This is a question that has been asked often of me, as I’ve shared how my husband and I worked through my depression together. There really is not a simple, quick answer for this. It really depends on the history of your relationship, the unique dynamics of your marriage and your current situation. What I can do is give you some guidelines and ideas of what we’ve done to grow closer and strengthen our marriage through this trial.
Let me first explain why this takes a bit of strategic planning. For years, I treated my husband, Chad, horribly. I didn’t understand what I was going through and blamed my anger, depression and wretched behavior on him, believing he wasn’t meeting my needs. I also blamed it on my role as a mom, realizing this dream of cute, snuggly babies and an organized, clean house was definitely not reality. I know many parents have these thoughts, especially when it seems like all you do is cook, change diapers and do laundry.
I was a wreck, and I was blaming Chad and making it his responsibility to fix me. After being married for almost 20 years, I realize now that is not how marriage works. When I started seeing a counselor and making small but noticeable changes, it was very, very difficult for Chad to trust me and rightly so. He had every reason in the world to doubt my improvement or to believe it was just a short-lived change.
He did not expect me to be perfect. He never has but he did want respect from me, just as I wanted unconditional love from him. I had not shown him any respect for years. So how were we able to grow from seriously thinking about a separation to a respectful and loving marriage?
(Yes, although my husband is a minister and we are both leaders in our church, we seriously considered separation. Do not ever think just because someone is a Christian or a church leader they are immune to worldly problems. If you ever have a church member going through something like this, do not judge. Offer to help and pray however you can. Let God take care of the rest.)
1. I gave my husband time.
This was actually difficult for me. You see, I noticed changes inside of myself before there were really any outwardly changes. Naturally, I thought Chad would notice the same thing right away. He did not.
2. I offered my husband patience.
There came a point where he did start to notice some changes. This was great news, but these changes were very, very slow. As I was living in depression for so many years, it was going to take a lot of work on my part, the counselor’s part and, I believe, God’s part to make these changes more and more consistent. Renewing your mind is a process. There is always room for improvement.
With these waning changes came waves of basically what I call temper tantrums. Yelling, talking down to my husband, unrealistic expectations of him, treating him like one of my children rather than my loving husband and partner. The difference between these episodes and those pre-counseling times are when I apologized I truly meant it. I no longer wanted to live this way or treat him like that. Again, it was very difficult for him to believe me, but with time he did choose to have faith in the process.
3. I offered my husband respect.
When I needed to talk with Chad about something, I was respectful to him. Just as when he talked with me, I needed him to do it in a loving and gentle way. We had fought, accused and probably disliked each other for so long it was difficult for both of us to do this. If I wanted my husband to listen to me, then I needed to treat him with respect.
What is respect anyway? Merriam-Webster describes it as “a feeling or understanding that someone or something is important and should be treated in an appropriate way.” If I love my husband, then he needs to know that is important to me and I should treat him in such a way to show him he’s important to me.
What did this mean for us? I want to clarify here that Chad and I had our own problems, our own struggles and our own solutions for both. Because of the way I treated him for so many years, I had to make some obvious changes so he knew he was so important to me.
For you and your spouse, this may look completely different. Actually, it should look different. It should reflect your relationship and your marriage. These may seem so simple and almost too easy, but these actions told my husband I was serious about making changes. They told him I wanted his help and I wanted to be his wife, rather than his mother.
4. I helped my husband understand what depression was like for me.
My husband had never experienced depression before and had no idea what it was or how it affected me. I had to help him understand it by being honest with him, telling him how I was feeling and asking him for help if I needed it. When his father passed away unexpectedly, he did go through a bout of depression, rightly so. At that time he did tell me if this is what depression felt like for me all those years, it must’ve been horrible. I never wanted him to go through that, but I am glad he was able to understand a bit of how I was feeling all those years.
5. I created a strategy with my husband.
We had to come up with some kind of plan for when I had a depressive episode. If I was going to continue living in victory with my depression, then I needed help.
Again this reflected our personal relationship, how we communicated with each other and what our goal for our own marriage was.
Our strategy consists of:
- Open and honest communication: He cannot read my mind, nor can I read his. When I am feeling on edge, irritated or angry, I need to tell him and not wait until it gets too bad.
- Time alone: Often I need five to 10 minutes alone, to pray, to read, to rest or simply to be alone. If I need five minutes alone I say, “Chad can you give me five minutes alone?” He knows what this means, that I’m feeling out of sorts and I need to re-group.
- Permission to take the night off: This may sound funny and I don’t want you to think my husband is some kind of tyrant. In fact, it’s the exact opposite in our home. If anyone’s a tyrant, it’s me. Seriously, I do not give myself permission to relax ever! So if I’m feeling overwhelmed or it’s been a bad day at work or with the kids, I need to hear from someone else that it’s OK (and good) for me to come home and take the night off. This means no housework, no laundry, no cooking and minimal childcare. Sometimes, I’ll ask him if he can cook dinner, bring food home or we just let the kids eat cereal. He has never, never, said he wouldn’t help when I’ve asked him.
These are just a few of the ways, that have worked for my husband and I, when it comes to talking about depression. What has worked for you and your spouse? If you’d like to add anything to this list, please leave a comment below.
With joyful blessings,
This post originally appeared on Living With Real Joy.