I want to make my wife feel better somehow
May 10, 2016 6:22 AM   Subscribe

My wife's fairly down right now. How can I perk her up?

My wife is...going through some stuff right now. Over the last couple months, she has discovered that she has a combination of health issues - none of which are life-threatening but some of which are probably going to be dealt with for a lifetime - all of which, stacked up with some weight gains from inactivity and medication, have made her feel pretty crappy about herself lately.

I am not looking for ways to solve or mitigate her health problems; we've got a handle on most of them, and the others will be taken care of as they can be. What I'm looking for is something to make her not feel like, to paraphrase her, "a giant pile of fail" just waiting for the next health thing to go wrong - something more than, like, buying flowers and giving "buck up li'l camper" type pep talks and stuff, which I have done but which just all feel horribly inadequate.

Basically, I want to help her see that despite her health issues, she's still a wonderful person and there's still plenty for her to be happy and optimistic about; there's a lot of cruft in her way right now, and I want to clear that out for her as much as I can if I can.

What would you do for a loved one facing this type of thing?

posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Do as much of the household duties as you can: cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc.
posted by Carol Anne at 6:24 AM on May 10, 2016 [21 favorites]

Plan a vacation or a new activity together. I bet she's spending a lot of time worrying about future health implications, so it would probably be nice to have something pleasant to look forward to.
posted by galvanized unicorn at 6:28 AM on May 10, 2016 [9 favorites]

The thing my spouse would love more than anything is time to work on her favorite hobbies, so arranging for her to have a stretch of time to do that, maybe by taking on some household chores to free up her evenings/weekends.

Also, does she have anything she can look forward to? Anticipation and planning for something fun in the future is really great for mental & emotional health. Can you do a weekend getaway? A series of summer concerts? A special dinner & a movie date once a month? Mani-pedi-spa-massage day? Museum trips? Make sure you take on planning if that's something that would stress her out more.
posted by carrioncomfort at 6:29 AM on May 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

Something nice, planned on a schedule so she has something nice to always look forward to, based on what she likes.
If it were me I'd like my husband to say something like -every Thursday after work lets go for a little hike and get dinner after or let look up places we'd like to try to Sunday brunch and the first Sunday of every month take a drive and go there.
I often mention that a walk in nature does lasting good (studies say so!) and exercise seems to be about as good as medication for depression.
posted by ReluctantViking at 6:43 AM on May 10, 2016

One of Ol' Auntie JulThumbscrew's Rules of Life is that little personal victories beget the knowledge that victories CAN be achieved, which begets bigger victories. But sometimes the little victories are SO VERY FREAKING hard to achieve, especially during tough times. So rather than focusing on things you can do FOR your wife, I'd try to ponder some small things that you could facilitate that would give HER a sense of victory/pride/accomplishment, and would thus fuel her self-esteem for bigger things. A spa day is kinda like "giving a man a fish" as far as "feeling better" goes, whereas something your wife ACHIEVES herself, with discernible results, is more like "teaching a man to fish". Are there any hobbies/classes she's been wanting to try? Any talents she has that could be nurtured in some way? Any places she's been wanting to visit where she could take a solo trip?
posted by julthumbscrew at 6:48 AM on May 10, 2016 [5 favorites]

I know that hearing how much I'm loved is really cheering. So be sure to be verbal with her. Husbunny calls me Sweetheart all the time and it's so endearing.

I think doing a fun project together. Husbunny has suggested that we start a blog of the two of us reviewing Simpsons episodes. I'm thinking 'who needs more content about the Simpsons?' But, it is fun working on something together.

You sound like a real mench, and health concerns are legit depressing, so allowing her space to process what her new normal looks like is also good. But she's got to be cheered just knowing that you're in her corner.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:49 AM on May 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

What does she appreciate? Does she love it when you clean the house, or make dinner, or take her on a nice vacation? Would she appreciate a weekend away? You know your wife better than any of us do. Think of whether she likes small gifts or large gestures, and do that.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:50 AM on May 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

I really like little "thinking of you" surprises and they lift my spirits a lot -- so, things like bringing home flowers or leaving little notes on the bathroom mirror saying "I love you!" or doing some chore around the house that I usually do. I know it can feel small/insignificant, but at least for some people it can feel really nice. :) So, whatever you choose, I would vote to keep doing these little things too! (Unless you know your wife actually doesn't like them or she tells you she doesn't, obviously!)

I would also put in a vote for getting outside, especially in nature but also just getting out of the house. When I'm feeling low, my husband will often suggest just taking a walk around the neighborhood, which is lower effort than getting to a cool hiking location, but often has a really positive effect on me to get some fresh air and get moving.

Finally -- this is one you'll need to play by ear because you know your wife better than us (and some people would not respond to this well!) but if I've gained weight and am feeling shitty about myself, extra encouragement around feeling sexy (like some new lingerie or my husband initiating sex more) will be really important for me to feel good about myself. But, if she's feeling shitty physically, or if she'll feel like this is pressure to perform or something, this might not be such a good idea? But you could think about whether it would work well in this situation.
posted by rainbowbrite at 6:53 AM on May 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Honestly, what I would do is ask my loved one what I could do to make their lives better during this rough time, or think back to what I may have done in the past that was particularly well-received and try to replicate or play off of that. I might even ask a close friend of theirs, 'hey, I want to do some nice little surprise thing for X, I'm coming up blank, any chance they've mentioned something to you that might fit the bill?'. Because it's just so individual. Even just in the few (great!) comments above, there are things that I personally would love in your wife's situation but others that would just make me feel more stressed out and bad about myself.
posted by Stacey at 7:17 AM on May 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

What about getting her a new pet? Of course this depends entirely on your current circumstances - if she even likes animals, your housing situation, if you already have a few pets, allergies, ability to look after the pet, whether the medical condition makes this a bad idea, etc... But a new pet could be a great source of comfort and a happy distraction.

I also just like going to the pet store to cuddle furry animals when I'm feeling like crap. Little moments of happiness add up.
posted by lizbunny at 8:05 AM on May 10, 2016

When I feel like a big pile of fail, I like these things: yummy and healthy food to eat, something to look forward to, a new haircut or cute outfit that fits me AS I AM NOW (not if I ever lose those X pounds), and successes - like working on a hobby and accomplishing a new thing or learning a new thing.

And outside activities in nice weather - even if it is a car ride with the sun roof open or a lazy bike ride to the ice cream store.

And telling her you love her for HER, and give specific reasons why - not just "nice, pretty, smart, funny", but actual hard examples. Saying thank you to her, genuinely, when she gets little things done around the house. Make her feel appreciated and loved for just being her.
posted by jillithd at 8:27 AM on May 10, 2016

If you're like me, you want to help your wife and the form that takes is some kind of action. I always want to do something to "fix it". But it's not like when something is broken around the house and you can get out some tools, make it better, and then dust off your hands.

Your wife, on the other hand, might be trying to stay out of the way and try not to give you extra work or put extra burden on you. So you need to have a conversation with her where you explain that you LOVE when she asks for you to do something for her. It gives you an ACTION you can take that helps make things less bad and right now that sort of thing is your jam! This should also come with an explanation that you feel like your job right now is to take care of your wife and her job is to take care of herself. You can't do your job (taking care of her) if she isn't doing hers (taking care of herself) and you can't take care of ANYONE if you don't take care of yourself first.

You also need to get on board with the idea and explain to her that the "action" she asks you to take can be things like "just be present with me", "sit and listen", or "give me some time alone".

You can both also make sure you think about "HALT":

Mentally check those things first as they tend to either be the cause of depression or they exacerbate it.

Don't be afraid of the word "depression" because it really sounds like your wife has it. It's another health problem but the good news is that they doctors who specialize in treating it and they are VERY effective.

Personally, I would have my wife call her employer's employee assistance line, explain a bit of what she's dealing with and ask for a referral to a therapist. That should get you a couple of cheap/free appointments and honestly, she might not need more than that. You could also start by talking to her doctor. You'll probably run through some of your observations and you'll see them nod their head like they're ticking boxes off a mental checklist (they are) and then ask a few questions that will make it clear that they "get it" and then they'll probably prescribe something (and I wouldn't hesitate to take it). Honestly though, talking to a professional therapist is probably the best thing you can do, drugs or no.

You aught to consider a few sessions with a therapist too. Mine really helped me take care of myself better which translated directly into my wife feeling better, faster. As nervous as I was about going the first time, I felt like a giant idiot for not going sooner. I've really started thinking about mental health as just another component of my health which makes my therapist just one of my doctors that I go see when I've got health issues.
posted by VTX at 8:40 AM on May 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

Read to me. I mean, her. Read to her. Especially if she is a reader & especially if these are chronic things and she'll have good days & bad days.

Other "bad day" activities:

- binge-watching a TV series
- binge-listening to podcasts
- jenga/uno/battleship tournament

Basically substitute "bad day" for "rainy-day" and do anything that comes to mind.
posted by headnsouth at 8:41 AM on May 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

You know, this seems like a really well intentioned request, but I have to say that this:

Basically, I want to help her see that despite her health issues, she's still a wonderful person and there's still plenty for her to be happy and optimistic about; there's a lot of cruft in her way right now, and I want to clear that out for her as much as I can if I can.

kind of skeeves me out.

She's got a lot of shitty luck and adjustments to her expectations about her health and maybe some physical discomfort and who all knows what else, and that shit is hard. It's hard to slog through, it's hard to adjust to, and if there are some lifelong adjustments that must be made, she's got some grieving to do. She is entitled to feel however she feels and she needs to get herself to the understanding that she's still a wonderful person and that there's much to be happy and optimistic about.

You can believe all those things to be true, to your very bones, but *she* has to make her own journey there. You can be nice to her and you can support her, and you can be steadfast in your faith that all those things are true--but if she is having a struggle believing this right now, your insistence otherwise is likely to feel deeply invalidating and add to the sense of "fail."

Why do you want her to buck up like a little soldier? Are you getting tired of the emotional labor to support her? Maybe check out this bit from Brene Brown about empathy and sympathy and see if you might be better off with a different approach.
posted by Sublimity at 9:28 AM on May 10, 2016 [6 favorites]

I've always found that reading a book by PG Wodehouse makes me feel better no matter how down I am. Maybe your wife would find them helpful too?
posted by Paul Slade at 9:49 AM on May 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

If it's the sort of thing she'd like, an appointment with a personal shopper at Nordstrom's, and a big spending "allowance" for the day, to help her find some clothes that look fab on her changing body. One of the most discouraging things about health-related weight gain is looking frumpy every day, and not knowing quite how to dress your new shape so you look sharp. A personal shopper could help her feel better in her own body and get some stylish and sharp new clothes so she can feel good in the morning. (But only if that'd be a luxury and not a torture for her.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:54 AM on May 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

Some of what you wrote could be my husband talking about me. First, I will say that sometimes, there's nothing you can do. You can do all the right things, but sometimes a person just has to grieve/bitch/moan and get through a hardship on their own time and terms. With that said, there are things that I can think of that do help me to help myself get out of a funk - listed below. Maybe try any or all of these in your relationship if you think they will help.

- Having something to look forward to. This can be a vacation, a weekend away, a date night, going to an event, etc. Knowing that something fun is coming up helps me feel better a bit and gives me motivation to trudge forward through whatever hardship I'm dealing with at the time to get to the fun thing.

- It's nice when my husband does the chores I hate the most or takes on more of the household responsibilities when I'm dealing with crap. For example, he usually takes on the dishes because I hate hate hate!! them and it gives me one less thing to worry about. Having stuff taken off my 'to-do' list frees me up to try to fill my time with things that hopefully make me happier, or at the least, don't make me feel worse.

- When my husband shows me small signs of affection or that he's thinking of me. Such as small gifts, him taking the lead on planning a date or cooking something yummy...even something as simple as him texting me at some point during my day to tell me he loves me. These small things add up and help me feel better about myself over time and helps me to know that I'm loved.

- Trying out new hobbies can help me, depending on what my funk is about. When my husband supports me or helps me with this, it's even better.

- Good food. This might just be my personal preference, but eating good food makes me very happy.

- Having someone like my husband to empathize and listen and try to understand my problems really helps. It feels so nice to have someone understand and get you.

- Lastly - I go to therapy regularly and I wholeheartedly recommend it for absolutely everyone. Having a good therapist is the best and it's nice to have someone able to provide a completely unbiased perspective and give you well-researched methods to help yourself.
posted by FireFountain at 10:44 AM on May 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh, Lord, have I been where your wife is! I'm so glad she has someone who wants to make her feel better. I find myself agreeing with others who've said that it's great to have a vacation or some other big event to look forward to and plan for. In the past, that's been the kind of thing that helped me get outside of myself and not dwell so much on all the bad stuff.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:51 AM on May 10, 2016

Find a great life coach for her. My attitude and then life really turned around when I started working with one and it took just about four sessions over a couple of months.
posted by Dragonness at 10:57 AM on May 10, 2016

On preview, this repeats a lot but hopefully hearing it from multiple sources helps!
As the spouse who has needed this kind of support, thank you for thinking this through and asking for help. julthumbscrew is spot on about the need to have something good in the future, like a fixed bright spot on the horizon.
Small victories and accomplishments count for a lot.

You can also support her in finding some outside help from a therapist or in communication with others facing the same kinds of stuff. Coming to terms with being on medication for the rest of your life is more difficult than just remembering to take a pill once a day. Maybe you could help her think of a strategy to make that process easier--a nice pill organizer, automatic refills, setting phone reminders, planning ahead for trips, etc.

Are there things around the house that aggravate her, like an unpatched hole in a wall or a pile of clothes that need to be donated? Even just making sure the pictures are hung straight if that's one of her things can do a lot.

Offering to listen without offering any solutions is also huge. Agreeing that yes, this all really sucks can be a separate conversation from "how do we make it better".

My best to you and your wife!
posted by mrcrow at 11:52 AM on May 10, 2016

Make a plan to go on a 45 minute walk with her every day, weather permitting. My wife and I go on walks like this and it is great for elevating your mood, boosting health, talking about what's bugging you (or not!), and just generally feeling connected to the other person. Having been depressed myself in the past, not getting out of the house for a change of scenery makes things worse. It's easy to feel that the place you spend your time (like an apartment) is the whole world and that all the problems you can see from inside that space are huge world-filling problems you'll never solve.

Also I agree about helping out with the burden of chores, getting out for a no-hassle meal, etc. But with chores I would say to be careful to not become an enabler. I was with someone who did less and less as I did more and more to try to help her, and that went on for years and then eventually caused irreconcilable differences.
posted by freecellwizard at 12:29 PM on May 10, 2016

Taking some of the household responsibilities off her hands may be a great idea but I'd like to toss out something to consider if you decide to go that route. I went through a similar rough patch as your wife recently and my well-meaning husband picked up chores without asking as a way of lessening my responsibilities. I appreciated the intent behind the action but it actually made me feel worse and even more "pile of fail" than I already did. My brain went to, "Geez, Mona, you can't even fold the laundry or empty the dishwasher now?? See, you can't even be an equal partner and now he has to take care of your stuff as well as his, useless woman."

It wasn't rational and one hundred percent not how he actually felt, but I felt extra terrible watching him mop floors while I sat on the couch. I'm not saying don't take on some/all of her chores around the house, I'm just recommending that you might want to frame it in such a way that she won't interpret it that you mean she's incapable of doing things for herself or the household.

One thing that helps me when I'm feeling like an abject failure is hearing my husband express pride about me to other people. He's wonderful about telling me how much he appreciates me or how well I accomplish but to hear him sincerely tell others how awesome he thinks I am means a lot to me.
posted by _Mona_ at 12:36 PM on May 10, 2016 [4 favorites]

« Older Neighbor wants to replace wall separating our...   |   Yet another "Do I want this job?" question Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.