Staying patient and compassionate with a depressed husband
January 6, 2015 8:56 PM   Subscribe

How can I try to obtain and maintain a sense of caring and compassion for my husband during his depression, when the effects on me are starting to create major resentment? For the second time in the past 12 months, he has fallen into a place of depression and anxiety, resulting in having a short temper, very low energy, mentally checking out, little interest in my life, no sex, and very little empathy. The first time it lasted about 3-4 months. This time, it has been about three months and counting. That is more than half the year. It is exhausting and I am losing hope. I am female and we are both in our late 30s. We have been close friends over 10 years, but not romantically involved that entire time. I recall him having some slight down times back when we first met, but he always seemed to bounce back very easily.

I long for the man I married. Happy, spontaneous, active, into me, pursuing life in general. I fell in love with that guy. I believe in supporting each other through the highs and lows. I try to remind myself that he really doesn't know what he is doing right now. Depression is selfish.

It seems to have become messy in that I get upset about all of the above, and need to discuss it with him, and he can't seem to hear me or take it on, and he tries to blame me for everything. He gets mad when I want to talk about things. I am sure it is guilt, but I can't bottle everything up. I feel like I can't do or say anything right. I clean the house; he gets upset that he isn't helping out. I let the house go; he gets upset that it is so messy. I try to get him to do things with me (we have a child, so our alone time is rare) and he seems apathetic. I have allowed myself to be vulnerable and cry, and he stares at me, not offering any comfort. Or he just turns over and falls asleep. I recently dove into some stuff that was difficult for me to talk about and I asked for his understanding and lack of judgment. Later that day he started mocking me about what I said. I was so hurt, and this is not something he has ever done.

I try to understand that he can't give me anything, but I really don't know how much longer I can take it. The first time this happened, he blamed everything on the medication he was on. He isn't on anything now, but the effects are the same.

Every day I try to repeat a few mantras to help me understand his position, be supportive and get through the day. It usually works. It is the weekend time that is the hardest because we are all together trying to function and I feel like we are putting on a show. I want to believe he wants to be with us, but he always seems miserable. My kid wonders what is wrong with him. I just try to focus on happy times with my child and being a fun and supportive parent.

There are some bright spots. We sometimes can relax and laugh together when we aren't crabby, anxious, etc. We sometimes touch. We do still love each other.

He keeps saying he is going to get help, but he hasn't. I am seeing a therapist, who has been helpful, but day to day I easily lose sight of the big picture. Like on Christmas, when I received no present from him. The one word I keep coming back to is apathy. He often seems to not care about what is going on around him or understand that his inaction may have huge consequences on our relationship. If I were to say this to him, he would come up with reasons why this is my fault. I am not perfect, and it has been impossible to not get upset and irrational at times. I worry now that I am also depressed. Every night I try to fall asleep and all I can think about it how good our relationship used to be.

TL;DR: I need tips on being able to cope with a depressed spouse. How can I give support while attempting to take care of myself and my needs? I have lost all feeling of being a romantic partner; I feel like a mom, a worker, and a loner. I can't force him to get help, but I cannot spend a lifetime doing this. The thought of not being together and happy most of the time is heartbreaking and I don't even want to think about it.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (44 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
I've been on both sides of this equation. My advice is that you find a third person to help you understand what you need and help you find ways to get it. Descending into depression and despair will not help you or your husband. You need to take care of yourself in order to keep helping him. Easy? No. I wish you the best.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 9:08 PM on January 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

He needs a new doctor, medication, blood tests, regular therapy, yoga class - something. He can't be allowed to go on like this. You're going to have to insist, I think.
posted by jbenben at 9:19 PM on January 6, 2015 [31 favorites]

The issue here is not that your husband is dealing with depression, but that he is not seeking help in dealing with his depression. It might help to reframe this for yourself in that way -- not "How do I deal with my husband's depression?" but "How do I deal with my husband refusing to seek help for a life-threatening medical issue?"

You are right that you cannot force him to seek help, but you can recognize his refusal to seek help as an active choice and decide how you want to proceed based on it.
posted by jaguar at 9:27 PM on January 6, 2015 [57 favorites]

Depression or not, his behavior is spectacularly shitty. Depression is a slippery disease that tries to convince you that you don't have it, yes. but that doesn't release him from the responsibility of not treating you like shit. He still made these bad decisions himself. Maybe if you did a trial separation it would wake his ass up. I know it's agonizingly difficult to make that decision. But you are not obligated to put up with his behavior due to wifely duty.
posted by bleep at 9:30 PM on January 6, 2015 [34 favorites]

Yeah, walk away. If he really has depression he will seek help for it and work hard to get you back. He can't self-diagnose depression, nor can he claim it excuses his behaviour. He doesn't sound depressed to me. He just sounds like an asshole.
posted by saucysault at 9:33 PM on January 6, 2015 [4 favorites]

He keeps saying he is going to get help, but he hasn't

He needs to do this. Yesterday.

Perhaps you could sit him down and say "Honey, I love you, and it breaks my heart that you are suffering. It is affecting our marriage. I will love and support you, and I need you to find a therapist because this is becoming too much for me to be able to handle. I want you to have the support and help you need, and I am not capable of providing all of it, and I will help you find the support you need."

Rephrase in whatever words make the most sense for your relationship, but that's the basic sentiment.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:38 PM on January 6, 2015 [13 favorites]

Yeah, walk away. If he really has depression he will seek help for it and work hard to get you back.

It is important to remember that depression is a fucking liar and will tell you that seeking help or trying to win someone back is a pointless exercise so why bother.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:39 PM on January 6, 2015 [22 favorites]

Sorry, I didn't finish my thoughts. Part of that discussion needs to include a solid timeline that he has to meet. If he doesn't meet it, you will be moving out (or he will).
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:41 PM on January 6, 2015 [6 favorites]

My husband and I have a deal, and it's that we have to TRY. We both know it's hard as fuck to get help, just navigating insurance has been a pain in the ass, he's had medication turn on him when it had been working for a while - but he has to either take care of business himself, ask me to help, or the clock starts ticking. Same for me.

You can't tell him what to do, force him to do anything, direct him with mind beams no matter how hard you hope. But you can have boundaries, and you can refuse to be treated certain ways. The catch is that you can only enforce your own consequences, so you can leave or tell him to leave or tell him he's got 90 days to get a plan in place or you're going to file for separation or whatever.

Do not make empty threats, though, because they are actively unhelpful. You have to make your own decision, privately, about what your various choices are and what you're willing to do. If you know that you would rather he treat you like this for 40 years than leave, don't say you'll leave. If the only consequence you can guarantee is that you'll start checking out of the marriage until it gets bad enough that one of you leaves, say so. Be honest about where your head's at.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:41 PM on January 6, 2015 [34 favorites]

He may have depression, but he also has very real responsibilities to you and your child. He cannot just foist all blame on you, treat you cruelly, and not make treatment a priority. You can help him make the first appointment with a therapist who can prescribe, but he must go and get treatment and stay in treatment. If he doesn't, you can't continue to let him damage you and the child. Good luck.
posted by quince at 9:44 PM on January 6, 2015 [29 favorites]

I was like this. I didn't change until it became clear that I was going to lose my family if I didn't get my shit together. He needs to be made aware of the consequences of refusing to get help. Lyn Never's advice is good.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 10:33 PM on January 6, 2015 [4 favorites]

I don't know what the right or best thing to do is but my best friend recently treated me very badly for months. She said it was her depression and that her meds weren't working any more. She was missed my 40th birthday dinner, which a small gathering of my best & oldest friends, and that was the last straw for my husband who didn't know she was depressed. He called her & have her an earful. First she cried "poor me" but then she did a 180. She called me, she apologised, she gave me a holiday with her as a make-up & belated birthday present.

My husband also had a very close friend who sounds very much like your husband. part mid life crisis, part didatisfaction with everyone & everything, apathetic, dusconnected from his wife. my hisband also gave this friend a stern "snap out of it!" lecture. the friend later told me that was really important and helpful.

My point is that, although I have so little understanding of depression, I have seen that, given a wake up call, people can snap out of it & do what they need to do. Maybe the others are right, that you need to ask him to move out for a while. Frame it as you need time & space to take care of yourself so you can look after your child and be at your best to offer him support. You can't do that while he's treating you badly, daily, indefinitely.
posted by stellathon at 10:52 PM on January 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've been on both sides of it as well. Depression is myopic. It's a kind of extreme, morbid self-absorption, by definition. I think it's true that depressed people can act like assholes. I know I could only see how I affected other people once I was out of it, and saw it in others later. But it's not chosen. The pulling away, the apathy, that is the illness. You can't expect someone who's ill with this to save a little corner of their brain for normal thoughts and behaviour, like "you know, I should get some help", because that is exactly the kind of thinking that's not immediately available to a depressed person.

It varies, obviously, but it's thought that most (though of course not all) depressive episodes, even untreated, tend to resolve within 2 years at the top end, lasting 9 months on average. If he doesn't find his way to treatment during this episode, he may be positioned to work to prevent recurrence once he's out of it. It's a little easier to catch your footing at the very beginning, when you're starting to slip, than when you're staring down the well. Though clearly, it would be better for him to get the help he needs now, and definitely continue to encourage that, and yes, tell him how it's affecting you.

Do what you have to do to keep your own mental hygiene in check. You're allowed to get what you need emotionally from other people right now, and you're allowed to tune him out. Recognize, for your own sake, that his blame reflects his distorted thinking - it's not him and it's not you. Don't take shit from him, though, when he starts. Clean the house because it needs to be cleaned, irrespective of his feelings of guilt.
posted by cotton dress sock at 12:15 AM on January 7, 2015 [13 favorites]

No. You don't deserve to spend upwards of a year feeling this way. You're doing everything you can to keep this family going and ill or not, your husband agreed that he would be your equal partner. You at the very least deserve for him to not blame and criticise you when you're working at full capacity to hold everything together on your own, while simultaneously grieving for happier times and a functional relationship. Yes, depression distorts thinking, but it doesn't compel speech. Your husband could at least try and button the worst of his negative thoughts when they're directed towards you. Besides, it is not fair on your kid to effectively have a non-functioning father for a large chunk of their childhood. Two years is much longer for children than for adults.

He absolutely MUST seek help, or you need to take him to it. Repeat to yourself that depression is treatable and that his resistance is symptomatic- don't back down. Keep telling him that his refusal to seek help is breaking you and breaking the relationship. Right now he'll probably use that to slide further into the mire, but once he's getting help it should be a wake up call to really take recovery seriously.

This is not your fault. You deserve not to have to live and feel this way. I'm so sorry this is happening.
posted by mymbleth at 1:44 AM on January 7, 2015 [3 favorites]

It's time for you to look out for yourself, because your husband, for whatever reason, is not going to be doing it. Seek support elsewhere, ideally a trained professional who is used to helping people in your situation and can give you options and choices that have worked for others. You don't need therapy because there is something wrong with you. You need support because there is something wrong with your husband. Don't put yourself in the situation of looking for support from someone who has proved that they're not going to give it to you, because that way lies pain.

You can't control him, or his illness. You can set boundaries about what you're going to accept and what you're going to take, but you must then enforce those boundaries. A professional will be able to help you with setting and enforcing these. You need someone on your side right now, and that isn't your hubby.

Next time he gets upset that he's not helping out around the house, hand him a can of spray polish and a cleaning cloth.
posted by Solomon at 2:02 AM on January 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

Also, compassion fatigue is a thing.
posted by Solomon at 2:03 AM on January 7, 2015 [3 favorites]

I'm a little surprised that Metafilter is responding so harshly. It's a bit cliche to mention, but if the AnonyHusband had written describing his depression, I think you guys would be reacting rather differently. He *is* being unfair, yes. And it sucks. But, having spent a whole lot of my life depressed, I fall into the camp which says it's not entirely his fault.

Before I got on meds and into therapy, I put my ex-husband through a lot. Way too much. And this is, indeed, part of why he is my ex-husband rather than still being present tense, despite the fact that we still love each other very much on a platonic level. (Not the only reason, but it fed into several of them.) But I couldn't go through the terrible, overwhelming effort to get help. And I was never very good at finding the right help. I've managed now because I attempted suicide last December and a couple of very good friends sternly demanded that I come and stay at their house for a few days, took me to the hospital, and set things in motion. Even when you know something's wrong, or indeed that everything is, it's *hard* to get help.

Which doesn't mean that he gets free rein to walk all over you. I would say that you need to have a talk with him. It sounds like that hasn't gone so well when you've tried before, so I'd throw an ultimatum into the first paragraph or so. Gently, but firmly. Tell him you love him and you know this is a difficult time, but you can't live like this. Tell him you miss the man you fell in love with. Tell him he has to stop this. Tell him you're going to help him find a good doctor/therapist, and when you do he is damned well going to go see him/her, or... [insert accurate statement of consequences here].

And he might be in the state of dickery that requires you to make good on those consequences. So unless you want a divorce, don't threaten that. Because you have to go through with whatever you threaten, or he will learn that you're going to back down, and he gets to continue being a selfish brat. Which, compassion not put aside, he is indeed being. It's hard to [reproductive organ] up and seek help, but it's not impossible. And when you're hurting other people around you and damaging your most important relationships, it's time to do that.

Ugh, my replies are always way too long. Tl;dr: he can't entirely help it and it isn't really malicious, try to remember that. But this still has to stop. I think it will be easier to be patient when he's started working on it. But he needs to do that. And somebody may have to sleep on the couch for a while to get it done.

Also, the usual suggestions about a physical checkup to check hormones and vitamins and all those random chemicals.
posted by Because at 3:11 AM on January 7, 2015 [18 favorites]

He's depressed. Sometimes this means that a person is unable to do things for themselves, like seek help. Ask him if he'd like it if you found him a therapist or made him a psychiatrist or GP appointment. Sometimes you just need a little catalyst to overcome the activation energy and allow the reaction to proceed.

I hope things get better for both of you. This sounds pretty miserable right now.
posted by sciencegeek at 3:17 AM on January 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

I clean the house; he gets upset that he isn't helping out. I let the house go; he gets upset that it is so messy. I try to get him to do things with me (we have a child, so our alone time is rare) and he seems apathetic. I have allowed myself to be vulnerable and cry, and he stares at me, not offering any comfort. Or he just turns over and falls asleep.

Yes, this is classic depression. I'm sure he feels like he is in a deep hole, completely lost. I feel for him.

I recently dove into some stuff that was difficult for me to talk about and I asked for his understanding and lack of judgment. Later that day he started mocking me about what I said.

This . . . isn't. Lashing out at you? What's that about? He's not allowed to take his mood out on you, no way. This isn't depression, it's emotional immaturity. I'm sure he feels upset and angry due to his depression, as detailed above, but that is NO excuse and NO explanation for behavior like this.

Look, depression is hard and a filthy, filthy liar. I've never dated anyone who wasn't depressed, and once you fall in, it is really hard to get out. Nothing seems like it matters, or will help you feel better. My past relationships didn't last, and I used to think it was because of my partners' depression, but the truth is, it was really more about their emotional maturity and willingness to deal with their own shit. It wasn't about them not being willing to get help, because that is such a hard thing to do when you are in a pit. You don't always have the emotional reserves to pick out and call and vet a therapist, nor do you have the belief that doing so will be in any way useful. But my past relationships' failures WERE about my former partners being unable to recognize or admit that something was wrong, and doing something, anything to indicate it.

The reason I knew that my fiancé was different was that he will come tell me when he is feeling depressed. I usually propose solutions (should we exercise more together? Can I help any? Should you find a therapist?) which he then shoots down, because, well, depression is a filthy, filthy liar ("No, that won't work . . . I don't see what good that would do . . .") The thing is, after we talk, the next day he typically comes to me with something like, "I made a doctor's appointment for later today." The act of talking to me and admitting to me that he's depressed is always the first tiny step to taking the next tiny step to getting help, and I admire the hell out of him to recognize when he needs to speak up and put the wheels in motion.

He keeps saying he is going to get help . . . well, when will that happen? Can you help him take a tiny step? Bounce ideas off each other? (Warning: this will probably be frustrating). Make an appointment for couples therapy together? Suggest another therapist in your therapist's office for him so you can go to appointments at the same time?
posted by chainsofreedom at 4:55 AM on January 7, 2015 [24 favorites]

If you decide this is a marriage worth keeping, you might need to make appointments for him and make sure he goes. I know a lot of people, especially on MeFi, will tell you that it's not your responsibility and how dare you go out of your way to help your husband when he needs it, but it sounds like that is what it's going to take. A good therapist, some meds to help him through the roughest part, and a testosterone check.

Also, I'm assuming he doesn't have many friends and you are the majority of his social life? If that's the case, it would probably help if he started building a life outside the marriage. Low-obligation relationships are fulfilling without the guilt that a depressed person gets when they think they are failing someone.

Again, that's only if you think you want to stay in this marriage. If not, it's probably time to start arranging to end things. No use wasting both your times.
posted by Willie0248 at 5:55 AM on January 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

I agree with the advice above: yes, while depression is a real medical issue, it is not a free pass. Do whatever needs to be done for yourself and your child, and if he feels bad about it, tell him that the path to feeling better lies in getting help. Then support his actions in whatever practical way you can without making yourself miserable.

The bottom line is that he might be depressed, but that does not mean you have to join him in his misery.
posted by rpfields at 6:04 AM on January 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

He keeps saying he is going to get help, but he hasn't.

My suggestion is going to be a little more proactive than others above. Because there is this child in your life, and whatever his depression is doing to your life, it's worse for your child. Trust me on this.

Do you know who his regular doctor is? If so, you may have to help him get help.

Sit him down. Say "I think you have clinical depression and I'd like to help you get help. Are you willing to try? Are you willing to let me help you?" Hopefully he'll say yes. If he flatly says no, you may need to leave. But lets assume he says yes.

Once you get his consent, make a doctor's appointment for him. (You're his legal spouse, you can do this.) Be very clear that he has asked you to call to make an appointment to be screened and hopefully treated for clinical depression.

Then, get a checklist for clinical depression. There are several on-line. Over the course of a week, see how many apply to your husband each day. Track it in writing. Bring this with you to the appointment. Don't keep this a secret, but don't make a big deal about it, either.

Then, on the day of the appointment, make whatever arrangements you need to (childcare, etc.) to go to the appointment with him.

On the way, ask his permission to go in with him to see the doctor. (Yes, people do this all the time.) In theory, your making the appointment specifically about depression will make sure the doctor asks him about it. However, it's possible that s/he won't, or that your husband will underplay the symptoms. This is where the checklist will come in handy.

You and he are a team. A family. Right now one part of your team is so ill that he's not thinking straight. You need to do more than just hope he gets help -- you need to help him get the help he needs.
posted by anastasiav at 6:06 AM on January 7, 2015 [14 favorites]

Just because he's depressed it doesn't mean he isn't an asshole. You don't have to put up with it.

Depression is a miserable condition, and those who have it do have issues with initiating momentum to make changes while in an episode. That said, no one has a right to treat you badly, no matter how sick they are.

1. It's okay to make an appointment for him and to take him to it. So go ahead and do that. Go in with him, tell the doctor how his symptoms manifest.

2. Sleep study. I recommend this only because Husbunny's CPAP had helped SO much. Sure, he's still on a dose of meds, but it's much smaller than what he had been taking, and he hasn't needed to change it up in years.

Stop walking on eggshells. If he's bitching because you're cleaning and he's not in the mood to clean, tell him, "I'm not living in a hovel, you can stay seated if you like, but I'm cleaning." If he's complaining because the house is a mess, tell him, "Hey, I'm juggling chain saws here, if you want a clean house, start with the laundry, I need some clean underwear."

Part of the stress you're feeling is that you're keeping in your feelings to spare his. Knock that shit off. Sure, part of his selfish behavior is Depression, but just because you're sick, it doesn't absolve you from being pleasant to your loved ones.

I am not perfect, and it has been impossible to not get upset and irrational at times.

You don't have to be perfect, not even close to it. Do you honestly think that if you were perfect that he's magically be a better person? Nope. To borrow from Dr. Phil, you teach people how to treat you. You've taught him that he's the center of the universe and if it sucks to be him, it sucks to be you. That is a load of horseshit. Just because he has Depression, it doesn't mean that you have to suffer too.

Now, just as if your husband had a sucking chest wound, or appendicitis, you wouldn't let him go without medical attention. Insist that he get to his doctor. If he demurs, then it's time to pack up and head out.

"Sweetheart, I understand that you have an illness, and I'm willing to cut you some slack, but you're mean, selfish and no fun at all when you're in an episode. You need to see your doctor and get recalibrated. I'll stay if you show me that you care about me and our child and get the help you need. If you decide that you'd rather sulk and be miserable...I refuse to be a part of it. I count in this marriage and if you won't do it for yourself, I need you to do it for our family. So what's it going to be, an appointment with the doctor and appropriate care, or do you want to be alone?"

Then act on it. Don't feel guilty about leaving if that's what you want to do. There's more than Depression going on here, and you don't have to be a martyr to your husband's problems, especially if he's tried nothing and he's all out of ideas.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:07 AM on January 7, 2015 [21 favorites]

Depression makes you very aware of yourself and your pain, true. It doesn't make you act in a cruel way in my experience (?)...
posted by tanktop at 6:29 AM on January 7, 2015 [3 favorites]

If he really has depression he will seek help for it and work hard to get you back.

This is the biggest load of nonsense I've ever read. Severe depression does not act as a catalyst to seek help. It keeps you held down and unable to take steps to climb out. Expecting someone suffering from severe, debilitating depression to act rationally and logically is simply a fools errand. It doesn't work that way.

Severely depressed people will sit and stew in their own inertia until hell freezes over. They are simply incapable of making a move. And, yes, they can get terribly angry and lash out. It's not fun being trapped in there, and not be able to get out. Depression is far more than "oh, I don't feel good today, I'll go get a pill from my doctor." It can very often be more like "Fuck life. Fuck me."

Yes, it's exhausting to be the spouse of a depressed individual. That said, he needs help and is unable to make the move on his own. These are the times when the real meaning of a marriage comes to the fore. For better and for worse. Would you bail on him because he has some other debilitating disease and is angry and difficult to live with?

You need to find it in yourself to force him into action. Make an appointment with a doctor and take him there...Maybe enlist the help of a close friend. It's going to be difficult, but I seriously doubt he wants to stay down there in that black hole.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:36 AM on January 7, 2015 [8 favorites]

Depression makes you very aware of yourself and your pain, true. It doesn't make you act in a cruel way in my experience

Yes. Yes it can. With so much pain inside, sometimes it can feel safer to lash out than to look within.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 6:49 AM on January 7, 2015 [8 favorites]

You may really need to make the first appointment for him. Sometimes picking up the phone can feel overwhelming all out of proportion. And if he keeps saying he'll get help, ask him where he's getting stuck. Is he not sure where to go? Find somewhere for him to go. Afraid to call? Call. Having trouble keeping the appointment? Take him to the appointment.

In my experience, depression is inertial. Things at rest tend to stay at rest. (Not that depression is rest! It's horrible and wracking and not restful.) If you can overcome the first little hurdle with him, they can get easier. Sometimes you have to really start moving in the right direction before it gets easier. You've been doing all the work of the house and family, and that's so not fair. I understand exactly why you're so fed up and at your rope's end. He might need you to just make some decisions for him. Start with the family physician, and go from there.
posted by stoneweaver at 7:00 AM on January 7, 2015 [3 favorites]

Would you bail on him because he has some other debilitating disease and is angry and difficult to live with?

If his anger was hurting my child, then yes. My father had untreated PTSD and my mother stayed. It totally fucked us up; even now, decades later, we have problems with relationships and some rather severe substance abuse issues. You might have signed up for this, but your kid didn't, and as a parent, you owe it to your child to protect his or her health.
posted by snickerdoodle at 7:07 AM on January 7, 2015 [20 favorites]

Would you bail on him because he has some other debilitating disease and is angry and difficult to live with?

Yup, if he had options and wasn't exercising them.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:21 AM on January 7, 2015 [10 favorites]

Depression tells you that you don't have options, though.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:56 AM on January 7, 2015

No one gets a free pass to treat you like shit.

Depression does not turn someone into an asshole.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 8:00 AM on January 7, 2015 [8 favorites]

Depression does not turn someone into an asshole.

Yes, it can.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:11 AM on January 7, 2015 [7 favorites]

I agree with those above that the problem isn't just's the fact that he refuses to get treatment. It would be one thing if your husband was doing everything he could to deal with the depression, but the therapy/meds/etc. hadn't started working yet or the right combination hadn't quite been found. This isn't that.

Also, while depression may be playing into his delay in getting the same time, MANY, MANY people with depression do get over this and seek treatment. It's not as if every depressed person out there goes without treatment indefinitely. So, this is not impossible. I would go with a combination of serious talk + doing what you can to assist him with treatment options (researching doctors, making appointments, driving him to appointments, etc.).

Honestly, I would also stop letting him use the depression as an excuse. While it may EXPLAIN some of his behavior, it doesn't excuse the fact that you are being treated very, very poorly here (as is your child). Next time he mocks you for having real, significant needs and feelings, call him out on it and say: "That is completely unacceptabe." Take the kid, leave for the night and stay at your mom's, whatever. (I'm not saying leave FOREVER, but get some distance! He needs to know that however he is personally feeling, asshole behavior is not accepted and you will not tolerate it.)
posted by rainbowbrite at 8:19 AM on January 7, 2015 [9 favorites]

I'm so sorry you're going through this.

The ever-eloquent Captain Awkward answered a similar question - in the comments she mentions trying to "tease out the depression from the dysfunction."

Quoting an entire comment she made because it so good and so important:

The LW’s partner may in fact have good reasons for not seeking care, and it is important to ask. I’m really sorry that happened to you and it is Not Okay.

But what if the partner has really good, ironclad reasons for not seeking care, and the day-to-day is still shitty and the LW still feels like she is drowning?

The depression (or, insert any illness here) really doesn’t matter. What matters is a) how the partner treats the LW and b) how the LW feels about the relationship and whether it seems worthwhile to stick around because the good stuff outweighs the bad stuff. Most of the questions are designed to tease out stuff would be dysfunctional in any relationship. The depression is a red herring.

“I have an (illness), I don’t seek care because of (good reason). JOIN ME IN MISERY” is still miserable. Even if it’s no one’s fault. Even if there are good reasons.

“Is it okay for me to leave my partner because they have a mental illness and I can’t really handle the day-to-day?” Yes. “Even though I feel very bad for them and it’s not their fault?” Yes. “Even though people discriminate against people with mental illnesses, and I want to make up for that somehow by sticking around and not be part of the problem and I know it’s totally not their fault?” Yup.

“Is it okay for me to leave my partner because they got a job across the country and I don’t want to move there?” Yes.

“Is it okay for me to leave my partner because I’m just not feeling it anymore?” Yes.

“Is it okay for me to leave my partner?” Yes.

posted by prewar lemonade at 8:50 AM on January 7, 2015 [11 favorites]

A lot of these answers aren't self-consistent, in the vein of "it's not that he's got a broken foot, it's that he's not walking. Why isn't he walking?"

It's hard to think about depression because it involves a person's behavior, and we want to think of people as self-driven. It's not like a broken foot in that it compromises the whole of a person, how they think and feel and communicate and behave. We want people to snap out of it. It's just not that kind of thing, unfortunately. The thing you need to snap out of it is what's gone wonky.

Yes, people with depression, a lot of them, act like assholes. They can't see past their pain to recognize another person's. It's agony to watch someone you love go through this and feel helpless to make a difference. To watch them turn from you, spend their days lying a dark room, hear them twist your words and lash out. It's infuriating after a while, because you think, "why don't you just walk?? Move, damn it".

But the depressed person literally can't process this. That's why (if you want to stick around) it means you have to work around them .

It's not fair, but sickness doesn't know about fairness.
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:16 AM on January 7, 2015 [7 favorites]

My late former partner suffered from pretty severe depression for most of the last 2 years of our relationship, and it was awful. Depression absolutely can be a major contributing factor in someone behaving in a cruel, inconsiderate, asshole-ish way, even-- and maybe especially-- towards people they love. Depression tells someone they're unworthy of love and that everyone they love will definitely realize how horrid they are and leave them sooner or later, and some people deal with that by lashing out. Depressed person thinks "you can't possibly REALLY love me because I'm horrible and don't deserve your love" and they act like a dick until they get what their lying depression says they "deserve" (left), or you manage to temporarily convince them that you really DO love them and will stay in spite of getting treated crappy. And this works for a short while, until depression's lies get loud enough that the depressed person is back to being totally sure you can't possibly really love them because they're horrible, and it starts again.

It's corrosive and hurtful and unhealthy and an endless loop, and it's a shitty way to treat people you love, but it does happen. And it absolutely can be caused or substantially aggravated by depression-- but that doesn't make it an okay way to treat people you love. Depression is a reason, not an excuse.

He needs to get help for his illness. You may need to be the one who does most of the lifting to start that ball rolling. You don't have to do it if you don't want to, or you don't have the emotional resources to handle this. That's okay-- being the partner of a depressed person is fucking exhausting and miserable. I've been both the depressed partner and the support partner, and both roles straight-up suck. You can be, and need to be, proactive about getting support and help for yourself. I'm glad you've got a therapist, and think you should talk to your therapist about setting some healthy boundaries for yourself and some reasonable timeframes for your husband getting help and seeing some improvement in his mental health and the way he's treating you. Lyn Never's comment is great, and you can and should figure out your boundaries, communicate them to your husband, and offer whatever help you feel is reasonable and doable with the resources (emotional, financial, practical) you can make available to him. You can be generous-- that's okay!-- and have a long timeline, make his appointment(s), do most of the work to keep your household running while he's getting better, whatever you feel like you can and should do. But you really need to know where "too far" is, and you need a timeline, otherwise it's really, really easy to keep making one more individually-reasonable compromise until you realize X months/years down the road that you're exhausted and drained and your choices have narrowed down to "leave now" or "lifetime of endless misery".

Feel free to memail me if you want to talk more. I'm sorry-- this is hard, and I know you're trying to do your best, and you love him. You can help yourself, and hopefully you can help him, and I wish you the best of luck with this.
posted by Kpele at 9:45 AM on January 7, 2015 [12 favorites]

yeah the problem isn't the illness it's no attempt to get treatment. imagine if he broke his leg but refused to get an xray or a cast or any PT just decided he would sit on the couch and let you do everything for him, then complained when you didn't do it the way he wanted. how long would that last? wouldn't you be telling him to go to the doctor and work on healing so he could be mobile and engage in life again? analogize to a physical illness, and think. this is coming from a person with depression, also. yes it can make you an asshole but being too stubborn to do anything when you know what's going on is another issue.

you can leave if it's making you miserable. taking care of your own well being does not make you an unkind person, nor does it mean you lack empathy/compassion.
posted by zdravo at 9:53 AM on January 7, 2015 [4 favorites]

Depression tells you that you don't have options, though.

That's as may be, but at some point this dude has to make the leap of faith and understand that he's not alone. That's where a strong partner comes in, to strong-arm the person and the illness to action.

Does this guy need a kick in the ass, absolutely. Do his wife and child have to suffer with him? Are you advocating that a partner has to put up with appalling behavior because her partner is ill?

Hopefully this will get back on track once he get to the doctor and has his meds evaluated. But telling someone to stay in a bad situation, wringing her hands is mean and suggests that he and his illness are more important than she is. That's rather vicariously selfish isn't it?

There's a child involved. When that happens, parents have to protect that child from abuse and neglect. If the byproduct is that she's also protected from abuse and neglect...bonus.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:58 AM on January 7, 2015 [5 favorites]

From personal experience, even when I wanted to get help, I wasn't capable of it. It's hard to understand if you haven't been there, but picking up the phone and calling providers might as well be as difficult as an ironman triathlon with no training. It's overwhelming and impossible, it simply is. And I don't even mean the perception of it was overwhelming and impossible, even when I was able to pick up the phone to call providers, that used up literally all my energy for the day and I would spend the rest of the day in a weird panic attack/exhaustion state where it was all I could do to stare at the wall for hours and wish I didn't exist.

So, all that said, the fact that he says he's willing to get help is great news and what you can build on here. You would do him a great favor if you were willing to make the phone calls, set up the appointments, navigate insurance, etc. Getting the ball rolling on treatment is probably the kindest thing you can do for him. He still has to put in the work of talking to the therapist and psychiatrist, but he sounds willing, just utterly overwhelmed.

Now, all that said, it sounds like you need to set some boundaries. He's being VERY difficult, and while it may be understandable, it isn't okay. Trust me, he's not going to be happy to come out of this and realize how much damage he's done to you and to your relationship, so you're doing him another huge favor if you put your own mask on first and do what you need to take care of yourself.

Don't try to silently endure the burden of putting up with his bad behavior. When he starts berating you, say something affirmative and boundary setting like "I love you, but I will not listen to you when you say mean things to me" and walk away. Get out of the house if you have to. Keep yourself safe and out of the line of fire. If he's complaining about his inability to do housework, say "I love you, but it's your choice not to help and I will not listen to you complaining about it. If you want to help, take that cup to the sink, but otherwise I will continue cleaning without you". If he doesn't let it go, leave the room and go clean somewhere else.
posted by zug at 10:46 AM on January 7, 2015 [11 favorites]

I want to start by saying, I hear you and have so much sympathy. This is a terrible situation to be in, especially the first couple times it blindsides you. The first time is all, "WTF?" but when it's over, you think, "Oh thank God it's over, we can move on." But then it happens again, and on top of "WTF?!?!?!?!??!?!?!" you're also stuck with the knowledge that this can, and probably will, happen again throughout your marriage*.

TLDR; Read when someone you love is depressed

My husband has depression. We've been together 20 years. It is hard. It is really freaking hard, and here is what we've set up that works for us. I'm going to focus on what I do as the supporting spouse, and how things have evolved for us.

1. It got to the point where I had to tell him, in all honesty: "I can't do this anymore. I love you, but I can't do this anymore. You need to get help. I need you to get help. I don't want to leave but I can't do this anymore". I hope you don't have to get to that point.

2. The first time I managed to get him to agree to go to a therapist (meds/CBT works well for him), I had to help him make the call. The clinic wouldn't let me set up the appointment, citing privacy laws. So, I had him sit next to me, called them, started the call, and when they said, "We can't talk to you, we have to talk to him", handed him the phone. When they got to the part about "we need your insurance information", he handed the phone back to me (he has a severe anxiety around paperwork). We continued in this way until the appointment was set up.

3. I sat with him while he filled out the pre-appointment paperwork and took him to the appointment and waited in the waiting room while he went in to see the therapist. I went with him to all of his medication appointments. Yes, this was a huge time sink, but worth it.

4. We got a pill pack. We (originally me, and as he got better, he) filled it religiously, and if he didn't take his pills, I would take it to him and tell him to take it. Right then. No arguing.

5. I got a therapist. My main need was around boundaries, communication, and role playing scenarios so I could get comfortable setting boundaries and expressing my feelings in a constructive way. I also worked through what I was and was not willing to do.

6. I'm assuming you are in the U.S. and female. We're culturally taught that we need to be soft, to comfort, to take our spouse's pain into ourselves and through kindness transform it into healing. You can't fix this through kindness. And it sucks to realize this. It sucks to realize that you can't fix it at all. You can lead him to water. You can tell him to drink the damn water. You can't make him drink the water. You can tell him your boundaries and that you'll leave if he doesn't drink the water. But he might not. And that's not a failing on your part. I would urge you to really think about this and talk it over with your therapist. You need to understand the boundaries of what you can change and what you can't, and that (at least for me) took a LOT of unpacking of cultural baggage.

7. I needed to learn a concept called compassionate distance, which Ruthless Bunny and some others have alluded to. You need to keep going with your life. You have a book club meeting on Wednesdays, but don't trust him to watch your child? Drop her off with a friend and go anyways. He bitches about you cleaning? "I love you honey, but I won't live in a mess. I'm sorry you feel bad about me cleaning, but I'm not going to stop." I basically had to keep living my life. He was welcome to join in if he wanted, but I wasn't going to get stuck in his mire and turn into a hermit. I was compassionate ("I love you. I'm heading to class. I'll be home in an hour. Call if you have an emergency"). But I kept going.

8. Compassionate distance also allowed me what I needed to not go crazy: to tell my truth. Instead of just absorbing it all and trying to keep up this lovely front, I told the truth: "Wow, that really hurt. Please don't say mean things to me like that." "I understand you aren't feeling well, but that doesn't mean you can yell at me for spilling water on the counter. That's unkind and unproductive. Please leave the kitchen until you can be kind to me." Society tells you that if you can just absorb enough, be perfect enough, keep up the front long enough, that will fix it. Society is a freaking liar when it comes to this. You aren't perfect, and miraculously becoming perfect won't fix this. I think telling my truth was the fastest thing that made him realize he needed to fix this. When someone calmly tells you, "That really hurt my feelings and was unkind and unwarranted." repeatedly, it's hard to deny you're hurting someone you love. For some reason, that really short circuited the pattern he'd fallen into because of his depression.

9. Over time, we've gotten into a pattern, where I notice before he does if he's falling into another episode. We have an agreement: If I notice he's starting a cycle, I calmly note it and say something like, "I think you're falling into a cycle. Please make a doctor or therapy appointment. Here are the numbers" and he calls, usually immediately. That took a lot of negotiation and discussions to get to.

10. My other big lifesaver: I have a few close friends who are friends to my marriage. They understand that I don't want to leave, and that "well just leave him" is not the answer I am looking for - that I'm just looking for them to say, "I totally get it, that sounds frustrating". They understand and are open to me calling and saying, "I need to vent for five minutes. I swear to God I want to tape him in a box and stuff him in the closet for a month**. ARRRRRGGGHHHH he's making me crazy today! Ok, thanks. I feel better." They'll hear me without judgement and say, "Ugh, I hate it when I feel that way! Do you want to go for coffee sometime?" and support my need to vent and express frustration safely.


This is a LOT of work, and I still get overwhelmed sometimes. For me, the tradeoff is worth it, but no lies, it IS a tradeoff. It still sucks. I still get frustrated, and so does he. If you don't think you can deal with this, I absolutely completely understand and support you. You need to take care of you, and you need to take care of your child. Do what you need to do.

*depression tends to be a reoccurring illness that needs to be managed, as opposed to a one-and-done sort of thing.

**In reality I would never stuff him in a box in the closet, but I won't lie and say the thought never occurred to me.
posted by RogueTech at 11:41 AM on January 7, 2015 [54 favorites]

When I was seriously depressed, there was no way I could help myself. My mom had to make the appointment with a doctor to get meds and with a therapist to get counseling. She had to take me to both appointments. She had to tell me that I needed help and how my apathy was hurting others. I am so grateful she did these things. I could not have done them myself. In your case, even though this is a burden to you, I would agree with others that you need to be the one to take action. He cannot do it himself.
posted by megancita at 12:00 PM on January 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

I so so second RogueTech. Depression is contagious and the only way for me not to catch it was to make sure I have a LOT of other stuff and feedback in my life. More than the feedback you get from him. That means going out with friends and not talking about the depressed person (or limiting it to 5 minutes.) Get hobbies. Take classes. Call people all the time just to check in for 5 minutes. They'll remind you what daylight looks like when you start getting into the shade of his disease.

This is from an Al-anon book but it still applies: You need to figure out how you'll make it, whether depressed partner does or not.

(It sounds like you're doing that but I just wanted to reiterate it.)

In the long run, though, if I were in your shoes I'd probably tell him that his not getting treatment was what was hurting me and he needs to at least go through the motions for my sake or he'd be losing me.
posted by small_ruminant at 12:03 PM on January 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

RogueTech has great advice.

I would like to say that you can tell him to cut it out when he says or does things that are mean to you. That's not ordering him not to be depressed, it's just telling him it's unacceptable to be mean. RogueTech said the same thing, of course.

I remember reading a book called "Coping with Emotionally Explosive People" by Albert Ellis a few years back, I think it might be a big help to you.
posted by tel3path at 12:37 PM on January 7, 2015

I need to create about 50 more accounts so I can favorite RogueTech's comment 50 more times. At least.

I've been on both sides of this one - my first husband was horribly depressed, and horribly physically abusive when the depression got bad. I was young and stupid and had absolutely no self-esteem, and decided that it was my fault he was depressed, so I deserved everything he dished out. I am NOT saying your husband is physically abusive; you've given no indications that that's the situation. But it sounds to me like he IS emotionally abusive when he's depressed, and that's still abuse, to you AND to your child.

I have multiple mental illnesses, all of which are currently not very well controlled. But I find coping mechanisms. There are times that I lash out. But I recognize that I've lashed out, and I apologize to whoever I lashed out at. I do that because despite being mentally ill, I'm not an asshole. I mean, I CAN be an asshole; I just prefer not to be one. Think of it this way: if he had asthma, would that give him free reign to be a jackass to you? No, it certainly would not.

That said, depression is a very real illness, and needs to be treated as such. When your child asks what's wrong with Daddy, the answer is, "Daddy's sick." Or "Daddy's not feeling well today. Why don't we go foo and baz in the other room so Daddy can rest a little while." Unless kid is over the age of maybe 13, kid doesn't need the details. I live with friends and their three kids. The oldest two know what's going on with me, in some detail. The youngest is 12 and has Asperger's, so all he knows is that The Almighty Mommy Goddess is sick, and needs to stay here until she's feeling better enough to start working again.

I'm going to refer you back to RogueTech's comment again now. You have got to take care of yourself first and foremost. There's a reason flight attendants tell you during the safety briefing that you have to put your oxygen mask on first before helping others. It's ok to tell your husband that he's treating you like shit and that needs to stop. Tell him flat out that love is a verb, and he's not doing it very well. He absolutely does not have the right to treat you like this, just because he's sick. All the best to you.
posted by The Almighty Mommy Goddess at 2:49 PM on January 7, 2015 [4 favorites]

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