Heather Gray shares 6 more straightforward strategies to strengthen your marriage in spite of depression.
It’s never easy to ask someone in pain to make a movement. I know that what’s I did last week when I started a discussion designed to help depressed spouses preserve their relationship. It was like asking someone who just had knee replacement surgery to bend their knee.
If you’ve known anyone who’s had that kind of surgery, that is exactly what is asked of them. Despite their pain, they are asked to bend in order to preserve and restore their mobility. That’s what I asked those of you suffering in your depression. In order to preserve the relationships most important to you, you will need to bend. Of course, the same will be true for your partners supporting you. Here’s a discussion about that.
You do have a choice here. You can shut down, withdraw, and numb out without explaining yourself. However, there will be relational consequences to making that choice. Your alternative is to take the first step towards improved communication and build a stronger relationship.
Don’t make your partner stew in your misery. People will start to nervously hover around you when you’re depressed. They want to be available. They want you to know that they want to help. Watching you in your misery is agony but leaving you to stew in your misery isn’t any easier. Help your partner out. If you want company, say so. Accept that you’ll have to be present in some way. It’s not fair to numb out and want someone in the room with you at the same time.
There is a lot of room between all and nothing. When feeling depressed, you literally might not feel like doing anything. That comes with the territory, sometimes. However, there is usually a middle ground between going to a friend’s barbeque and sitting on the couch with your laptop. Try to find the compromises with respect to your mood and energy level. You may not feel like going out for date night but you can plan for a special dinner at home without electronics. You may not feel like talking but maybe just lying in the dark, listening to music might be relaxing. Try finding that middle ground between total engagement and total isolation.
Find ways of taking care of your spouse when you can’t. If you haven’t been up for talking or hanging out, it’s understandable. However, it will also make your partner feel lonely. Your spouse’s needs for connection will likely go unmet. Forcing yourself to be present when you just can’t be is a set up for failure. Your authenticity won’t be felt and you will be further drained. Encourage your gal or guy to go out with friends. There will be hesitancy to leave you home alone in your sadness but if you say something like “Hon, I know I haven’t been much fun. I don’t want you to be lonely. Why don’t you call your friends and go out for the night.” Buy flowers or small token and attach a note that acknowledges your partner’s support. Consider a massage or other gift that might be seen as nurturing. Just make sure you accompany that sweet gesture with the acknowledgement of why you are doing it or your spouse might miss its intention.
Let yourself be touched. Depression can rob you of your sense of worthiness. You know you haven’t been nice to be around. You feel shame for causing your spouse distress. You haven’t felt much like talking so you might not think you deserve affection or physical comfort. Depression might have killed your sex drive and you might worry about starting something you can’t, or don’t feel like, finishing. Do your best to get over that thinking and allow yourself affection. Talking about this will be vulnerable for you at a time when you are already feeling wide open and exposed but if you can accept affection that is offered or initiate affection you might be seeking, there is real healing in the power of touch. You’ll be connecting. That will heal you, comfort you both, and preserve your relationship.
Try talking about it in any way you might be comfortable. Notice that I didn’t put this at the start of my list. That was deliberate. Depression is really hard to talk about at the beginning. You don’t have a sense of it. You don’t know what’s going on. You’re miserable and just want it to end. After trying some of the things discussed here, it can be easier to talk about and you really need to talk about it. Like it or not, your depression is happening to both of you. You can’t not talk about it and expect your marriage to be untouched. It’s as if cancer has hit your marriage. If you were living with cancer, you’d have to include your partner in it. You’d have to talk about it. Depression brings shame and stigma and I get that. Not talking about it and watching your marriage deteriorate and suffer brings its own shame and stigma. You choose.
If you check out, check back in. This one really belongs at the top of my list as it is the most insidious problem that can happen in marriages when one is depressed. You’ve been miserable and have disappeared for a while. You’ve numbed out, distanced, gone away. Hopefully, you talked about it at some point along the way but maybe you didn’t. Suddenly, you wake up one day feeling better and you’re ready to tune back in to your life. Yes! What you’ve been waiting for. Just don’t forget to tell your partner! If you’ve gone away and returned without much of an explanation, that’s disorienting. It makes spouses anxious. They don’t know why you’ve left so they won’t understand why you’ve come back. They’ll be afraid to reconnect in fear that you’ll go away again. They’ll feel disrespected by the notion that you think you just get to come back without a word. Taking a second to acknowledge your absence and return will preserve your relationship.
One simple “Honey, I know I’ve been away for a while and I know it’s been hard on you. I am feeling better now and am looking forward to reconnecting” may be all you need to not only preserve, but strengthen, the marriage that is so important to you.
To read part I of this series on navigating depression in a marriage, click here.
For more about the ways depression can challenge a marriage, read ‘Sometimes Love is Like a Mountain Hike‘, by Matthew G P Coe.
Image: cliff1066™/Flickr (image resized and cropped)