A reader asks how to deal with living with a depressed husband.
What I am wondering, if you’re still open to answering questions, is about co-habitating. With my husband’s depression, it seems like just living with someone who doesn’t have depression seems irritating/more painful. The fact that I get phone calls from friends (and we laugh and chat) or that I enjoy my food or a nice day seems to make him worse.
I guess I get it that seeing someone feel good and get things done could increase a depressed person’s shame. But isn’t shame an emotion? If you can’t feel anything, how is it that depressed people can still feel shame and anger? And what do you suggest that those of us living with depressed people do about living our lives and maintaining our health while trying to be supportive?
First of all, I’m not a medical professional and this is not medical advice, so if you require professional counseling or therapy, please take charge of your well-being and consult the appropriate professionals.
With that out of the way, I’m sorry your husband is depressed. Dealing with a depressed husband or partner and coping with depression has it’s own set of rules, pitfalls and quirks which unfortunately people don’t talk about very often.
As far as living with a depressed husband and having him witness your perfectly healthy ordinary social interactions– he might lash out at you more because he doesn’t like seeing something moving in his vicinity but don’t you dare stop or do anything different.
In fact, do MORE stuff to make yourself happy.
Enjoy your friends and do your best to ignore his protests that you change or dull your shine. Right now is an excellent time for a new, time-consuming hobby, club membership or many social events. Get a therapist for yourself if you can afford it. Lean on your social network for emotional support.
Offer to bring him along ONCE and then go without him if he doesn’t want to join you. Keep doing that and let him experience his choices. Seeing you happy is not a bad thing, even though you might be getting grief from him right now.
Attempting to trade your well being in a covert effort to cure your husband’s mental illness is futile.
In the long run, your husband will respect you more deep down if you happily go about your business.
The more you allow his depression to control your happiness, the sicker you’ll both get. He’ll learn he can reliably trigger you and get attention for being negative and you’ll dance like a marionette. Nothing will improve.
As John Folks-Williams describes in his enlightening article, 11 Relationship Traps of Depression, control is a really big aspect of depression in a relationship.
Since depression makes the sufferer feel very out of control, they will often focus on their partner, since it feels like ending, withdrawing or otherwise damaging the relationship or changing their partner is all they have control over in their life as a whole.
Also, even though your depressed husband is miserable, it’s very likely he doesn’t want you to be unhappy even if the things he does and says seems counter to that.
Another reason why depressed people like your husband isolate is that they convince themselves their loved ones “deserve better” and they know they absolutely cannot do anything to be with them or please them. It doesn’t seem to them like they’re damaging the relationship by being emotionally unavailable– they feel toxic and like they ruin everything they touch, so the biggest favor and greatest mercy they could provide their loved ones is to leave.
Right now your husband could probably localize misery on the fact that the clouds are in a bad configuration. If you left him completely alone, he would likely find fault in the ceiling tiles or kitchen grout.
You aren’t the problem. The fact that your husband is depressed is NOT your fault.
Since you’re the one physically closest to your depressed husband, he’s using you as a focus for his projection of unhappiness.
What you’re doing doesn’t make him worse, he IS worse, so everything around him seems like hopeless crap no matter what happens externally.
The relationship between his getting pissy about your life isn’t cause and effect like it seems when he attacks you crankily for whatever you’re doing, it’s a correlation to what is already going on in his head. He’s routinely unkind to himself, so he’s unkind to you. As within, so without.
I understand what you’re saying about not feeling feelings but still having shame and anger. It’s a paradox for sure.
For me the difference is that the anger which results from depression comes out in emotional outburst fashion and I don’t necessarily connect with “feeling angry” it’s more like, “oh crap, I’m now ‘doing’ anger because I’m frustrated my shirt itches.”
The shame is like a blanket. It feels like, “everything is worthless crap, all of this is super meaningless and so am I.”
But, you doing fun things and living your life does not cause your depressed husband’s shame and mental disturbance.
He already feels shame and then uses your normal life to compare himself to which perpetuates the negative thought processes. It’s more like:
“I’m not doing that, ugh, I’m crap.”
“Those people over there are happy and I’m not. I’m crap.”
“I can’t even make my wife happy anymore, I can’t do anything right.”
Depression can be contagious in a relationship, so that’s why it’s even more important that you take care of yourself and stubbornly refuse to allow your husband’s depression to bring both of you down.
Dulling your own life to fit the whims of depression’s irrational thought patterns is not the way to help your depressed husband or yourself. Be there for him to the extent that you can without sacrificing your own health.