Relationship Q&A: Depression: His and Hers
Q: My husband and I have been married for five years and have two children. Until I became pregnant, our life was perfect -- but not anymore. I recently discovered that I'm suffering from depression. I'm not on medication, but I have no interest in sex and I've been hurtful and negative to my husband. He feels it's too late for us. In fact, he moved out seven months ago. I think he still expects the excitement of the chase and dating, not the reality of parenting two small kids. I believe he still loves me, but he refuses to admit it. While I've made great strides in healing myself, my husband has shut the door on our life and refuses to get help. Recently, he has experienced blackouts, seizures, and trembling. The doctors couldn't find anything wrong and attributed the symptoms to the stress of the separation. I have faith that things will work out, but I feel such pain over the loss of my best friend and soul mate. Any advice?
Susan Heitler, Ph.D., a Denver-based marital therapist and author of The Power of Two: Secrets to a Strong & Loving Marriage (New Harbinger Publishers), answers:
A: All the symptoms you describe -- negativity, irritability, and loss of interest in sex -- can be the result of depression. And as you have experienced, depression can wreak havoc on a marriage. In fact, recent news events reveal that one type of depression -- postpartum depression after the birth of a child -- is much more common than most people realize. As many as three-quarters of new mothers suffer from some form of the "blues"; about 10 to 15 percent fall victim to actual depression. And in rare cases, some women develop postpartum psychosis -- a complete break from reality and the potential to become violent. I commend you for getting treatment.
Meanwhile, I'm concerned about your husband's symptoms. If the doctors are attributing blackouts, seizures, and trembling simply to "stress," seek additional medical consultations. Trembling can be a sign of anxiety, but blackouts and seizures, while they can be exacerbated by stress, more likely have an underlying physical cause -- perhaps some sort of neurological syndrome -- that merits further investigation. Perhaps one way you and your husband can begin to rebuild your relationship is by working together to find out what is causing his medical problems and what treatments can help.
Depression can be contagious. The fact that your husband has shown a lack of enthusiasm in general and is "shutting the door" on your life together may signal that he has fallen into a general state of depression as well. This could be related to neurological problems or it could be in response to the period of time during which your depression contaminated your marital relationship. In either case, if you can think of him as depressed, you may take his reluctance to reconnect less personally. And then you may find that you have more patience for continuing to reach out lovingly to him.
You offer two additional clues to reconnecting when you write, "I think he still expects the excitement of the chase and dating." First, using the words "I think" suggests that a heart-to-heart talk, in which you invite your husband to tell you his concerns (so you eliminate any guessing on your part), may help. To help him verbalize his feelings, ask open-ended questions rather than yes-no questions. For example, you can try: "How do you think we grew apart?" or "What would make you more interested in reconnecting?" Be sure that whatever answer he gives, you remain calm. To keep him talking, listen to understand -- not to change -- his views. Remember that any information is better than no information, even if the news is not what you want to hear.
What's more, if the excitement of the chase would help, it may not hurt to back up a bit, make yourself somewhat less available, and see each other under casual, dating circumstances. Court each other. Plan dinners out and leisure activities together. Enjoy him. Appreciate him. Remember how you and he courted the first time, and go for it again.