that this is not about you. If your husband tells you that his depression is about you, you have to remember that it is not possible for you to “make him depressed.”
Long-term depression is often rooted in childhood, which makes it impossible to have been something you did to tip him into depression. However, there may be something that happens between you that’s triggering his old ways of coping.
How To Help Your Husband
When someone with depression asks for help in a soft way or in a way that isn’t aggressive, it’s easy to put your arms out and give him or her a hug and ask him or her exactly what it is you can do to make their lives better. But, when someone who’s depressed is aggressive and disrespectful it’s much, much harder to reach out and help them.
I see your husband as in the second category; he’s angry and he’s lashing out. At this point there is little you can do to help him. Whilst he’s in this frame of mind I recommend you focus on YOUR self care and caring for your children. Your children will be frightened and need your support. You may need support from close friends and family.
At the same time, some compassion goes a long way. You can be compassionate towards your husband who’s drinking to escape by not taking the moral high ground and making him feel like a loser. On the contrary, displaying compassion and understanding may encourage any depressive drinker to confide in you about the stresses that may have made him/her seek refuge in drinking.
Don’t ask: what’s wrong with you?
Ask: What’s troubling you? Is there something I should know?
It's Not You
Moreover, don’t blame yourself for your husband’s depression or drinking habits. You can’t work on his genes and you can’t alter the way he gets triggered in his present environment. You are not responsible for a person choosing to carry on drinking or not seeking help for depression. In fact, the more you blame yourself, the more stressed you will become. What is more, he may well take the opportunity to manipulate you and work on your feelings of guilt.
The depression is his, and his to resolve. You can explain you’ve found some resources for him to get help. You can tell him where those resources can be found but ultimately, it’s up to him to seek the help he needs.
Back To Marriage Counseling
As for marriage counseling, my advice is that it’s always a good idea to get help to talk through issues if you can’t do it between you. Many relationships could benefit from marriage counseling and I know couples what’ve sought this support before they married so they could put some good intentions in place.
Perhaps that’s something that you could talk to him about when he seems in a more reasonable place to hear you. It sounds as if he’s in a crisis mode at present and he may not be calm enough to join you in counseling today but that doesn’t mean he won’t in the future.
With lovers or spouses, we can love them, support them, and be there for them, but it is ultimately their journey. In my experience, I think it's really important that you remind him you are there, when and if he is ready to meet you halfway. The more you push the further he may pull away, so I find a gentle approach is best.
Self Care Is Everything
At the same time, it is vital that you look after your own mental and physical health as you have children to care for. Please make sure you take good care of yourself. Build a strong support network, be kind and forgiving to you and take some time out. Getting some professional support maybe just what you need to manage this tricky situation and maintain your own mental health.