Pregnant, Husband with Depression...
April 3, 2016 3:37 PM   Subscribe

My husband has been struggling with depression. Complication: I am three months pregnant and not quite feeling like myself either. I need some coping strategies.

Firstly, we have an excellent therapist who sees us both together and separately. He is on top of this, it's helping and the therapy angle is covered :)

With that said, I need some better coping strategies for weathering this in the interim. It could take some time for all of this to be resolved. Husband's issues are perhaps long-term (he comes from a family where life is a Very Serious Thing, and he has struggled with a major chronic health problem since birth) but the recent crisis seems to have been triggered by some work events. He has a good job, but works on a female-dominated team. There was one guy there, who he liked, but that guy was replacing someone on maternity leave. She is back now. His work buddy is gone.

Some things he has expressed when we have talked about this:

1) He feels like his work has become a sort of Groundhog Day scenario where every day is the same and he is just waiting for his supervisor to retire so he can move up in the ranks.

2) It is a civil service job, and a good one, but he is not making huge money or setting the world on fire. I guess he thought he would someday do something important, and he is trying to come to terms with the idea that perhaps he is only going to have an ordinary life. I am totally fine with this and am rather ordinary myself, so I am not sure where this particular expectation came from, but he has it nonetheless.

3) His mother is an anxious and critical type, and has made some comments about my pregnancy, namely that it will be expensive, it will affect his health because the baby will cry all night and he won't sleep, and that she has doubts about his ability to 'treat me right.' As a result of his childhood health issues, he has a somewhat distorted relationship with her. I don't think he has proper boundaries with her, nor am I sure he even knows how to create them. He is working on this in therapy, but it will take time.

4) He has a prior divorce, with some ongoing contact with her due to a child. He is a great father, I am very close to his son and we have finally got a long-term schedule for visits with kid and time spent with him. But I think he is still dealing with feelings of failure from that marriage not working out, and some fears that he may sabotage our own marriage. I have done my best to reassure him on these fronts, but I think it is a truth he needs to believe for himself and I can't make him do it.

5) He expressed to his sister, which I overheard, a theory which I think explains what is really going on here. He feels like he spent many years in a sort of defensive mode, dealing with his illness, then his divorce, then the negotiations regarding his son. He didn't have any emotional energy left to worry about any existential things. Now, the crisis has past, everything has settled down, he is happily married to me and suddenly he started thinking about this bigger stuff like what he really wants to do with his life and so on.

Now, my issue :) I am an anxious, worrier type too and have my own issues---mostly under control thanks to some excellent therapy over the years, but still. The big one for me is the adult child of divorce stuff. I have made my peace with my absentee dad, and take him as he is. But I do have a neediness around relationships that can sometimes make me a little crazy. The way this is interfacing with husband's current funk is that his sadness alarms me, I try and bring him out of it, fail, and then feel bad about myself. Last night, for instance, we had a fight over something really stupid. I was deeply hurt by how harsh he was with me, he became defensive and aloof, and I became torn between trying to make peace and win him back (my neediness instinct) and trying to show him how hurt I was by his behavior (my defensiveness, magnified perhaps by the pregnancy hormones, which are messing with my mind). The end result was that he DID see the error of his ways in the end, but it pushed him further into the depressive funk that started the whole thing, because now he felt guilty that he wasn't treating me well, that his mother was right and he wasn't good enough for me and so on.

I have asked him how he wants me to behave when he gets in these moods. All he has said is that I have to let him be sad sometimes and to understand that it's not about me and that I can't fix it. He also said that I can't expect this to be resolved right away, but he is working on it and expects to 'snap out of it' in time.

I don't know how to do what he is asking. I don't know how to 'let him' be sad and how to behave around him while this is going on. I also feel like my own emotional coping skills right now are compromised due to the pregnancy hormones, some anxiety about the pregnancy going okay, the baby being healthy and so on, wanting him to be there to support ME a little but and knowing he may be unable to right now and just wanting to feel that bond with him as he's the father of my baby, but he is distant and not feeling like my partner right now.

I reiterate that we are both in therapy, and it's with someone who is qualified, and very good, and who we trust. So that's covered. But I would welcome any pointers toward resources (books? message forums?) I might benefit from, or anecdata that this too shall pass and everything will go back to normal someday :)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It's okay to ask him to hold it together until after the baby is born. The person growing a human inside of them gets to be the center of the universe. He can suck it up for another 6 or 7 months.

YOU don't have the emotional wherewithal right now to deal with his third-life crisis or whatever it is. YOU don't always have to accommodate him, he can do for you now.

Give him permission to change jobs, or whatever it is that he feels the need to do to be happy at work, AFTER you're settled with the new baby.

As for his Mom, challenge that shit the second it comes out of her mouth.

Her: Your pregnancy will be expensive
You: Yes, and totally worth it.

Her; You'll be sleep deprived.
You: Yup, and totally worth it.

Her: He's not treating you right.
You: You're wrong. He's a wonderful husband, we love each other.

As for his sadness, it's really okay for you to give him space, but to ask him to step up when you need him.

"Sweetie, I get that you're in a funk right now, but I want to have happy baby-talk right now, can you give me ten minutes?"

Depressed people have to do some emotional heavy lifting sometimes, and they should be 100% okay with it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 3:58 PM on April 3, 2016 [16 favorites]

Some lines to use with his Mom: I'm sorry you feel so negative about the baby. What do you suggest, given I'm pregnant. or just pretend she said something else and respond with something positive. Oh, we're so excited. or try truth That's discouraging.

One of the symptoms of depression is irritability, so talk to him about him managing his behavior. His illness, depression, is real and serious, but managing it is up to him. If he can exercise, try to get outside for a walk several times a week - exercise, sunlight and change of scene is helpful. Nutrition helps and vitamin D probably helps. Rent funny movies. Play music. Be as understanding as you can about his real illness, but expect him to be understanding about your real condition; pregnancy can be exhausting and difficult.

Mazel tov.
posted by theora55 at 4:24 PM on April 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

I have asked him how he wants me to behave when he gets in these moods. All he has said is that I have to let him be sad sometimes and to understand that it's not about me and that I can't fix it. He also said that I can't expect this to be resolved right away, but he is working on it and expects to 'snap out of it' in time.

He is being very insightful and taking the appropriate responsibility for his feelings and depression.

I don't know how to do what he is asking. I don't know how to 'let him' be sad and how to behave around him while this is going on.

You can literally tell yourself, "My husband is sad right now, but it's not about me. I didn't cause it, and it's not my job to fix it. He's working on fixing it on his own, which shows that he cares about me, too." And then you do your own thing. Even if in such situations you would want him to engage with you. He is a separate person from you, with different needs and preferences and feelings. That's a good thing! His being sad does not reflect on you in any way. If his sadness is triggering your anxiety, then you need to keep working on managing your anxiety, not on stopping his sadness. Making it your job to jolly him out of his feelings (a) invalidates his feelings, which is not nice, and (b) sets you up for failure, which is likely to further increase your anxiety.

(This is assuming that when he's "in these moods" he's withdrawn, not aggressive; I'm assuming the fighting is coming because he withdraws, you pursue, he withdraws more because he feels smothered, you pursue more because you feel abandoned, and then both of you get angry that the other person's not being supportive in the way you each need. Let him withdraw if that's what he needs, and work on scheduling together time where you can get your need for togetherness met, too. If he starts out as aggressive and nasty when he's "in these moods," however, that's a different story.)
posted by lazuli at 5:03 PM on April 3, 2016 [6 favorites]

Ruthless Bunny speaks the truth!

I didn't see any mention in your post about you getting support from friends. Do you have any friends who would be extra supportive? I am about as far along as you right now, and because this is a high-risk pregnancy, we have been extremely selective about who we have told so far. But there are a few close friends and family who know, and when Mr. Sockdentity needs a break from pregnancy talk, I lean on these friends and family members.

If you have at least one rock-solid, dependable, warmhearted friend, I encourage you to get as much support from them as you can.

And you and your husband MUST come up with a unified strategy for dealing with his mother. The stuff she is saying is not OK and she needs to STFU. It's OK for you to walk away from her every time she starts up. I understand that creating and sticking to boundaries takes time, but pregnancy is intense and lasts for a relatively short, finite period. Your husband's therapist should be helping him with some strategies he can use RIGHT NOW.

Good luck! This is an exciting time, but I totally get why you are feeling down. You deserve support and care--you are growing another human and it is physically and emotionally hard. Wishing you all the best!
posted by Secret Sockdentity at 6:25 PM on April 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

wanting to feel that bond with him as he's the father of my baby, but he is distant and not feeling like my partner right now

This may or may not help, but I read the pregnancy subreddit /r/babybumps a lot during my pregnancy, and a mismatch in feelings between the parent carrying the baby and the other parent was a recurring topic. The pregnancy becomes "real" much sooner to the person whose body is changing, and hormones affect how much closeness the pregnant person wants. I don't mean to minimize what's going on, which sounds hard, and I'm sorry you're having to deal with it. I just wanted to let you know that this feeling of being alone with the pregnancy happens to some extent in many couples, in case it helps you feel less like your relationship is uniquely flawed. Good luck and congratulations.
posted by slidell at 7:08 PM on April 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm the kind of person who, if someone said the kind of shit your mother-in-law is saying, would come back with a cheerful, "Well, that's inappropriate!" Because it absolutely is. If your husband doesn't like this, he should figure out a better way to shield you from her highly inappropriate comments while you've both got your own shit going on.

I get it... depression. It sucks. Especially the existential kind. However, it sounds like he's pretty highly functioning. It's OK for him to sort through this stuff with his sister and therapist etc., but I also think it's OK for you to tell him you need some attention in the here and now.
posted by stoneandstar at 7:21 PM on April 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

As a fellow pregnant lady, big hugs. It's particularly hard at this time when your partner isn't giving you the support you want so badly. You sound ready to let him simply close the door and hide away, accepting you can't do anything to help... But you can help him.

Your husband's biggest depression trigger right now is his job, feeling helpless and stuck. In the way of problems, the good news is that this is something that CAN be addressed - finding a different job/career. If not another job/career, maybe he has other goals (or interest in other goals) besides his current career worth expanding, so his current job can just stay a "day job" while his real interests lie elsewhere.

Having hope, having goals to pursue, giving him some newfound purpose - it may help him climb out of this depression over his career. It will take your support and positivity, to find and pursue a new objective. And he may need help staying on track instead of getting discouraged. But he could very well end up being happier just being on a path to change. And that should be good for you and your relationship too.

I've helped my own husband through a career change just a few years ago. It wasn't easy or quick, but it was 100% worth the effort. Convincing him to make the change was the hard part. My husband was absolutely miserable in his new posting with the army, and brought that misery home with him. But he was reluctant to leave the job security, and at a loss for what he could do instead.

I had to take my time with bringing him around to the idea of considering another career outside the military, and kickstart the process of figuring out potential options. We put together a list of the criteria he'd want in a dream job. I researched options to meet these criteria, including a variety of jobs involving his interests, posted on askmefi about it, got some solid suggestions, and presented them to him for consideration. He had to be given time to think about things and talk with his friends/counsellor/family/etc. I had him develop a full pros/cons list to truly weigh the options, and discuss it with other people. It was a delicate process - I had to be patient, positive, supportive, gentle, recognizing when he's tired of talking and leaving the topic alone for a while, but still drive the conversation forward and inspire him to come to his own decision on the subject. When my husband finally decided to make the switch to firefighting, it did take time - another 2 years to complete the transition, tryouts and training, and become a new recruit. That also took patience and my full support any way I could provide it, but already he was far happier to be on this promising new path and making real progress towards the goal. He had an eye on the prize. And I assure you, now that my husband is content with his work, he is far happier overall, and a much better partner to me.

Please don't take this to mean you'll have to be all give and no take - I suggest the above as only part of the path forward. I've written enough in this entry for the time being, but by all means do talk to him about your needs as well, in separate conversation.
posted by lizbunny at 7:51 PM on April 3, 2016

He's asking you to ignore him.

But what I think he seems to also need is for you to put his mother in her place and I think Ruthless Bunny has some great advice there - it doesn't need to be done in a nasty way - overtly cheery can work too!

But, basically, his mother is saying he's crap, which is feeding this whole depression beast, and he needs you to shut that down by reinforcing with her that you guys are a team and you'll do perfectly fine, thank you very much.
posted by heyjude at 7:52 PM on April 3, 2016

You should build a support system beyond this therapist and your husband because I don't see anyone supporting you.
posted by jbenben at 8:25 PM on April 3, 2016 [5 favorites]

I kinda give a side-eye to any therapist who claims to be looking after you, your husband, AND your relationship. You need more support that is on team-you; the first person on that team needs to be your husband - raise your expectations of him. You are pregnant and he needs to prioritise that over his depression/dysfunctional relationship with his mother. Good luck to you both.
posted by saucysault at 9:38 PM on April 3, 2016 [7 favorites]

It's ok for you to smack his mother down right now. Is this her first grandchild that's coming? Basically, as the hand that rocks the cradle, you truly hold all the cards here. Mothers of sons are, generally, correctly terrified that their daughters in law won't give them the access they want to the baby. Go ahead and tell her where she gets off.

As for your husband, that's harder. It's terribly lonely when your partner's depressed and 10x that when you're pregnant. Honestly, it's not ok for him to abandon you emotionally this way, but he may not be able to fulfill his duty to be your cheerful support now - although depression is hardly absolution from the responsibility. Demand as much as you can - he can fake it if he has to. But you're going to need to call on your friends, I think. Good luck. Memail me if you want - I have some things to say I don't want to say publicly.
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:30 PM on April 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

I reiterate that we are both in therapy, and it's with someone who is qualified, and very good, and who we trust. So that's covered.

You're the one best placed to know how much this is helping you, but - is it worth finding someone (instead/as well) who doesn't have any obligations to your husband, and is just focused on supporting you? Someone you can offload to, rant to, talk things through with, without any sense of your husband's feelings are overshadowing yours?

I'm not sure of the best way to help your husband, or deal with his mother, but when you talk about needing support from your husband during a vulnerable and life-changing time like pregnancy as some kind of correctible weakness on your part - it's 'issues', it's 'hormones', it's 'neediness' - I really feel like what you're missing here is someone looking out for just you.
posted by Catseye at 1:06 AM on April 4, 2016 [8 favorites]

Accept that he was broken when you got him and you can't fix him. Find time to do things with healthy friends. If he tries to make you feel bad about the time away, don't let him. Work on your boundaries and your walls because, living with someone who suffers the way he does will destroy you if you cannot step away from it a little bit. I know that that goes against what you perceive to be your neediness (you aren't needy, you just want what he can't give), but it has to be done. Once the baby comes, your attention and love will have a place. I don't think you are needy, by the way, I think that you are a caretaker type personality and you will be a terrific mom. Don't let his issues distract you from that. Focus on building a home for your baby and try to spend less energy on his issues. You are just as important as he is in this relationship and the baby will be the most important.
posted by myselfasme at 6:00 AM on April 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

He feels like his work has become a sort of Groundhog Day scenario where every day is the same

When he's operating on three hours of sleep after the baby arrives, this will likely bother him less. Unless the boring job is the real cause of the depression (and there are a lot of people with boring jobs who aren't depressed), I don't think now is a great time for a career change, frankly.
posted by slidell at 8:59 AM on April 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

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