Is it possible to have a normal relationship after a spouce attempts suicide?
January 3, 2008 10:03 AM   Subscribe

My wife and I have been married for almost 10 months. She has had a number of cutting epsiodes and last week she tried to commit suicide. After I caught her cutting the first time (about 3 months into the marriage) she agreed to go into therapy and got on Prozac but things have not really gotten better. With things this bad, this early on in the relationship is there really any hope?

Here is the situation from the begining. I'm 26, she is 24 she is not pregnant and we do not have any children. She did a very good job hidding the depression while we were dating but in retrospect I should have seen some of the warning signs while we were engaged. After we were married the depression became obvious, with her completely letting herself go, and a manifest loss of interest in everything she used to enjoy (running, painting, etc) sleeping seemed to be the only thing that she enjoy. This started to cause some real friction in the relationship as she refused to see that anything was wrong and blamed me for not being patient enough with her. I cought her cutting her shoulders and refused to let her rationalize it away and insisted that she start seeing a therapist. She got on prozac. first 20mg, then 40mg then 60mg. Everytime she had the dose upgraded she had about a week of "normal" interaction but then is was back to a complete loss of interest. Last week stoped taking her meds, felt fine for a couple fo days and then took about half a bottle of loratabs that we had lying around from a shoulder injury a while back. Not enough to really do her in but still... I called 911 they took her to the ER and gave her a charcoal tube to eat, gave her some crysis councelling and sent her on her way. her doctor has since included 300mg of Wellbutrin to the Prozac and we are seeing a marriage councelor as well as her seeing her personal therapist. She recently moved back in with her parents because she said that I am not being supportive enough of her struggles.
At this point I really dont have a whole lot of faith let for the relationship. For almost a year now I have been miserable and hoping that she will be able to conquer her deamons. But at this point I feel almost ready to cut my losses and get out of the relationshipI feel guilty for having these feelings. I know that this really is not her fault, she didnt ask be have chemical issues in her brain but that does not really help me thorugh the daily misery.
My question is this: is there really any overcomming this kind of problem? I look to the future and I would be devastated if she had another suicide attempt (or heavens forbid a sucessful one) when/if we have children. I don't feel comfortable raising children in a home where thier mother cuts herself to relieve stress. Has anyone dealt with these types of feelings? Any advise?
posted by prk14 to Human Relations (50 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
She's had, what, six months of treatment? That's not a lot of time. It can take years to find a successful treatment strategy for a mental illness.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:12 AM on January 3, 2008

Is there really any overcoming this kind of problem?

Yes. Through hard work, that likely will include therapy and medication, it is absolutely possible to stop cutting and work through depression. I know many friends who are former cutters and depression is probably a lot more common than you think. But mr_roboto is absolutely correct--it can take a really long time to work out the right medication regimen and find the right treatment strategy. Is her therapist really working with her?

I also wonder about how you have reacted to the situation. Have you been supportive of her, trying to find out what's wrong and how she's feeling? Constant sleep is a physical symptom of depression, and it seems to me like you should try and understand that she's not choosing to lose interest in these things. It's quite possible that she wasn't hiding her depression from you before, but rather that she stumbled into a bad bout with it after you got married. Have you tried to be supportive of her, or have you just told her that she needs to stop acting the way that she is? Was she honestly valid to move back with her parents because you weren't supporting her enough, or is that another manifestation of her depression?

I think that you should probably consider being in therapy on your own as well to help you figure out how you feel about what's going on. Depression isn't only hard for the people who suffer from it, but it's hard for the people who are close to that person as wel.

Good luck.
posted by plaingurl at 10:22 AM on January 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

My question is this: is there really any overcomming this kind of problem?

Relationships require input from both partners.

If she does not make a good faith effort to get help, she is not doing her part in the relationship. That would not be fair to you (or to the children you both would raise) and you should probably part ways now, in that case.

However, if she understands that she has a disease and does appear to be making a good faith effort to get the treatment she clearly needs, then as her husband, you have made a commitment to see her through the tough times — and she deserves your love and support.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:23 AM on January 3, 2008 [6 favorites]

Ordinarily I would say you should worry later about the future of the relationship and focus right now on helping your wife. Unfortunately in this case it seems like she might not want your help.

She seems to be trying to shut you out. Depression can really warp the way a person thinks about everything - about themself, the future, their relationships, and the world.

Sit down and talk to her about all your concerns. If she can acknowledge that she is depressed and needs help, and is willing to see you as her partner in this struggle, then stick with her and turn the conversation to what you can do to help her. Maybe you need to be an advocate for her to her doctors, maybe it's something else.

But if she sees you as an adversary, then there's nothing you can do.
posted by mai at 10:24 AM on January 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

I ex-girlfriend was a cutter. It did not stop me from loving her and trying to be there for her every step of the way. I learned about the cutting early, because she still had scars from earlier moments. It was often very directly brutal because the cutting was mixed with other factors that had, at points, made her life hell. This might sound strange, but we connected emotionally and were able to bridge what I thought as those "black out" moments - when she momentarily fell into a thought about something that scared her or made her uncomfortable or angry - by working to have an extremely healthy, exploration-friendly sex life. By indulging her, we got into many of the things that fueled her desires and made her forget about her fears. It was fun and when there was nothing happening during the day, a frequent conversation topic, we could always talk about that. I don't know the state of your sex life, but asking her about her desires and then acting on them might be a way to get a better picture of how you can help more outside of the bedroom.
posted by parmanparman at 10:28 AM on January 3, 2008

I don't think you should feel guilty for feeling like this relationship is hopeless. If she had revealed to you the true depths of her depression, self-injury and disinterest in the world, would you have married her? Would you have continued dating her? It's not your job to fix anyone else, and if you want to hit the reset button on your life--especially after she's essentially left you already--no one has the right to judge you for that.

Oh, and you're absolutely right: do not have children under these circumstances.
posted by Scram at 10:31 AM on January 3, 2008

I'm sorry that you're in this situation. I've been on both sides (as the depressed person and as the partner of a depressed person -- although neither of us were suicidal, thank god) and neither is easy.

I would second plaingurl and say that my biggest piece of advice for you would be that it is critical for you to see your own therapist who can help you be the kind of person you want to be in this situation. Regardless of the ultimate outcome for your marriage, it will be important to you at some point for you to know you were as supportive as you could be. It will be especially important that you work through the guilty feelings that you're already having about the possibility of ending the relationship.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 10:35 AM on January 3, 2008

I am so sorry for your situation. One of the nationally syndicated advice columnists, I forget which one, recently said, "people are generally on their best behavior before they get married."

Her behavior is typical in that she's blaming everything on everyone but herself. It's everyone else's fault, not hers. A good book that explains this in great detail is "I'm Not Sick and I Don't Need Help," by Xavier Amador.

The agonizing thing for you is that you don't know if she'll heal in six months, or twenty years. Given the current state of mental health treatment in the U.S. (the health insurance crisis, the laws that work against people getting treatment, and also the simple fact that we just don't KNOW how to treat some of this stuff), I'm not counting on the six months.

I was in a similar situation when I was your age, and now I regret having wasted all that time hoping they would get better and not taking care of myself (didn't work to improve career, didn't date other people, etc.). You have a whole life ahead of you: my advice is, cut your losses, move on with your life, and keep the memories. And DON'T let her blame you because it's not your fault, only she can work on getting better. Good luck.

P.S. Another great book that explains how messed up the mental health laws are (civil rights laws say that psychotics have a "right" to refuse treatment, even when they really, really need it) is "Crazy," by Pete Earley.
posted by Melismata at 10:37 AM on January 3, 2008

Cut your losses and run.

She has not confidence in you. She moved out and in with her parents. You have no confidence in her. Move on.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:42 AM on January 3, 2008

This is my opinion and suggestion

Get out!

Please do not feel guilty for what you are feeling. A lot of the guilt we feel is because we are concerned what others are going to think/say of us and our actions. In my book, we are then playing somebody else's script rather than staying true to who we are.

This is not your issue.

She has moved back in with her parents. She is not being left in the cold and, while this is an assumption, they are in a better place to provide support than you are.

She came from them, not from you.

This may sound harsh.

When Native Americans would hunt, they would say their prayers to the animal spirits beforehand and then would go out on the hunt. They would wait until the animal came to them and do their best to take the animal down with one clean strike, so there would be a minimum of pain and suffering.

That is the story as I know it.

I worked for a couple who raised bison. When they were able, they would have a Native American archer come out and take down the animal. He would position himself in a way where he could take the animal down with one shot to the heart.

At some point, he went to the elders of his tribe and told them,

"I can't do this anymore. I love them too much."

A grandmother then said to him.

"If not you then who else?"

That is the story as I heard it.

You are being blamed. I feel that, ultimately, to blame anybody for anything is futile. By what you are saying you have done nothing wrong and have nothing to apologize for. Admit to being a fool if need be. There's nothing wrong with that and may be the wisest and sanest thing you do. I do it often.

I may be wrong.

Whatever you decide, make sure it comes deep from your gut and heart....and then stand by it. Either way, you're not going to make a mistake.

Either way, my thoughts are with you.
posted by goalyeehah at 10:44 AM on January 3, 2008 [3 favorites]

There is hope in these situations. However, the road ahead will be difficult - finding the correct form of treatment may take a very long time. You have to decide for yourself where your "line in the sand" is in terms of the viability of the relationship; you may have already past it. Having some one-on-one time with a therapist may help you with that. You do have a right and a need for your own self-care.

I chatted in a roundabout way with some of the counsellors around the office about this; they recommend this book as a decent starting place for people dealing with this issue.
posted by never used baby shoes at 10:46 AM on January 3, 2008

yes, she can get better, but it can take years. of course, children should be out of the question for her until then. they will not cure her or give her something to live for, which is a mistake i think some people make.

as for whether or not you can endure this, it's up to you. you do have to take care of yourself, and you are very young to be committing yourself to someone who is mentally ill. physical illnesses and injuries, i think, are easier to cope with, because they are still the person you married, but mental illness can be a whole other ballgame.

you may wish to see a counselor on your own, who can help you sort through your own feelings and decision-making process.

good luck.
posted by thinkingwoman at 10:46 AM on January 3, 2008

let her try to get better on her own terms then see what happens, the priority now is her mental health not your marriage. the marriage can wait, if you want to wait. if not, get yourself a divorce.
posted by matteo at 10:48 AM on January 3, 2008

It's not your job to fix anyone else, and if you want to hit the reset button on your life--especially after she's essentially left you already--no one has the right to judge you for that.

Apparently Scram is not familiar with traditional wedding vows: "...for better or for worse, in sickness and in health..." When you said "I do" you became one with your bride. It sounds like you still love and care for her. Up to the point where your personal safety is an issue, I think you should hang in there with her; you've taken a vow to do so. She is your family now, and to the extent that you can help, it is your job to fix her.

Your question is "Is it possible to have a normal relationship aftyer a spouce attempts suicide?" I think the answer is potentially yes, but even if it isn't, that's not the point. Even if you can't have a "normal relationship" with her, you are obligated by your wedding vows to make the best of whatever relationship you have. If you leave her now your personal sense of integrity will forever be affected.
posted by Doohickie at 10:48 AM on January 3, 2008 [3 favorites]

did you guys live together before getting married, i'm just curious
posted by Salvatorparadise at 10:51 AM on January 3, 2008

Either way, I would say whatever you do, do NOT have kids until this is resolved. Having kids will complicate this enormously and could lead them into a miserable childhood. If you have sex: protection, protection, protection.
posted by crapmatic at 10:51 AM on January 3, 2008

The right meds can make the difference between living and wanting to only die. The fact that when she first gets her meds changed she responds for a short period of time is very encouraging. If her doctors can figure out the right meds, she and you can have a wonderful life.

I thougtht about committing suicide at least once every single day from about the onset of puberty until I was in my 40's and was put on Prozac. It does work for me but my point is it completely changed my life in a matter of months. Before meds, I never thought it odd that I would cry every night while watching TV - commericials, sad stories, anything really got my tears to flow. Or while I was reading so it was not TV specific.

Since I have been on a stable SSRI my life is what I had always hoped it would be. Not that there are not issues but I am not hopeless now. I actually want to solve my issues and enjoy my life. Before I did not care if I won the lottery - nothing made me feel life was worth living. It is a painful and bleak existance.

Good luck and I really hope for both of your sakes they can get her meds worked out.
posted by shaarog at 10:52 AM on January 3, 2008 [2 favorites]

Good heavens.

What kind of marriage ceremony did you have?

Did you have the "For better, for worse, in sickness and in health" kind?

Marriage is a big deal. It's not like having a month-to-month roommate situation. When you get married, you're agreeing to stick by this other person to the absolute best of your abilities.

Even if your wife were completely healthy, there would be times in your marriage where you'd want to throw up your hands and leave, because leaving would be easier than staying and dealing with whatever the problem is. There would be times when she'd feel the same about you.

Marriage isn't supposed to be easy. It's supposed to be about mutual support and deep love and deep commitment. Do you feel that you can look into your heart and say that you have given this situation your absolute best effort and then some? Do you honestly feel that you have exhausted all possible avenues of helping your wife get better? Really? You've been married for less than a year. How can you honestly say that you know that you've exhausted your options for helping your wife heal from her depression - which is a sickness?

If you decide to leave your wife in this situation, she has every right in the world to be angry with you. You're her husband, man. In sickness and in health. Not just when she's cute and perky.

You may want to browse, which is the blog of a married woman who is chronically depressed. After the birth of their child, she was hospitalized for a while. Her depression is controlled with medication. She recently linked to a post her husband made on his blog about living with someone who is chronically depressed. I wish for you that you may learn something from his love and commitment and compassion.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 10:53 AM on January 3, 2008 [11 favorites]

is there really any overcomming this kind of problem?

Only if you both want to overcome it and even then, that will require enormous mental and emotional resources from you.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:55 AM on January 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Is there any hope? Yes, of course. Issues of Mental Illness are not addressed rapidly, but symptoms of cutting and depression can be overcome. Often it requires a lot of frustration as different meds may be tried and discarded if they don't work, different viable therapies attempted, no two people are alike, so there is no single solution that works for everyone.

Should you cut and run? I don't know, and no one here does really. We are not enough part of your life to be able to evaluate the behaviors on both sides and make an informed decision what is right in this situation.

it probably is a good idea for you to seek individual support that will help you decide this question.

It is possible that things will get better and 50 years from now the two of you will have raised kids and look back on this as an aberration.

It is possible that things will get worse and she will kill herself.

Everything in the middle is possible as well.

With help (not random strangers) you need to take care of yourself and find out if you are able to continue in the relationship.
posted by edgeways at 11:00 AM on January 3, 2008

you're miserable. you want to cut your losses. do it. it will save you and your wife a lot of heartache in the future. because you will always resent her for being depressed and making you miserable and she will always resent you for wanting to cut her loose just because she got depressed. and a marriage full of resentment isn't a good one.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 11:07 AM on January 3, 2008

I agree with thehmsbeagle and can't say it any better.
posted by christinetheslp at 11:10 AM on January 3, 2008

Is the relationship salvagable? It depends upon how seriously you took your wedding vows. Suppose your wife was completely mentally healthy, but was involved in a terrible car accident and was paralyzed from the neck down? Would you divorce her because her constant care needs overwhelmed you and there was no chance of having children with her?
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:11 AM on January 3, 2008

I don't feel qualified to advise you one way or the other. I just want to say that the seriousness of marriage and marriage vows does not automatically mean that you should stay in your relationship, as if it were some kind of legally binding contract. It might equally mean that you misunderstood what marriage was, and that it is better that you should not be in a marriage. Better for you and for your wife. "For better, for worse" should not become an obsessive dogma to the exclusion of both parties' long-term happiness.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 11:19 AM on January 3, 2008 [2 favorites]

Melismata writes "A good book that explains this in great detail is 'I'm Not Sick and I Don't Need Help,"

Except that she apparently recognized she accepted to get some help, but I bet she was disappointed with the lack of results from Prozac ? She apparently, from what we gather, goes in denial about her situation, and possibily she feels prks attempt to have her seek for help as pushy, unloving behavior, whereas she probably doesn't feel as pushed by her own parents, otherwise she wouldn't return home. Maybe she have realized, deep down, that people surring her are trying to help her, but the way they are using is not the one that "works" for her and in order to feel less bad, she bails by returning to less "demanding" (more loving, in her perception) parents.

My guess is that prk should

1. keep on seeking help, as I think he can't but benefit from the experience of people who deal with these problems professionally
2. suggest the rest of the family, if they aren't already partecipating, to help in her healing process ; I don't think he should be alone in the effort.
3. eventually, if he feels very bad and breaking down, to seek counseling for himself in order to better cope with the stress he is very likely to feel

Indeed marriage comes with responsabilities, some of which can be very unpleasant ; yet we should also consider that prk is probably being pushed hard and we shouldn't expect him to behave eternally as if his own psyche wasn't affected, just because he is not evidently ill. This implies that exiting the marriage is certainly a possibility and wouldn't be caused by his behavior or lack of will or effort. But this is for prk to decide and not for us to suggest as best/worse option.
posted by elpapacito at 11:22 AM on January 3, 2008

Seconding thehmsbeagle -- has shed a lot of light on related issues over the years, mostly because she's just so damned honest about everything. I really recommend reading the archives from just after she had their child...
posted by at 11:24 AM on January 3, 2008

I wouldn't think of it in terms of whether or not the relationship is salvagable or not. I'd think of it in terms of whether or not you're in a relationship with the right person under the right circumstances. If you didn't know about her depression until recently, your relationship has not gotten off on the right foot at all. She wasn't completely honest from the beginning. It's possible that you weren't perceptive enough also, though she might have just hid it very well. So there's at least one big, huge, thing you didn't know about her until you were married. That's not good. There could be others. Who knows. So you could try to stick it out for a while, and maybe it will turn out that you did pick the right person, and you'll want to do anything you can to help her. Or maybe you'll find out it was a big mistake all along. At this point, without knowing either of you, and going only on the information you've given, I would guess there's a good chance you both just made a mistake. It might be best to call it quits now, and admit you're not right for each other. Luckily she has her family to fall back on, which many people don't, which should make things much easier for you, if you decide that you don't belong with her. You won't have to worry as much about if she'll be okay, or what she'll do without you. You probably will have those worries anyway, if you call it quits, so just remember that it's not your fault. First of all, sometimes there's just nothing someone can do to help another. Plus, she should have been more open with you, so you could have an honest idea of who she was, and whether she was right for you. Being right for you partly means you can keep her happy. You're not right now, and it's not your fault.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 11:31 AM on January 3, 2008

A very sad situation for both of you. I would say (1) she's taken the initiative in ending the relationship, or something like it, by leaving you and going back to mum and dad: that's an incontrovertible statement of lack of faith in you, which the posters above suggesting that the marriage vows are absolutely binding on you have ignored. And I would say (2) that if you are going to continue then you have to absolutely commit and accept from the outset that she might not get better, that her illness will probably only ever be controlled by drugs, that bringing children into the situation will only complicate this and increase the stresses several times over. My observation of people in your situation is that they may last 5, 10, 15 years with such a partner, but in the end the very hopelessness and remorselessness of the illness defeats them. The poster above suggesting sex (by implication, I think, maybe some kinds of kinky sex, excuse me if I'm wrong) as a way into her psyche and of providing joy may (in my experience) be right, but that's only short term and will do nothing for your longer-term situation. A "year of misery", fear about having children, and she's left you anyway: I think the signs are all pointing one way. I don't think you should blame yourself if you get out of this marriage, and I think that medium-term, judging by the post you have made (apart from anything else, I guess you are feeling abandoned, rejected, betrayed), you will be glad you did.
posted by londongeezer at 11:33 AM on January 3, 2008 [2 favorites]

I came in to say exactly what thehmsbeagle said. Listen to her.
posted by pinksoftsoap at 11:45 AM on January 3, 2008

Welcome to Metafilter!

Divorce is a pretty cultural thing: for some people it's something they'd never consider no matter what. Others have been divorced repeatedly. Recognize that the answers you get are going to be tainted by peoples' views on divorce, just as would a question of whether a woman should get an abortion.

As misanthropicsarah says, you seem miserable. I think a divorce would just pile onto her problems. But at the same time, a miserable marriage is a lifetime of misery and I'm a firm believer in taking care of yourself first.

Ask yourself whether you want to save the marriage. Secretly (I guess not so secretly, really...) I hope you do want to save it. You're in a position to save it right now. In a perverse way, her moving out takes the 'problem' out of your hands for a while. And you really don't need to make a decision right now, either--"I'll try to salvage things, but keep divorce open as a possibility down the road" is a perfectly valid option.

If you'd like to salvage things, you might check in with her periodically and reassure her that you love her and hope she's doing well, but respect her desire to stay with her parents. If you want to save things, don't ever call with bad news or when you're upset, and try to avoid arguments. When she tells you that you haven't been there for her, don't argue. It won't accomplish anything. Just apologize, even if it's not really your fault.

And definitely seconding the advice to try to find some therapy or support for yourself. You're going through a really tough time, and shouldn't let her drag you down too much.
posted by fogster at 11:50 AM on January 3, 2008

One thing to keep in mind: Every therapist has a therapist. You can only handle so much on your own. And if your life is bound up closely with somebody suffering from a mental illness, you need one even more. This has absolutely nothing to do with your relationship and everything to do with your own mental health.

As far as your marriage. Although not married, I've been in a similar situation. Even in that case, it wasn't so clear to get out. I'm sort of surprised by the number of get-outs there has been in this thread. Marriage is serious business. If you decide to keep with it, you have to give it all you have, and it's going to be tiring, it's going to hurt you, and you might end up miserable. But, if you love her, you have to do what you have to do. Just be really careful.

Oh, and in case you've been wondering: When she says you're not giving her enough support, she's saying that you're not just blowing over when her crazy comes up. She wants vindication and justification to do what her mind is telling her to. For example: she wants to cut. You don't want her to. She's telling you you're not supporting her because you're not saying "Do whatever you want, sweetie." Or, "I don't want to take my meds anymore. I'm not going to" You say, "You have to take your meds," instead of "Of course you don't have to take your meds." That's actually a really common symptom.
posted by General Malaise at 12:00 PM on January 3, 2008

I have horrible memories of my own period of major depression during which I became suicidal at one point. I basically had two emotions: rage and despair. I could be absolutely appalling, driving people away with outbursts that were completely out of character: I lost several long time friends as a result. I knew I was being utterly unfair but I just couldn't get control of my emotions, and that added to the despair which built up and up until I just couldn't stand it and became absolutely convinced that it'd be better for everyone if I just wasn't around anymore....

The cutting sometimes comes from situations like this: in my case the physical pain of deliberately injuring myself was the only thing that would distract me from the torture of the never ending spiral of negative thoughts.

Your wife is probably going through something along these lines. She's not deliberately trying to hurt you when she accuses you of not being supportive enough, it's that she's sunk so deep that she can't see it. And I mean that quite literally: when you're in a severely depressed state you can't remember a time when you felt anything positive - being happy, caring about another person, anything - and you can't believe it's possible or that it will ever happen.

But it can.

Treatment with antidepressants should stop her descending into the real blackness. It may take time (2.5 years in my case) and it may also take time to find an antidepressant that she responds well to. She will also have to stick with the treatment until her doctor and/or therapist think she can cope without the medication, and she'll need to be willing to learn techniques such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy that will help stop her getting into the downward spiral again. Finally, you'll both have to learn to recognise the danger signs so if she ever does start to fall back into depression she'll be able - and willing - to stop it by whatever means are necessary.

The question for you is whether what's happened has wrecked your relationship beyond the point of recovery. If she's hurt you so deeply that whatever spark attracted you to her in the first place has well and truly gone out and you're staying only through a sense of duty then it doesn't bode well for the future for either of you. If you do still love her then you've got some hard times ahead, but it's most certainly not hopeless.
posted by arc at 12:01 PM on January 3, 2008

My friend is going through the same thing you are, but with the added stress of two children. He's having to bust his ass working with his wife to overcome her cutting. There have been huge steps forward and huge steps back. I don't know what meds she's on, but she's going to two different therapists, two to three times a week, and he's going in once a week for support and counseling too. They are, by his account, very much in love and determined to get through this, but it's a huge stress on everyone.

Where am I going with this? Well, if you really love this woman enough to take her troubles onto your own shoulders, bear the burden with her, share the stress that she's feeling, then it all can be worked through. It's a long road though. If you aren't willing or able (this is not a moral judgment; it's a second job and a lot of work and stress) to share that burden, then you might want to get out now, because this is the rest of your life.

Conversely, the stress you're feeling is very real. Have you seen a counsellor? It may help.
posted by lekvar at 12:07 PM on January 3, 2008

Is it possible to have a normal relationship after a spouce attempts suicide?


Not ever, not even before a spouse attempts suicide.

And please pardon my boldness, I'm really not derailing.

No relationship is normal. Everyone has issues. All relationships are an equation that goes like this: (Partner 1 + Unquantifiable Quirks X Attitude) + (Partner 2 + Unquantifiable Quirks X Attitude) = Complicated, Messy Human Relationships.

So please, listen when I say this; Your relationship is a normal one. The quirks, drawbacks, joys, and trials of your particular situation don't make it any more or less unique than anyone else's. It's just yours.

And it's good that you're asking for help, I'm totally behind that. Just please, don't seek normality. It's tilting at windmills.
posted by SlyBevel at 12:24 PM on January 3, 2008

She recently moved back in with her parents because she said that I am not being supportive enough of her struggles.

Not to be a dick (but to give you some perspective), to me, you don't sound very supportive of her. The vibe I get after reading your question seems to be that you think that she should have been able to have fixed her situation by now, and that any action which is a mis-step is a sign that she is not serious about getting better. From the description, it sounds like she doesn't even have medication that really works for her yet.

It seems like she has been "out" to you as a cutter for like 6 months. How long has she been doing it? Did she start in her teens? How long does it take most people to stop cutting completely? Is she ahead of schedule, or behind it? IANA cutting expert, but I wouldn't expect someone who'd been cutting for a long time to find it easy to quit. Do you know why she cuts? You mentioned "to relieve stress", but it seems like there might be more to it than that. Understanding her mindset (which is not the same as "allowing her to rationalize her problems") might make you better at helping her.

Her depression is not the ultimate worstest thing that could ever happen to your relationship. It doesn't speak to her trust in you, or her faith in the relationship. It's a condition that she needs to take seriously, but the fact that she hasn't found the right meds yet doesn't mean she's not serious.

I think that what jumped out at me most was that she was totally able to hide her depression from you until you were married. It sounds like you two aren't the best at communicating, and you may be misinterpreting each others actions/motivations/everythings. I think that THAT is the thing (much more than her depression) which seems troubling about your relationship.
posted by 23skidoo at 12:27 PM on January 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Before you give up have her evaluated for bipolar type two. If she has that, antidepressants can make it worse, not better.
posted by konolia at 1:33 PM on January 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

For reasons that you only know, you fell in love. No one on MetaFilter can know what led to that and what that means. It means so many different things to so many people.

As someone who divorced after 30+ years, and is now in a new relationship, I am loyal to both women. Being loyal to a person and being loyal to a relationship are different, I think.

I would do anything for my ex and anything for my present love. I am loyal and it sounds like you are as well. But, I have gained the wisdom to know when my love isn't sufficient. Sorry, but love does not conquer all.

Like any person with a serious, life threatening illness, she did not ask for it. She can only search for a cure. The conundrum, as I see it, is this: If you can be part of the healing, give it all you have. If you are complicating things, get the hell out of the way. Let her and her family know that your loyalty and concern is eternal and that she is worth it.

I've loved a lot of women. I'd still be there for all of them. I don't take their giving lightly. But I am finally wise enough to know that I am not omnipotent. No one can heal me and I can heal no one. We can only, through our love, do nothing to prevent the healing of those we love. I have both tried to heal and wished to be healed by love. It doesn't fucking work.

I was great at advice when I was 25. I knew it all. At 60, I know little. I do know this: you and your woman have serious issues to surmount. I hope to god that you can resolve them. And as someone who has worked with children for nearly 40 years, they are not something you HAVE; they have you. I have 3 in their 20's. By some miracle, they they are accomplished and have overcome the dysfunction of their parents. I've worked with thousands who haven't.

Godspeed, but cutting isn't good maternal behavior. Nor is thinking, on your part, that bringing a child into the world will be somehow therapeutic. The stakes are enormous.

My ex and I are no strangers to depression and other forms of self and mutual abuse. Perhaps we shouldn't have had children. We did however, do everything in our power to shelter our children from our crap.

You are both unhealthy. It's not HER thing. It's YOUR thing. You didn't cause it, she didn't cause it. As a man you have only two choices-be there or get out of the way. Both will be painful but, ultimately, both are the best choice.

I don't know why I chose to respond. I don't usually do this sort of thing. Perhaps it struck a resonant and familiar chord. I think it was the mention of children. As adults, do what you will and do what you can. Give everything that you have. She's worth it. You're worth it. But consider carefully the act of procreation. It is not a right, it is the decision that will define you as a human being. Go very carefully and multiply. As things stand, I would not wish to be your child.
posted by private_idaho at 1:48 PM on January 3, 2008 [3 favorites]

The circumstances you are in right now are not ones that you will be in forever. This is the nature of relationships over time. There is an extremely good chance that she will get stabilized, get on the right meds, get the right therapy and learn to manage her illness better. It sounds like she wants to do that, she wants to get better. She also could have been fine for ten years and then had a serious breakdown in her 30's. Your life isn't always going to be like this. I promise.

Have you gotten therapy personally? I would imagine that having your wife try to kill herself, having to revolve so much of your life around her needs, must be trying. This sucks for you. It's ok to wallow in that a little in the right places and with the right people.

You sound like you have one foot out the door. That bothers me. I think you married her, you love her, you should try to do more to work through this for both of you. If your relationship outside of this was good enough to get married, I just don't think this situation should push you into not being married. But if this is maybe your excuse for bailing on something that was a mistake even if this wasn't a factor, it's a pretty good excuse.

For Worse...

When you got married and you said "for better or for worse" you were probably like me and you had a sort of imagined idea of what worse was, what it could be. It was cancer or it was a wheelchair or it was job loss or her parents living with you. You had these ideas and you made peace with that worse. You thought, "yep, I can handle that, I can totally do for worse. Sign me up!"

And now you've got this worse. And you just never imagined that worse would come up so soon or that it would be this bad. I mean come on! No one meant this when you said for worse. They couldn't have!

But worse is always what you never imagined. That's why it's worse. And that's why you promised.

This is your worse. And everyone's worse is as unexpected, as unimagined, as horrible and f-ed up as your is. Because we all sort of thought we knew what we were agreeing to. And we didn't.

I thought my worse was going to be like your worse, frankly. But it wasn't. It was something else entirely and is so f-ed up that if I told you about it, you could identify me. Because it was in all the papers and news shows. And that wasn't the only worse. We had another worse when we'd been married a year that was also a more huge and unexpected worse than I'd ever imagined.

Just because this isn't what you imagined "for worse" was going to be when you signed up, doesn't mean it wasn't covered by the promise. You can break that promise, I don't mean to tell you you can't. But this isn't an automatic exemption. Divorce is totally what you should consider if you both need to not be married. If your problems can't be solved.

She tried to leave you permanently, and she's left you temporarily. Does she want to be married to you? Maybe not. Maybe yes, she just wants to get her head together. You guys can still go a lot of ways with this. You can choose, to do a lot of things. You still have choices.

It happens all the time that people get the right treatment and go into remission for their depression. Even cutters learn to do something else to cope. I know it is scarier and not as widespread as drinking or other forms of self-destructive coping, but that's the stigma. It isn't really any more destructive, and it's probably easier to treat and recover from. People have kids and have full lives with their illness under control, and those people would be horrified that you want to bail when they know it can all work out and they are happy and stronger. You can still have a happier ever after. The future you want for yourselves as a couple can still be had.

I'll give you a peek of the worst case scenario though, since you asked. Note that this is not a scenario where only depression was involved, there were other factors. A friend's mother was fine until she was 35 or 36. At that point the friend was 15, and had a younger sister who was 6 and a brother who was 3. The mother had a breakdown. She was depressed, she was suicidal. She couldn't do anything. For months my friend had to take over running the house, taking care of the kids. It was a lot of a teenager to manage. The friend had to be mom. It got after six months so the mother was hearing voices, seeing demons, indicators of schizophrenia more than true depression. This is when things got bad and dangerous. She put the kinds in the car and left for a day, no one could find them. She burned herself to cast out the demons, she tried to burn the kids. Home became unsafe for my friend. They had to remove parts from the car so she wouldn't take it again. They had to lock up all knives, scissors, etc in a special case. She went on meds, but she wouldn't stay on them. They finally had to put her in a psych ward for a time. Finally, everyone walked away. Divorce, even the kids cut ties. My friend no longer considers that person her mother. The mother valued her illness more than her family. She wouldn't stay in treatment and refused to be medicated. But my friend is pretty well-adjusted, married, happy. It sucked but they all survived. Even the mom is off someplace living her life and seeing demons. She worked through the depression, she never really shook the schizophrenia.
posted by Mozzie at 1:56 PM on January 3, 2008 [4 favorites]

People who suddenly quit SSRIs very, very, very often have an increase in depression, often even worse than before they started antidepressants. No competant psychiatrist would ever recommend cutting meds off cold turkey.

While I am sure she had other reasons for OD'ing I would bet money that SSRI withdrawal has something to do with the suicide attempt. My most vivid memory of quitting Zoloft is wondering if I could hang myself with a vacuum cord.

I avoid relationship-filter like the plague so that is all I have to say about that.
posted by Juliet Banana at 2:48 PM on January 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

"Wow, marriage is really hard. I don't think I want to do this any more."

Jesus, what is this? You've been married less than a year and you already want out because it's hard?

Your post is totally about you and not at all about your wife. There is zero empathy in there. None. Not an iota. In fact, the way you described it, you made your wife seek treatment because you were unhappy with your wife, not because your wife was so miserable she was cutting herself.

That makes it sound like her moving in with her parents because you're not being supportive enough was, in fact, a good and life preserving decision on her part.

Have you, at any point, asked her what you can do to help support her? That sounds like a good idea for your marriage therapy sessions.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:34 PM on January 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

I was a suicidally depressed person since childhood. I never made the attempt, for the simple reason that I convinced myself that staying alive was more painful, and I didn't deserve anything better than constant pain. Also, it wouldn't be an attempt; I would succeed.

Today, I would say that I am generally well-balanced, if prone to bouts of depression - they only last a month or so, usually. It has taken me 7 years to get this far - and I am by no means fit to have children, yet. I am currently seeking further counselling and potentially medication to assist me.

Throughout the last 8 years, my husband has supported me; dealt with being cried on for an hour a day for years at a time; supplied constant love and reassurance that I was, fundamentally, a person he loved and could be proud of, even as I was.

The first year of marriage was hell on earth for both of us, incidentally. Now, we have a happy, healthy relationship.

I am hoping to have worked through the last remnants of my depression in the next few years - a decade of recovery, all up. I'm led to understand that that is not an unusual timeframe to recover from serious depression.

Six months - whilst progress can be made in that time, it's unlikely that it will be major progress. It sucks. And it sucks to be you in this situation.

If you stay with your wife, it will be a very long time before you get to having a healthy, happy wife. Your relationship can survive - if both of you work very, very hard. Otherwise, yeah, it's doomed.
posted by ysabet at 4:14 PM on January 3, 2008

Going to agree with what DarlingBri said here. This post is all about you and your problems with her. It's a very angry post. You can't insist, order, or give ultimatums to a person with mental illness. Much of the time, that makes them feel worthless, more helpless, more guilty.

That said, you're going through a hard time right now, and desperation can make a person angry. You have a right to your emotions too.

You should see a therapist yourself and work on your anger issues and resentment toward her while she works on her own health. You may not need marriage counseling, since it seems that you feel resentful and have dragged her there because you're angry at her "hiding", cutting herself, and the suicide attempt. No wonder she's at her parents' house.

If you are not ready to support her. Truly support her, to honor those vows to be there for worse, as Mozzie described, then I'm not sure what will become of your relationship. But relationships are hard by definition. They involve work. sometimes you're angry at each other or you're annoyed, or you can't be bothered, or you have nothing to talk about, or things get boring or difficult. That happens to every relationship. Not saying that the circumstances will be the same in every relationship, but there will be tough times in every relationship. so even if you abandon this one, there might be something similar in the future for you. Would you bail out after a few months every single time?
posted by cmgonzalez at 4:17 PM on January 3, 2008

From the perspective of a depressed person who has also been the main support for a depressed person, who hasn't read this thread yet:

You need to forgive her, and let her know that you forgive her for not being the perfect wife. One of the hardest parts of being married is not being able to be the spouse that you want to be. We all suffer from that pressure and that dissapointment in ourselves. Let her know that it is OK to fail at being perfect, and that you still love her. That might help things in the short term, depending on how rational she is.

Regarding staying in the marriage or not: I would suggest speaking with her therapist, if she'll let you, about her prognosis and her symptoms. I would avoid making any large decisions about your lives until she is in a stable mood. Again, her therapist would be a good source of this information. If you really need a deadline, give yourself six months and don't pressure yourself to make any decision. Just accept the situation and that you will reevaluate it in six months.

You HAVE to stop thinking of this as her surprising, hurting, and victimizing you. Depression is surprising, hurting, and victimizing both of you. She probably moved in with her parents so that she will not have to bear the strain of maintaining your relationship. You feel that strain too, and are thinking about leaving the marriage. Hopefully acknowledging that you share this burden will help you feel better about her behavior.

I know it hurts to be abandoned, and it hurts to be in limbo. Please see a therapist and give yourself some distance from her if you need to.
posted by sondrialiac at 4:27 PM on January 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

And I have to disagree with those who are saying that your post lacks empathy--if you didn't care about your wife it wouldn't hurt you to see her in pain. Please don't feel guilty that you are suffering with her.

Best of luck, and please don't give up hope.
posted by sondrialiac at 4:29 PM on January 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

I simply cannot imagine the agony and drama you're going through. It sounds like you've been doing many of the right things for the past year. And now, when things have taken a rough turn, your questions have the sound of someone who's having a moment of weakness. A crisis of faith that you can affect change and save the situation.

My experience is this: People can overcome these problems, but what's so amazingly maddening about depression and suicide is that often, the desire to fix themselves (in a healthy way) doesn't really manifest. So basically, a loved one has to interject themselves into that person's life, get them stable via medication and counseling, and hope the reset button will allow them the space to build the desire and know-how to fix themselves.

And do it again, and again, and again. Until it works. Or until it doesn't.

Only you know where that stopping line is, because each time you intercede and fail, it makes an impact on you and the way you see the world. Which is why so many people are so intelligently suggesting you seek counseling for yourself.

Maybe you can stick it out for another year. Maybe her parents will help her get some space or maybe they won't. Maybe you only stick it out another month. Only you will know when you've exhausted your supply of help for your wife. I think you'll find encouragement and the ability to struggle on with her small successes, and I really hope you both find them.
posted by thomsplace at 10:09 PM on January 3, 2008

One of the ways I get through periods of crippling depression and suicidal urges it to make a deal with myself that I cannot do anything life-altering for six months *as of this rotten-feeling day*. So if I'm having a really bad spell where I want to give up and die (I tell myself,) I will have absolute permission to give up but I have to wait six months before I can officially do that. Things usually turn around, and generally for the better, when I'm not laying a heavy deadline pressure around my neck.

I understand it must be really difficult to love someone with self injurious tendencies, but the way she relieves her anxiety is understandable if she doesn't feel like she's got any alternative. She might find some online and local support at DBSA.

And forgive me for saying this, but if you are being genuine about your worry (now) and whether or not you two should stay married, your lack of commitment - both to her and to your marriage - says far more about you than it does about her.

Just about every piece of advice I've ever seen about making big decisions is that it's never a good idea to race into them unprepared or in a compromised/weakened/stressed state. Don't make a new car purchase if you've been barfing for three weeks. Don't try to do your taxes if you've been awake four days straight. And don't ditch a marriage just because she's lost that yummy new bride smell. Stick with her, support her, love her, attend couples counseling together. Step up, hubby. Do and give your very best to her and trust that she'll find a way back to doing the same for you.
posted by mcbeth at 1:48 AM on January 4, 2008

posted by tarvuz at 5:33 AM on January 4, 2008

I'd like to thank everyone for the thoughts. I've made an appointment with a therapist to see myself to try and sort through the mess of feelings I have and determine what is normal and what is not.

my wife came by last night and we had a very good (and long) talk. There are no hard feelings on either side and she is just in the best place right now for her to focus solely on the depression without the added stress of worrying about a marriage.

I don't know how things will play out but this forum has certainly given me a lot to think about and thank you for that.
posted by prk14 at 7:17 AM on January 4, 2008

I'm pleased to hear you are getting some help for yourself prk14; you don't have to be alone in this.

...determine what is normal and what is not.

You may not be meaning what I see when I read that statement, but I just want to say: there is no normal. There is what you can deal with, and what you can't, what you are prepared to try, and what you aren't. Those are different person to person, relationship to relationship. My wife and I have been through things that have ended other marriages, and are still here. We know of marriages that have gone through things that would likely end ours. I know through it all that I have found some abilities to cope and do things I never would've expected of myself.

It sounds like both of you are taking some time to step back and do self-care, and I think that is a good decision. You can't take care of another person if you aren't in a good place with yourself.
posted by never used baby shoes at 9:32 AM on January 4, 2008

Good to hear that some of our advice has been helpful. I hope you guys can benefit from getting a bit of space and taking some time to process this.

My best wishes to you both.
posted by sondrialiac at 10:55 AM on January 4, 2008

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