How can I help my husband help himself?
July 22, 2011 8:03 PM   Subscribe

How can I support my husband as he works through some issues?

My husband has been dealing with some issues lately, namely stress and possibly depression, and has not been the most reliable/responsible/loving spouse. After many, many talks and some family involvement, he's agreed to go get help. Which is great!

Until he gets better, though, I'm not sure what I should do. I want him to have the support to get through this and come out happier and stronger, but I can barely rely on him to help with house chores or caring for our dog, which makes me incredibly stressed and upset. I've recently started a new position at work and have been working 9-10 hour days, and the extra stress is really making life hard for me right now. I know that sounds selfish, but in the past I have notoriously sacrificed my own personal well-being for others, and I cannot do that anymore.

My biggest problem is what I have trouble trusting him, and other than seeking out help, he's given me no reason to. If I need him to take care of something, there's a constant doubt and worry that he won't do it, and most of the time it comes true. He's just so out of it, absent-minded, and at his worst, lazy. He is constantly escaping into books or games. I once asked him to take the morning dog-walking shift on a Saturday so I could help some friends move, and when I came home 6 hours later, he had still not walked her (leaving her unwalked for over 14 hours!) I can't ever expect him to cook dinner or do the dishes without a huge fight or a lot of guilt (which I hate), and forget about any other house work. Last week, we went on vacation with his ENTIRE EXTENDED FAMILY to the Outer Banks, and he barely left his room. When I finally convinced him to go out on the last day of our trip, most of the car ride to the restaurant consisted of him being miserable about having to drive (and me subsequently crying my eyes out that I'd spent my whole vacation alone and/or with his family without him. Thankfully his family (all 15 of them!) are great people, so spending a good amount of my time with them (without him) wasn't hell. Overall, he's just been pretty miserable and disagreeable.

So, how can I be supportive of him getting better without sacrificing my own personal well-being? I've asked him, but he doesn't seem to know or care. My original plan to just be scarce and give him some distance doesn't seem to be working out. Mostly because we work together and end up seeing each other all day, but also because I am much happier at home instead of being a social butterfly every day. It would probably be worth noting that I am also in therapy working on some self-esteem issues, anxiety, and just general mental health stuff.

Thanks in advance!
posted by your mom's a sock puppet to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
DEFINTELY worth mentioning that you're seeing your own therapist! Good for you. Please enlist your therapist's help with this. Also, try timer therapy: Set a timer, worry full on for 15 minutes or so about your husband, and then spend the rest of the time dealing with it the best that you can. I know it's hard (close to impossible) but the fact that he's seeking help and that you have help makes this all so much better. Hugs and best wishes.
posted by sweetkid at 8:23 PM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I cannot say that your spouse's depression is like my depression; each of us suffers in a different way, even though the symptoms seem the same. However, depression affects the people around the sufferer, so it's really great that you're in therapy and taking care of your mental health. I think that's really the first step in supporting him. Take care of yourself as your first priority; you'll be in no condition to be supportive of him if you're shouldering the weight of his depression and your own stressors (this, I know from experience).

Past that, consult your therapist. I wish you and your husband lots of healing.
posted by Ashen at 8:36 PM on July 22, 2011

Is there any way you could outsource some of those domestic chores? Dog walking, laundry service, meal prep, house cleaning? Would take some the pressure off you, and him.
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 8:47 PM on July 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

Would it be possible to get some help with the household/dog stuff? It doesn't have to be expensive...if you know any neighbors' kids who are out of school for the summer they might be willing to walk the dog for a small fee. At least that would be one thing you didn't have to stress about. A housecleaning service might take a huge load off your shoulders, although I certainly understand it isn't always economically feasible.

You're not being selfish at all, you're wise to recognize that you can't sacrifice your well-being for other people. Hang in there.
posted by corey flood at 8:50 PM on July 22, 2011 [4 favorites]

My advice is to let go of everything you can let go of. The dog needs to be walked, and fed - because he's a living animal. But it doesn't sound like you have any children, and that means that a lot of chores are optional. You can do what those above have suggested and outsource it, or you can just let it go for a while - treat yourself to some of the same time off that he's taking. The floor doesn't actually have to get mopped every two weeks, the dishes can sit in the sink for a few days (or you can start cooking things that make fewer dishes), you can do without vacuuming for a while... especially with the long hours at work, it's totally understandable if your place isn't in the best of shape all the time. It helps a lot to cut yourself some slack, especially when your partner is clearly allowing himself plenty of slack - you might find that you feel a lot less resentful if you stop doing the extra work.
posted by Lady Li at 9:39 PM on July 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

get him MOVING! you'd be surprised how much depression grows out of physical inactivity rather than the other way around...and this comes from someone who spent a year in bed. throw out the chairs, unplug the game he's in the middle of and shove him out the door, dog leash in hand. be funny and charming about it, but you need to make a scene (which doesn't neccesarily mean a FIGHT) to make it clear that it's not acceptable to be a big, lazy, self-involved slob around you anymore. "OK, you guys have a nice walk now! you can come back in a few hours! have fun! BYE!" *lock door*
posted by sexyrobot at 9:58 PM on July 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

big, lazy, self-involved slob around you anymore.

If he's suffering from depression, even THINKING about him as a big, lazy self involved slob will not be a help to either of you. Physical activity is good at keeping depression at bay, but tread carefully.
posted by sweetkid at 10:06 PM on July 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

Don't feel that you are being selfish, you sound like a very supportive wife who is just trying not to break down with all that stress. I really feel for you because I was in an almost identical situation with my ex, and it was incredibly draining. You really need to look after yourself first. With my ex, when he was feeling depressed, he just needed a lot of space and time to himself. I can't say if your husband is the same, but it might be good for both of you if you could get out of the house ocasionally. Going out and being social is probably the last thing you want to do right now, but hanging out with friends or family who are understanding can be a big relief for you, and give him some time to sort his own stuff out. You don't have to talk about anything heavy, just distract yourself for a while and be around people who care about you. Be kind to yourself!
posted by Piroska at 10:20 PM on July 22, 2011

Nthing outsourcing things that worry you if they don't get done. Give yourself permission to pick up dinner at the store or a higher-quality takeout place, or get things that are microwavable for "his" dinners.

Due to a recent acquisition, I highly recommend a Roomba or other robot vacuum to take over during a period of long hours. I didn't expect the ripple effect it's having - we keep our place cleaner with the effort we used to spend vacuuming everywhere ourselves so that it has access to vacuum everywhere. Plus, if you're the type to worry about money, it's a fixed, up-front expense.
posted by bookdragoness at 1:29 AM on July 23, 2011

I'm reading this a little differently. You've mentioned his stress and "possibly depression," which is pretty far from a diagnosis. What seems clear is that you're frustrated and unhappy, and there's a lot of conflict between you.

...extra stress is really making life hard for me right now.

...I have trouble trusting him...he's given me no reason to....constant doubt and worry that he won't do it...

He's just so... lazy.

He is constantly escaping...

...huge fight or a lot of guilt...

...most of the car ride to the restaurant consisted of him being miserable about having to drive (and me subsequently crying my eyes out...

My original plan to just be scarce and give him some distance...

An awful lot of this could be seen as relationship problems that don't necessarily have much to do with depression. Your interest in 'helping your husband' seems mostly to be a desire to get him to help you; you don't seem especially concerned about his needs or feelings except insofar as they're keeping you from getting your own needs met. This is not to say that your needs are unimportant or frustrations are invalid (they aren't) or that you should suck it up and continue living this way (you shouldn't), but framing this as some private condition of his won't help you if what you really need is maybe a bit of couple's therapy.
posted by jon1270 at 3:50 AM on July 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

If he's dealing with deep depression, he can't be your support. You need to find someone (mom? sister? friend?) to help you.

Re: help at home beyond the emotional support that you need, get someone to walk the dog and mow the lawn. If you can afford it, someone to clean the house every once in a while would probably be great.

With respect, this whole question is about what you need, not about what he needs or how to support him. It's impossible to know what type of support he wants or needs, since you haven't told us, we don't know him, and all people and possibly depressed people are different. I want to emphasize that in order to support him, you're not wrong to be looking for what you're looking for -- you need your own support network, and you're not going to be able to maintain being any help to him if you're a wreck yourself.
posted by J. Wilson at 7:13 AM on July 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

make it clear that it's not acceptable to be a big, lazy, self-involved slob around you anymore

If he actually is just a lazy self-involved slob, this might be reasonable advice. If he's depressed, it's terrible, ignorant advice. Healthy people can respond to criticism of their behaviour positively, by changing their behaviour for the better. Depressed people do not respond positively.

On the main question: Stop relying on him. Stop expecting him to walk the dog. Stop expecting him to socialize. This is how things are now, and how things will be until he gets better. That sucks for you, but it will only suck more if you continue holding expectations contrary to fact. As others have said, find help elsewhere; hire it if that is feasible.
posted by stebulus at 11:44 AM on July 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think what you're saying is something like, "I want to support my husband as he tries to get better, but I'm using so much of my energy on my own stressful job, all of the housework, the dog, etc. that I don't know what to do. Plus I'm beginning to feel resentful of him for focusing on himself and not being there for me." Is that at all accurate?

Because I read jon1270 and J. Wilson's responses and just thought, Ouch! I don't think you're being selfish. I don't think you're failing to focus appropriate attention on your husband's needs. I think you're feeling overwhelmed. I think he's unable to be a fully functioning partner to you right now, and that's hard. Even though you understand that his depression is a serious condition, you also know that being run ragged because your partner is ill feels much the same as being run ragged because your partner is lazy.

I have a few suggestions:

You need to find additional sources of support, whether that's emotional support from a friend or practical support through a grocery delivery service or a cleaning service.

You also need to make sure you're doing things you enjoy. Is there something you can do, with friends or alone, perhaps while your husband is at his therapy appointments, that brings you joy? A sport or hobby or something new you've been wanting to try? I've been doing karate for a while now and it's been an incredible way to relieve stress--not because I picture the stressful people in my life when I'm kicking and punching, but because I'm focusing all of my energy on learning something just for fun, just for me.

You should consider taking a session with your therapist to air your thoughts and feelings about this situation. Even if you've mentioned some of it already, I think it would be valuable to share this information with your therapist in a focused way.

You and your husband should consider sitting down together with his therapist or a marriage therapist to work out a strategy for your marriage while he's getting help for his depression. You still have a marriage to protect and grow even while he's dealing with personal issues. I'm not saying he needs to take out his share of the trash or do his share of the dishes even if he can't get out of bed. I am saying that you and he need to find a way to be good to each other while he struggles with his illness.
posted by Meg_Murry at 3:22 PM on July 23, 2011 [5 favorites]

« Older Help me talk to my smothering mom.   |   Where does this exterior drain go? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.