Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

Educate A Depressive’s Spouse

For a week or so, I’ve been pondering the following question by reader JCH:

I have also been married for a little over a year. My husband knew on our third or fourth date about my depression and saw it evidenced over our two-year dating relationship. When he proposed I specifically asked if he knew what he was getting into. He said he did but I think he lied. He does not get it. He questions my salvation. He thinks my depressive episodes are selfish. He looks at my easy life and his really hard life (background) and sees that he is able to have hope and I have none and does not think that I am trying hard enough.
I have no doubt that it is hard for him. Really.
I read your blog and others posts and have done searches about marriage and depression and wonder at the patience of other husbands. What helped them “get” it? how did they switch from frustration to patience and kindness? He wants to “hold me accountable” so that my depression does not become a crutch. nice idea but when I am in my darkest places I need love not lectures. I told him that was my counselors job and he dismissed that idea too.
I am drowning and the person who I count on to be my safety net just thinks that I should swim harder.


I thought that I should take this one to Eric. So I asked my husband what, in particular, has helped him be so supportive and patient with me over the years as someone diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and a person who exhibits lots of mood fluctuation.
“I can’t get mad at you for having bad brain wiring,” he said. “Just like I can’t blame you for having a growth in your pituitary gland.”
“But what convinced you that my bipolar disorder was an illness, not a weakness?” I asked him.
“I’ve read the reports, I guess. You did your homework and provided the research for me. I suppose I’m more educated now than a lot of people. …. And I don’t hold you accountable because I know that you are doing everything you can to recover: you exercise, eat right, take your meds, go to therapy. It would be a different story if you were sleeping all day, not going outside, eating junk …”
I’ll talk more about this tomorrow, as my “How Do You Move Beyond Blue” interview of the week covers this topic.
But right now, I’d say that education is your best tool. Everything starts with education.
That means going online (I’d start with the online mental health online at Revolution Health, or with NAMI or the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance), doing your own research, and printing it out for your husband to read. It means dragging him to your doctors’ appointments, to your therapy, to your support groups. It means having spouses of other depressives call him … anything that might enlighten him on this topic.

  • Larry Parker

    My eyes are watering reading this …
    Therese, it brings up the question of what in life makes an Eric and what makes an Emily (or a JCH’s husband)? Because I’m positive it’s not a matter of “education” — Emily is a brilliant person intellectually and I’m sure JCH’s husband is smart too (as no doubt is Eric, of course). And we, wanting to save our marriages, obviously provide as much third-party educational material and neutral perspective as we can in our conditions. (Some of the wrong material/information in my case in retrospect, since I was originally misdiagnosed, but nevertheless …)
    I think acceptance in these cases for the partner is as much as case of the human heart as it is the brain comprehending what is going on in their loved one’s brain.
    It doesn’t do any good for a spouse to know about your serotonin and norepinephrine and dopamine and GABA if he/she feels like those chemicals are somehow ganging up on them — and lashes out at you accordingly.

  • SAM

    I think a key thing overlooked in your husband’s response is how you are dealing with it. Education is definitely important, but even more so is the knowledge that you are doing the best you can.
    We all have our imperfections, and we all need acceptance inspite of that. But if we aren’t doing what we can to improve the situation… if we are “sleeping all day, eating junk…” and actually making the problem worse, I think that constitutes marital unfaithfulness. And I say that as someone with an anxiety disorder, which requires a lot of the same “exercise and eat well” things to cope with. If I wasn’t doing that, I think my wife would be rightly justified in being frustrated with me. But if you are doing the “best you can” (emphasis on “can” given the limitations of your problems and their severity), then there needs to be as much patience, understanding, and acceptance of you and your struggles as is offered back to your spouse for theirs (and they do have them, be sure). Does it suck sometimes? Ya. But having a disorder doesn’t render you unlovable, certainly not in God’s eyes. If JCH is truly doing everything she can to make herself the best possible spouse she can be in spite of her depression, I think she has just as much right to question her husband’s spiritual life (“if you have not love…”) as he does hers.
    On that note, one other thing JCH might want to consider… its very common for men, early in marriage, to feel a bit tied down… or “trapped”. If the marriage involves a lot of negativity and frustration right from the start, that can really make him long for his freedom to pursue something better. Especially in our day and age, when we are constantly bombarded with fantasies of “happily every after” in TV and movies and perceptions of easy access to lots of attractive women. It might be worth exploring if he’s brought some of his own baggage into the marriage and/or is engaging in behaviours that would feed those desires (work relationships, internet sites, etc). That can easily cause a newly married man to view his spouse’s problems more negatively than he should, and hence have little or no patience (and try to make the problem more than it really is… ie. a “salvation” issue to justify his wanting out). That’s pure specalution without knowing the situation though, so I’d approach that gingerly and with your counsellor involved if you think it might be applicable.
    God Bless



  • Mary Ward

    This is awsom, sounds like me. great story and put a tear in my eye. So close, to close to home. God Bless,,,Mary

  • Charlene

    I was married to an abusive man who used his bipolar disorder as an excuse for his verbal tirades. He chose not to take the medicine that had been prescribed for him and then blamed me for his outbursts. Thank God I finally left him! A mental illness is not a license to mistreat other people!

  • Margaret Balyeat

    I think Sam came pretty close to hitting the nail on the head! Spouses of either gender who have an inner (unexpressed) desire to stray are GLAD to find excuses that take the culpbility away from themselves (how can they be EXPECTED to remain faithful to someone who is so unhappy all the time and brings them down when there are all those willing, HAPPY individuals around them eager to give them what they REALLY deserve?)
    As far as questioning someone else’s salvation, NO ONE has that right!. The Bible clearly states that each of us must wrk out our salvation in fear and trembling! Again, casting aspersions on your mate allows you the freedom(?) to at least seriously contemplate cheating. No one could possibly blame you for just trying to be happy, could they? You sound trulyblessed with Eric, Therese. Don’t forget that becoming educated requires the DESIRE to learn about something. All the articles and/or web sites in the world can’t enlighten someone who chooses to live in ignorance! It’s been my experience that often others don’t CHOOSE to understand, maybe because it’s easier to point the finger of blame when one is reacting from an emotional base rather than a knowledgeable one. And one of the most difficult things for me, at least, to accept is thatmany of our loved ones–in spite of what they may say– to see our issues as character flaws rather than an illness again, I think because it’s easier that way. No one would believe that having a spouse with, say cancer,gives an individual the freedom to walk away (…”in sickness and in health,…” after all) so accepting our condition as an illness removes their “RIGHT” to criticize and takes away their “get out of jail free” card! I’m not suggesting that they have an awareness of thiscomplicated thought process, but I’ve seen it manifest not only in spouses, but in familial relationships as well. No one likes to see him/herself as uncompassionate or “low” enough to walk away from an ill family member, be it spousal or biological; viewing depression or bi-polar disorder as something the afflicted person chooses to have eliminates that fear. The hardest part about these afflictions–again, in my view, is that even when one IS “doing everything s/he can, there’s no gaurantee that the depression or mania won’t surface. Again, it’s easier on the observer to believe that the sufferer is choosing by his/her lack of sticking to the regimen than to accept that “treatment” isn’t always successful. Remissions, as we all know too well, can occur at any moment in time. As hard as it is, we have to accept that some of our significant others (family members, spouses) won’t respond to education in the same way that our illnesses don’t always respond to “treatment” For me, at least, that means (FINALLY) accepting that those individuals are doing the best they’re able to do and learning to refuse to accept their conclusions about me as invalid. That doesn’t stop the pain or lonliness, but it DOES keep me from owning their perceptions of who I am! Unfair as it may be, we depressives have to develop the hide of a rhinocerus in order to deflect those poisonous arrows from piercing our already damaged psyches. For me, that’s where the affirmations and journaling come into play. I simply WON’T be defined by someone else’s flawed perceptions, nor will I (ANYMORE) allow them to define my relationships. Ignorance is no excuse. especially when it’s a chosen state of mind! Sometimes joint counseling can help, but, again, BOTH parties must be willing to freely enter into it, and I get tired of being the only one willing to do the necessary work! Bless your eric, Therese for being unwilling to live in the dark cave of ignorance and loving you enough to take whatever steps are necessary. Unfortunately, boys and girls, “Erics” aren’t easy to find; they’re far outnumbered by our friend’s spouse.That doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to claim their misconceptions as truths or give up on ourselves. As hard as it is to face, there are times when we truly ARE better off without those toxic people in our lives!

  • Evelyn M

    I’ve been on both ends of this spectrum. I was involved with a person who had bi-polar disorder. It was extremely difficult at times.. yes.. but the level of vulnerability I found within this man also kept me at times in the role of “parent” caring for a helpless child. Having been in the mental health field, I have also come to recognize that medication compliance is a challenge for bi-polars and not a defiant willfull act intended to create havoc. People with an illness do not want to be ill. They also do not want to be medicated in order to be “normal”. I’ve noticed that many people will take medication religiously and once they begin to feel more stable, they start to “adjust” their regiment almost as if testing the waters to see how far they can go before they lose their footing. I say this because I became one of those “they” people I am writing about. I figure.. ok, I’m fine now. I’ve been on medication, Holding down a job steadily, no major meltdowns or anxiety attacks in a while, working out my issues in therapy… maybe.. just maybe I can proceed into the world without this pill. I typically at some point find that I need to go back… Still.. the time I spend without being medicated… it makes me feel somewhat “normal”.. Like the rest of the world for a little while. This has become inherantly important to me as I have yet to find a partner who knows how to deal with my depression. There was a friend long ago who knew just when to push me, just when to hold me, just when to let me cry, and just when to ignore my tantrums… He knew when to put his foot down and when to be extremely logical by reminding me that no, I did not actually hate him and the rest of the world, it was simply my depression talking and it would pass as it always does. I imagine I did not appreciate that as much as I should have at the time as today, I am breaking up with a man whose response to my depression is “why don’t you go out with your friends for a little while?”…. not realizing that if I managed to brush my hair that morning, it’s a major accomplishment. I educate those people who enter my life as much as I humanly can. I warn them of specific behavior traits to look out for and the responses that can typically help ease my suffering as well as their own. If they care enough to listen.. it helps… Some peoploe just aren’t strong enough to handle a person with as many character nuances as I have. For as much as I wish I had greater self-esteem, I embrace my depression as something that is a living part of me.. like any other organ. It serves a purpose wether I like it or not. I deserve a person who is able and willing to accept that as a part of me. Not just accept it.. but love it to a certain degree.. because without it, I would not be who I am… The same illness that makes me bawl my eyes out over a hallmark commercial on tv is the same illness that will have me accomplishing any number of amazing things no woman who is 4’11” and 100 pounds should be able to. It is the same thing that will allow me to love as intently as I clean during an ocd / manic state… I used to apologise for my illness as if it were a defect. Now.. if I meet someone who seems unable to deal with the many nuances that come with being involved with someone as complex as I am, I realize, they are the one with the defect… not me… I just come with extra cards in my deck.

  • Larry Parker

    “A mental illness is not a license to mistreat other people!”
    Absolutely, Charlene.
    Whether it is the person with the mental illness or the SPOUSE of the person with mental illness.
    Sadly, it goes both ways.

  • Wisdum

    Re – Larry Parker | September 28, 2007 12:32 PM
    “A mental illness is not a license to mistreat other people!”
    Absolutely, Charlene.
    Whether it is the person with the mental illness or the SPOUSE of the person with mental illness.
    Sadly, it goes both ways.
    ** You are absolutely right Larry, and that all comes down to perspective (and perspective is everything !) One of the great things that we did in group counseling was role reversal. That is where you are placed on opposite chairs, and each of you,play the role of the opposite side. What happens is you will very quickly see (if you are open to it) what the other person envisions you as. You can do that with anybody, not only spouses, it works equally well with your kids,friends,whoever. Bear in mind that it is the other persons perspective of what you are, but also bear in mind that what you are and what they see, is what manifests itself in a co-depdant relationship. This is why they have judges/therapists/counselors, who sit as a dis-interested/not involved party (who by the Way charge you for that service, and that’s how they make their living, so they can afford a therapist) I still recommend any of the 12 Step Programs out there (but it only works if you are commited, to not being commited to an institution, if you catch my drift !), or you can go directly to God…that is, if you can trust in His/Her judgement
    LUV 2 ALL

  • Diana

    I completely agree with Therese that you must help him learn more about depression. He seems to have the same assumptions a lot of people do about it, which is that we’re lazy or lack willpower. I recently had to explain to my parents what I think your husband needs to realize: that you need to know you have his unconditional support and that trying to “motivate” you makes you feel unsupported and judged. Perhaps he could come to a therapy appointment with you and the three of you can discuss how he can better meet your needs right now.

  • zana

    Re: Wisdum
    ” It is the other persons perspective of what you are and what you are and what they see, is what manifests itself in a co-dependent relationship.” My husband, who just left me, because he thinks I am “not well, will take to long to change and life’s too short,” said his therapist told him we have been in a co-dependent relationship. Would spouses of diabetics who have fluctuating blood sugar issue be told they had co-dependent relationships?

  • Larry Parker

    Actually, in my brother-in-law’s case (he is completely unhelpful and even unsympathetic to my sister, whose type I diabetes is almost frightfully severe), they just might.
    (Meaning my sister is co-dependent with her husband, not the other way around. Other than perhaps protecting her kids, I have no other idea why she stays with the jerk.)
    But of course, your point is well taken. And you have my sympathies (believe me, you have my sympathies, if you’ve read the story of my ex-wife …).

  • Wisdum

    RE -zana | September 28, 2007 11:06 PM
    My husband, who just left me, because he thinks I am “not well, will take to long to change and life’s too short,”
    ** Well there’s a perfect example of co-dependant perspective if I ever saw one! Listen, bi-polar, co-dependants, have an extreme propensity for “a**holeinity” Billy Joel once said “If your significant other is not suporting you in your goals and dreams…get rid of them!” … Thank God for small and major miracles
    said his therapist told him we have been in a co-dependent relationship.
    ** All relationships are co-dependant, if they aren’t, there is no point in having it. Who the hell ever came up with the con-cept that sex solves all problems. Sex in not Love…Sex is climactic, Love is anti-climactic. Love is threefold, physical, intellectual, and spiritual… on top of that the unity of marriage is threefold, you, your spouse and God (God just insists in putting His/Her finger in everything, block God out and you get marriage failure. On the other hand you can do it all yourself, but it is infinitely harder)By the Way, Yeshuah was the world’s greatest co-dependant! Not bad company, wouldn’t you say…on the other hand, don’t expect any better treatment than He had !
    Would spouses of diabetics who have fluctuating blood sugar issue be told they had co-dependent relationships?
    ** A self centered a**hole, is a self centered a**hole …is a self centered a**hole!
    LUV 2 ALL

  • lapatosu

    My psychiatrist was the greatest help in my husband finally understanding the difference between situational depression and clinical depression. And, like others have posted, my husband appreciates just how much effort I put into trying to stay on top of this illness.

  • Ms. Sexy Delight

    Truthfully, some depression in life is necessary, for our emotional balance (we can’t be on a high all the time) as well as knowing that depression has a way of helping us “fine tune” what is right and wrong with our lives.
    Learning about depression is key, some depression is emotional, some phycological and some is mental.
    With emotional depression our mood can be subject to change due to imbalances within brain and hormonal functions. This type of depression is short lived and person’s generally find their way back to their normal states. If it last more than 3 days see a doctor.
    Phycological depression is depression associated with a feeling of helplessness and generally at the root of this depression are sitiuations in our life we haven’t dealt with. Emotions which we have supressed, anger, frustrations, betrayal, loss of a love one, changing towns, jobs, lovers, physical or mental abuse past or present etc There is something we are in denial about. We put dealing with the problem off and the depression is a result of those problems trying to get our attention. Only “We” know what is at the root of this type of depression and medical assistance should be sought.
    Mental depression is self imposed, we repeated tell ourselves, “I’m not happy”, or “I don’t like or want this or that”, and eventually our lives will mimick what we have told our minds..this type of depression takes some time to come out of, but basically it takes paying attention to your self talk and making changes or changing the things about us or our lives we don’t like, i.e., being overweight, being married to certain persons etc.. (which I personally think this persons depression is the result of, she is married to someone she isn’t happy with, so she goes into a combination phycological/mental depression) and the cycle repeats itself because she has yet to make the life changing decision to get out of the unhappy relationship, and she constantly supresses the thoughts they lead her away from the life she has, is afraid of the life she faces or the hell it’s going to take to be free, or afraid of being alone, and feels helpless, and seeks to find other medical situations to substantiate her feelings and looks on the outside for the answer more so than on the inside.
    Being unhappy and feeling helpless are the two greatest root causes of depression.
    And it will continue until responsibility for the outcome of your life is taken. When you are pro-active about living, in charge and have a dream, desire or passion for life, then you have no time to be depressed.
    We you are sitting on the sidelines of your own life you view it like a spectator, it’s only when you “get into the game” that your depression will find another home elsewhere.
    Still after reading this, you feel you need somekind of medicine to help you get into the game of your life then by all means seek a professional.
    Realizing those meds have side effect that are most undesireable and when you finish, your depression still isn’t gone, it’s like a drunk taking a drink to solve their problem, after the drunk is over the problem still exists.
    You need to find the problem that creates your depression and believe it or not, you are the best person to analyze you, cause there is no one who knows what’s going on inside of you better than you, you only have to be honest with your self and take responsibility for your own feelings.
    I get depressed from time to time, it helps me fine tune my own life, and I have noticed there is a lot of pain inside, after some time of thinking morbid thoughts of dying and death, I realized I didn’t want to die, I only wanted the pain to die. Coming to terms to separate the two things took quite some time.
    Getting past your depression requires that you do the “self work”, be honest and courageous.
    Your husband is incidental, your depression was there before he arrived and so was the problem that caused it. He seemed to be someone thown into the mix to divert you again from having to deal with those problems.
    Maybe he knows your physc is hiding something and he won’t let you crutch out on him, on bipolar or any other curve you throw out there, and that makes you unhappy. He is forcing you to deal with you.
    Maybe it’s time you did.

  • Larry Parker

    “Truthfully, some depression in life is necessary, for our emotional balance (we can’t be on a high all the time) as well as knowing that depression has a way of helping us ‘fine tune’ what is right and wrong with our lives.”
    You seem to think that “depression” is just a variety of garden-variety “sadness” — and that it is our fault if we fall into it.
    Obviously you’re not familiar with the fMRI scans that show actual changes in brain function in those with depression. It is a DISEASE, not a character flaw.
    And medicine is not a crutch, it’s as essential for many of us for survival as insulin is to a diabetic or anti-retrovirals are to someone with HIV/AIDS.

  • Linda

    I read Ms Sexy’s post and have to agree with Larry Parker. It sounds as though Ms. S. has dealt with what everyone experiences from time-to-time on life, the blues, but does not have any clinical problems. There is a huge difference as most of us here know only too well. It also sounds as though Ms S enjoys the transitioning of normal mood changes and that’s fine, but don’t anyone confuse her thoughts with serious advice for persons experiencing mental health illness.

  • Marsha Burgess

    I have suffered with depression for my entire life (since I was a teen)and I’ve now been married over 23 years. My husband knows that I by no means enjoy my depression, that I would change my down times if I could, and he knows that I am not just indulging myself at others (his) expense. Some people seem to think you have control over depression–like you can just wish it away. My mother used to think that way, until she had a small stroke this past year, and suddenly she had this depression she couldn’t shake afterwards. NOW she understands what I’ve gone through all my life, and while I’m not happy it took such a huge thing to bring her to this point, I’m grateful she finally GETS it. Some people never do. I’m lucky that my husband loves me enough to stick with me through all the ups and downs, and I credit his parents with a lot of that–they were married for 53 years. He doesn’t believe in divorce, though God knows I’ve given him reason to! I turned 50 this year, and I still have a therapist that I see every 2 weeks or so, and I try to stay on top of my depression with various methods, but it all comes down to understanding yourself and what you’re capable of–and managing your life around that. If you can do that halfway well, you’ll be all right.

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