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Please help me help my wife.
March 21, 2012 12:34 PM   Subscribe

I need professional help with trying to save my marriage to a person who has had profound anger, anxiety, and depression issues since childhood. I need help with leading her toward restarting therapy (and potentially toward reconsidering her insistence on no chemical treatment). Our relationship is in serious jeopardy and we have a child.

She won't consider chemical treatment because she doesn't want to change her personality. But I can't be with her personality in a sustainable way. I regularly find myself craving more time away from her than I naturally get (and feeling incredibly frustrated and trapped if we've planned I'll get such time and then something unavoidable comes up that prevents me from getting it). There have been many points when I've thought I would have to leave her if it weren't for our toddler, whom I love like crazy and want to give the best possible environment. I rarely go more than a few days without thinking, "I have one precious life and this is cannot be the way I spend it."

She has fully agreed she needs to restart therapy several times -- most recently after a crisis point several months ago, when among other things she FINALLY admitted how profound and how pervasive her anger is (one of our many issues had been me feeling the huge weight of this anger and her never admitting it was as serious as I knew it was). But she doesn't actually want therapy, hasn't made any move toward restarting it, doesn't want my help with research on therapists/etc. (we agree her previous therapist wasn't effective -- partly because she also didn't admit the seriousness of these issues to that therapist).

I feel intensely and increasingly frustrated that the only way I got through that crisis was our clear agreement about what would happen (we specifically agreed she needed therapy "right away"), and now nothing is happening.

She is functioning in life but ranges from moderately to severely depressed, with profound anxiety (constantly anxious, often very irrationally). She feels little emotion; she has little interest in being social or being sexual; she feels she has "no skills" (despite the high-level, six-figure tech job she's successfully held for years). She's not directly angry at me or at our son; she's angry at other people very close to her, angry at the world, angry about a childhood where her mother was depressed and emotionally abusive. Often directionlessly angry. She's intensely focused on our son: she says nothing matters except him, nothing excites her except him, and if anything happened to him her life would be over. Her depression has increased even further over the two years of his life (it didn't observably spike in the months after she gave birth -- more like an erratic but clear overall increase since then).

I want to save this marriage and I want to reconnect with her. I have to want to stay with her for reasons other than for our son's sake. I have great passion for life and great ambition, and I'm extremely sad to know how unsustainable it would be to spend the rest of my life with my wife if she continued to feel little/no excitement for or connection with life.

I know very little about psychiatry or counseling. Will you please either advise me yourself or point me toward hotlines or professional services you know and trust that help people try to get their loved ones help with these issues?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (16 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
Would she agree to couple's therapy as a place to start?
posted by lydhre at 12:37 PM on March 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


You don't necessarily have to see a marriage counselor. See a therapist that you feel comfortable with, and they'll help you make decisions and express your needs to your wife. She needs help and she knows that, but it's normal for depressed and anxious people to put off seeing a therapist or psychiatrist. She might be willing to go with you to see your therapist, once you find one.
posted by wryly at 12:41 PM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I really commend you for wanting to save your marriage. It would appear that your wife is currently so depressed that she's not able to think rationally and so her decision to not seek therapy or take medication isn't necessarily one the "real" her would make. I would suggest that you go to therapy yourself to learn how to take care of yourself during this incredibly difficult situation and possibly how to help your wife and your son. I'm guessing you're about to get several answers telling you to save yourself and get out now; mine isn't going to be one of those. It sounds like you really love her and want to help her and so you should and also she's really sick and so she needs you now. If you get to the point where you truly can't take it anymore, then there's no shame in that, but until then, trying therapy on your own can help and you might check out local mental facilities to see if they have support groups for the loved ones of people with mental health issues -- it would probably be really helpful to be spend time with people with similar problems. Failing that, I think I might pop into an al-anon meeting, which, while not directly applicable, at least is another group of people dealing with difficult family situations. Good luck to you and your family. I hope things get better.
posted by katyjack at 12:44 PM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


This isn't just about you or her. It is about your marriage. You should see a marriage counsellor. She may not even realize the effect that this is having on your marriage. Sometimes, it takes hearing it from an outsider or a professional for it to sink in.

She should probably also see a therapist individually. It sounds like she won't agree to that right now, but if she'll agree to marriage counselling then perhaps that will act as a gateway for her to work on her own issues, too.

If she won't agree to go to counselling/therapy with you or on her own, you may considering going yourself. It may not save your marriage, but it will hopefully help you to deal with the issues you're facing.
posted by asnider at 12:45 PM on March 21, 2012


You can't make people do what you want them to do, unless she is so unstable that you can have her involuntarily put into care.

You need to decide YOUR boundaries, and the ones you intend for your child, and start executing. You go to therapy, have your child assessed for emotional damage from the situation he's in, and decide how much is enough. Follow through.

She can do her own work that coincides with yours, or not. That's up to her. You can't save the marriage by yourself; it doesn't work that way.

angry about a childhood where her mother was depressed and emotionally abusive

Unto the second generation, even. You might try appealing to her on those grounds, but you've already said you consider the current situation the "best possible environment" for your child, so if you can't see the issue there it's unlikely she can either. It's something you really should talk through with your therapist, though.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:53 PM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


When you say "anger, anxiety, and depression issues" relating to a troubled childhood, I wonder if possibly the real statement should be "trauma issues", especially if, as you say, her mother was emotionally abusive. I think that quite possibly, framing it as an injury that was done to her by her childhood, rather than a flaw in herself, might help encourage her to get therapy.

If not, I would look up some books on the effects of trauma, so that you can get a basic handle on what's going on. Informed is armed in this situation. You might want to also start using that in your basic communications with her.

I am very sorry for this situation, and for you. I hope that you can get her the help she needs, but if not, hope you can make your life at least a little bit more manageable.
posted by corb at 12:56 PM on March 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


She is confused about the effects of medication, and there are many reasons for that, but medication is not a magic pill that transforms a person into another person. At best it will asist her in her goals in therapy.
If she has never been evaluated, even by a general practitioner, get a professional opinion of some sort.
Start with basics like physical health but make it clear she needs to take action now.
A lot of people live in a state of unnecessary misery because they don't know there are other options. You are aware this is not a necessary state. Your child needs a functional parent even more than you need a functional partner.
posted by provoliminal at 2:13 PM on March 21, 2012


What I do think is frightening and frustrating is that you see the seriousness of it - that you know your relationship in a jeopardy - and she doesn't.

Perhaps she doesn't see it. Perhaps she sees it but doesn't want to see it so chooses not to. Perhaps she sees it, says she sees it, but doesn't want to do what it would take to address it, so she is avoiding it (therapy) as long as possible. In a way, it might feel frustrating because it might feel like she is choosing (through her actions and inaction) anger and misery over you and your son.

But the kicker is that you asked for resources to help people help their loved ones. As if there was some way to compel her (by supporting her, by being candid about how you feel, finding resources for her, modeling your own life positively, appealing to her values, etc.) I imagine you've probably tried many of them. But almost all of these resources (support groups, books, etc.) actually focus on offering resources to help you, because there isn't a resource to compel her.

Your partner has made the choice not to move forward on an agreed upon decision (therapy). It doesn't sound like you've thought about what you would do if she didn't move forward on your agreement. So you're stuck.

So what everyone is saying about therapy for you and your son is on point. When I've seen it work, it's because one partner gets the support they need to explore their thoughts and feelings and responses to the other partner's unhealthy behavior. They decide if they can live with them, or if they can't. They explore the verboten topics, of things like separation or divorce, etc. and honestly repeatedly weigh their decisions in real time. They are based on what they need for their own lives and what's best for their kids. And that includes exploring their own assumptions around that. They stop trying to compel their partner, and thinking that there is some...way (some phrase, some approach, etc.) that is more convincing than everything they've tried. In short - they start living by what their real boundaries and values are, get the support they need, continue to invite the partner to step up, and let the chips fall where they may if they don't. That doesn't necessarily mean divorce, either.

And it sucks, almost every step of the way. But you can't save a marriage single handedly, and she may not be willing to pull her weight. There may be a mental health issue going on, borne of a terrible childhood. But one way or another, by denying, and then admitting but dragging her heels, she is telling you something about what she is - at least in this moment - willing and not willing to do to nurture your relationship. You just seems to really not be okay with what she is telling you. That's what therapy is for.

But you can live a good life by not requiring people to be other than they are (or choose to be). You can be a good dad. Hopefully sharing with a therapist what you've shared here will at least help you reframe and process the experience from a zero sum game (I can't leave...for the kid, but I can't stay...because life would be miserable. She needs to change! How can I help/make her change?) and into something less .....stuck.
posted by anitanita at 2:20 PM on March 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


I agree with what anitanita says.

It can take a big kick in the pants to get someone to actively seek change when they're so depressed.

I believe you when you say you love her, you want to stay with her, and you want things to improve between you two. Her indifference hasn't been impacted by your attention, love and effort, though. She needs to understand what she risks losing, that there are consequences to her refusing to abide by the agreement. And you need to figure out what consequences you're willing to impose. I don't know the nature of your day-to-day activities or your family life, but if renting a nearby apartment to escape to would work for you, maybe consider it. Have a place you can go to for a time out, and take the kid with you if you need to look after him. That's just one suggestion though. Gives her the understanding at least that you're setting boundaries.

This is where talking to a therapist is going to be of bigger help than your askme thread... better feedback and more in-depth understanding of the situation. I'm afraid of your wife's anxiety leading to her fears that you'll take the kid away from her if you leave with him to your own or even to a movie for a few hours. Can she even really be left with him when she's in a bad mood?

The point of the above though is that getting yourself out of the house doesn't have to mean divorce, but it should show that you're serious about her getting help if she wants you to stay together.
posted by lizbunny at 3:02 PM on March 21, 2012


we specifically agreed she needed therapy "right away"), and now nothing is happening.

Well, there needs to be a consequence for this because I think this is ultimatum time. For me personally this would be "I cannot save this marriage without you but this is now desperate. I have made a couples appointment for next week for my own sanity. If you do not attend with me, my next step will be to _____ until you agree to see through your promise to me." Or whatever you can push forward and make stick.

I don't know what _____ is: move into the guest room, move out, see a lawyer, whatever. The other option is to be vague ("I will have to make some hard decisions on my own") but she needs to know that this is it - she works at this or Really Bad Things Happen.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:46 PM on March 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't know if this helps any, but what I've found is that the *right* medication(s) don't change one's personality. They just remove the impediments from allowing that personality to come through. The wrong drug or the wrong dose might interfere with one's personality, but even then, it is usually still there.
She is functioning in life but ranges from moderately to severely depressed, with profound anxiety (constantly anxious, often very irrationally). She feels little emotion; she has little interest in being social or being sexual; she feels she has "no skills" (despite the high-level, six-figure tech job she's successfully held for years). She's not directly angry at me or at our son; she's angry at other people very close to her, angry at the world, angry about a childhood where her mother was depressed and emotionally abusive. Often directionlessly angry. She's intensely focused on our son: she says nothing matters except him, nothing excites her except him, and if anything happened to him her life would be over. Her depression has increased even further over the two years of his life (it didn't observably spike in the months after she gave birth -- more like an erratic but clear overall increase since then).
This sounds a lot like I was. One of the things for her to consider is that one of the insidious things about depression is that it makes someone almost crave that heavy blanket of the depression. Doubly so if a parent was depressed. Depression and anxiety are related (if not the same thing with different manifestations), and they feed off of one another. The anxiety tells someone not to try things they want to do, and then the depression "reassures" them that trying that thing indeed would have been awful, and that since they are a worthless failure anyway, why suffer the pain of trying and failing when they can just skip the middle step and fail? If that's a pattern they have lived with their whole lives, it can be very discomforting to admit that they don't want to feel that way anymore. It is almost like quitting smoking.

CBT helps tremendously, and so does SSRI treatment. They work in conjunction with each other to allow the patient to break out of that pattern of anxiety and depression. It isn't easy, but it is WAY easier than living with crippling anxiety and depression. That is a hard life.

The other thing is that ultimatums don't really work for depressed people, because that just increases the anxiety, which increases the depression, which whispers (or shouts) in their ears that they don't deserve to feel better, and the response will more than likely be negative. So the way forward is to build on her acceptance that she does need to seek therapy, and support her in it. The depression will make her want to give up. Don't react to that with exasperation and disappointment, but instead, help her re-center on the goal and get re-motivated to go back the next week, or maybe to see a new therapist, or let you go with her to a session. Anything that both supports her and also keeps aim on the target.
posted by gjc at 4:31 PM on March 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


Honey, I dont know why your mother was a miserable wretch who treated you poorly. I wish she had gotten help when it would've made a difference to you.

Now, I don't want my son to have a mom who's a miserable wretch. And I have this amazing wife whom I love very much -- but she's miserable and it breaks my heart, because shes amazing. Something's got to change. Before you take it out on our son.

I don't care if it's therapy or medication or yoga or church. Something's got to change. I can't make it change. I can only do what you ask me to do. Ask me to do something. Please. I love you.

And not for nothin', but all this "our son is the only thing I've got" stuff? It hurts my feelings...because you used to like me. Our relationship used to excite you. I miss you. Profoundly.

If you don't know what to do -- you have to try what I suggest. Anything less is a deal breaker. You can kick and scream and be scared, but you have to try some of my suggestions.
posted by vitabellosi at 4:59 PM on March 21, 2012


If you don't know what to do -- you have to try what I suggest. Anything less is a deal breaker. You can kick and scream and be scared, but you have to try some of my suggestions.

In fact, you have to try 10 of my ideas. Because your happiness is worth trying and trying and trying.
posted by vitabellosi at 5:01 PM on March 21, 2012


You asked for specific hotlines/professionals but those are location dependent. As a general first step I would contact both your employers' HR departments and ask if you are eligible for EAP. You do not need to give any information about what you need it for (they have tonnes of services) but request the contact number. EAP will be free and can work with you in accessing resources you need at a cost you can afford. If you do not have EAP you need to reach out to other professionals, your family doctor can make recommendations, you may have a public health department, or community services department. You can also ask at your public library, there is often a community services directory (now usually online) they can show you how to access and you can then use privately. There are often local or national support groups for family members of people struggling with mental illness, you can try googling "support groups mental illness family [location]" to see what pops up. Support groups can be great for you and as a source of information for services you have never even thought of. For specific therapists to contact in the US and Canada I know some people like the online database at psychology Today.

If you contact a mod with your location you may be more specific suggestions.

Since you are new to the idea of counselling/therapy you may notice suggestions for specific therapies. Although that kind of information is important, the relationship and trust you have with the professional is far more important; you will get further with a "less effective" theory of therapy with a kick ass therapist than the latest "cure-all" promoted by a therapist you can't develop a good relationship with.

In addition to professionals you should be building up and using your support network, family and friends. Now is the time you need to turn to them for help because the person that should be helping you is drowning and she'll pull you under unless you are supported by the people that love you. Your family and friends want to help.

Good luck.
posted by saucysault at 5:20 PM on March 21, 2012


anonymous, if you are still reading, I would highly suggest she read some books on forgiveness, such as Forgive for Good by Fred Luskin or Forgiveness by Sidney Simon. There is another one by Enright that I have heard is good.

I can relate to your wife in so many ways. What I have learned about anger and hurt is that these should be fleeting emotions. All of that anger is psychologically and physically damaging and it is no wonder she is depressed since prolonged anger leads to depression.

What I learned from Forgive for Good is that we are walking around with unenforceable rules. We expect people to treat us a certain way and when they don't, we become angry. If you have a mother who was emotionally abusive, it builds and builds. Your wife's distress is not caused by how she was offended or harmed 10 or 20 years ago. Your wife is distressed because she still has hurt feelings over what happened and cannot, will not, let it go. She might be hanging onto those hurt feelings and anger for a reason -- they serve her in some way. They allow her to remain stagnant and victimized. She now has an excuse why she doesn't socialize. She has an excuse for a lot of things she does. Your wife probably wants to feel better but it may be terrifying for her if she no longer has someone to blame for her behavior.

A better way to frame situations where people who offend and hurt us is, instead of saying She shouldn't have said those hurtful things. She should have not been so depressed., she could say, I would have liked if she were more compassionate and respectful. I would have liked a mother who wasn't depressed.

...But I didn't have one and that's reality and there is nothing I can do about it and it's not my fault....

We have a lot of pre-existing expectations. Those expectations can make us so miserable. It's hard to accept people as they are but we must. We don't have to condone but we must accept.

I hope your wife seeks therapy for herself. My opinion is if she has this much anger she should not medicate first. Therapy and reading should come first. If she deals with the anger she might not need medication. Good luck! I am rooting for your wife. I empathize with her so much.
posted by Fairchild at 6:15 AM on March 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also, your wife is repeating her mother's behavior. She's depressed just like her mom was. Your child is still young. As your child grows to the age when you wife was emotionally abused, your wife could repeat that behavior, no matter how impossible you or she thinks that might be. It happens all of the time. If you ever have more questions about therapy, anger, and victimhood, I might be able to answer and talk. I am currently in therapy for the exact problems your wife is having and it has helped me tremendously. Find someone qualified and who cuts through the bullshit. It's easy to still feel like a victim with some therapists. -- my experience only.
posted by Fairchild at 6:27 AM on March 23, 2012


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