July 6, 2004 6:33 AM   Subscribe

Ok. I'm not a great communicator. I need advice on how to talk to my wife of 7 years about what each of us want and if we are still compatible [mi].

She wants me to do more domestic shit- get into gardening (which I hate). To be neater (I'm a natural born slob). To "try harder" against my depressions (which really pisses me off, because she has no clue). She wants someone who is more of a companion (I'm pretty independent- a go it alone kind of guy). We just seem to be pretty unhappy with each other. No harmony in our relationship.

We've gone to a counseler before, and we could do that again. I just need to figure out how to bring this up in a non-confrontational way so we can sort it out, regardless of the outcome.

Links to advice-type-things welcome too.
posted by pissfactory to Human Relations (29 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Oh yes.... no kids. 3 dogs. Own a house. Those are the obligations. I think I'm pretty unhappy too. Just not understood or appreciated, so I need to express that too.
posted by pissfactory at 6:37 AM on July 6, 2004

What were the things that made you feel you were compatible in the first place?
posted by oh posey at 6:54 AM on July 6, 2004

Pissfactory, she may not understand how you feel about your depression, but she has the right to point out to you that you need to do something about it. Depression can ruin any marriage, good or bad. I recommend you start by getting on anti-depressants (and possibly individual therapy) and take care of that part of your life...then I bet the other things will become easier and more clear, especially the communication part.

Depression is insidious. It makes you angry and resentful, a "bad communicator," and is very very hard on you AND the person you are living with.

If you do that, and then start the conversation with "I've taken these steps towards dealing with my depression." that will eliminate a lot of the anger and probably, fear, that she is feeling about you.
posted by aacheson at 6:56 AM on July 6, 2004

agree with aacheson. I have/had depression and agree with what s/he said, as well as understand what you're saying. once I got therapy (individual + medication), I was finally able to start communicating what was in my head, plus appreciate other things more.

I think once you get that on it's way out of your head, you'll be able to reflect more on what you actually like/dislike and want/don't want. Then you can deal with the relationship. But you gotta take care of yourself first.
posted by evening at 7:10 AM on July 6, 2004

Do you see someone currently for dealing with depression? Hearing people talk about "trying harder" to combat depression always sets of alarms for me because it seems to indicate a fundamental misunderstanding about depression and how to be in a relationship with someone that has it. While in general the name of the game in long term relationships [for me, natch] has always been "compromise" there's a need for both partners to bend.

If you guys aren't fighting all the time currently, the best thing to do may be to do the flat-out ask thing, and use yourself as an example, not her, as in "I've been pretty morose lately and it seems like we're not as simpatico as we once were, would you like to talk about it? I would." It's often easier for a partner to talk about you, not them, even though talking about either player in a seven year marriage is pretty much going to nedcessitate talking about the other person. Set aside a time when you're both feeling pretty okay and not upset over a sprecific issue and don't have something planned for right afterwards. Be well fed and rested and companionable. Even if the relationship is rocky, you're probably still pretty good friends, don't lose sight of that friendship as you discuss the relationship.

If there is some tension there presently, you might want to lay some groundwork. If you have a counselor you're seeing for depression, ask for advice, pass that on to your wife. See if your wife would also see a counselor for some equity in dealing with your depression and the relationship issues that are coming up as well. See a counselor on your own and suggest she come with you in the future, similar to what aacheson says.

First of all, you may need/want to do some soul searching and think about some scenarios so you are better prepared for a talk with her:

- are you into the relationship to the point you'd be willing to really try if she were ambivalent about it?
- would you be crushed if she said she were also unhappy and looking for some space? what would the resolution of that look like in the short and long terms?
- if this is all news to her and she's okay with things the way they are, are you? [I find that often women including myself can live with a high degree of semi-satisfaction with some parts of a relationship as long as others are rock solid -- maybe her desire for neatness isn't a dealbreaker...]
- how does the fact that you are *married* play into this? Do you feel more or less commitment because of the social/legal implications of this as well as everything else?
- can you see things improving? can you see them getting worse?

You'll be better prepared for a big talk if you've got some idea how you feel, even if many of your feelings are wrapped up in how she feels and your general sense of things not being right. It's good to know what issues you can bend on, and which are real dealbreakers so you can move forward and discuss these things. If she looks at neatness as a dealbreaker, is she looking for YOU to be neat, or would some other solution [you pay the maid, you maintain a separate slob bedroom that the two of you don't sleep in &c] satisfy her?

Ultimately, the first step is hard. Through talking things over it should become easier to parse out what the different action plans are and then you can get more specific about whatever solution the two of you plan. Ultimately, what it seems like you have decided is that doing nothing is not a good plan. Move forward with that and try to explain it to your wife. Good luck, I know it's a tough series of steps to take.
posted by jessamyn at 7:12 AM on July 6, 2004

What others said about depression counseling/medication!

Also, I made a comment in a previous question that applies here (IMO). The question was about pre-marital counseling, but the class I talk about is valuable to couples at any point. It forces you to get to know who you are and who your partner is. Most couples (and individuals) don't - certainly not before marriage, if ever.

The therapists running the class often said that it was "make or break" for couples - either they would realize that yes, despite the current problems, they did have a great deal of love, affection and commonality, and that it would be a shame to split up. Or, not.

I used to feel bad for the couples that split afterwards - but not anymore. I think it's far worse to stay in a relationship that isn't giving you what you need than it is to deal with the hassle of divorce.
posted by Irontom at 7:18 AM on July 6, 2004

aacheson's points are right on the money--depression's an incredibly hard challenge to bear for the depressed person, but it's also not fair to ask someone else to just "live with the fact that I get depressed". If your criterion is that she somehow "understands" your depression before her take on it is valid, you've set her up for a no-win situation right out of the gate. Think about how much you enjoy being depressed--would you really wish that on someone you love?

(I'd also caution against making any decisions like this--even about talking--if there's any question you're actually in a depressive low. Honestly, from what you've written so far, it seems like you're clearly building an internal case for splitting. If that's really how you feel when you're feeling good and optimistic about a number of other things, it's pretty legitimate. However, if it's also how you're feeling right now about your job, your friends, and most everything else in your life, I'd be very, very careful about moving on this right now.)
posted by LairBob at 7:21 AM on July 6, 2004 [1 favorite]

While it's true that she may have no clue about your depressions, maybe you should try to explain them to her. Write it down if you struggle to say it, maybe. Because how else will she know?

I don't see why you should have to garden, but being less of a slob and more of a companion seem to be fairly reasonable requests. The neatness thing is common courtesy to anyone you live with. Companionship, to a certain extent, seems fairly close to defining marriage, no?

To echo everyone else, decision-making is not well-done in a depressed state. Obviously no one can tell you how not to be depressed. But my own inclination when depressed is to withdraw completely--it's worth keeping your own tendencies in mind. Good luck.
posted by mookieproof at 7:23 AM on July 6, 2004

Even the gardening doesn't seem to be too much to ask. I hate that stuff myself, but I'd do it as an excuse to spend time with someone I like.

I'm going to hazard a completely fabricated guess that you're both going to have to change how you behave in order to live happily together. If you agree, and would like to try it, tell her you think so and start working out the details.
posted by majick at 7:43 AM on July 6, 2004

Just to give you a view of what it's like from the other side.....

Living with someone who is depressed is very very hard, as you can't possibly understand what they are going through, but the depressed person generally doesn't understand it either and so can't communicate with you as to what is wrong. All you know is that the depressed person is desperately unhappy, is a different person than they used to be, and aren't doing anything about it! And since you're not the one who's depressed, you can't understand WHY they aren't doing anything about it... (it doesn't help that depression generally makes one very lazy and unmotivated...which makes the other person even more angry.) So then you get angry and resentful of the depressed person...just as they are angry & resentful of you.

It's a terrible, awful circle to be in for both parties. I agree with the people who said you need to take care of yourself first, take care of your depression (and this usually isn't a quick process.... the drugs alone can take months to really kick in) and then deal with your marriage. By then, the REAL issues will be clear, not ones that are a result of your depression.
posted by aacheson at 8:06 AM on July 6, 2004 [1 favorite]

That 'depression' keyword set off alarm bells for me in a 'been there - done that - bought a divorce' kind of way.
Zero in on that first.
posted by mischief at 8:07 AM on July 6, 2004

Companionship, to a certain extent, seems fairly close to defining marriage, no?

Definitions differ, some people like to be in each other's pockets, some like some distance. Whatever works for them. Perhaps the questions in pissfactory's case is whether she is asking for more companionship than (a) she is currently getting or (b) than there has ever been; and whether this is in the context of a falling off in time spent together or whether this has been stable? What is the reason for the change? Is the change temporary? Is there a reconciliable middle ground?
posted by biffa at 8:42 AM on July 6, 2004

Uh, why are you married?

posted by xmutex at 9:09 AM on July 6, 2004

To be neater (I'm a natural born slob). To "try harder" against my depressions (which really pisses me off, because she has no clue). She wants someone who is more of a companion (I'm pretty independent- a go it alone kind of guy).
You're lucky she's still around.
Seriously, being the partner of someone with depression is just about as much fun as having depression yourself. If you want to continue this relationship, you should talk this out (Jessamyn had some good points) and you ARE going to have to start rowing your half of the boat. What outcome are you looking for, and is it you or the Black Dog talking, really?
posted by mimi at 9:21 AM on July 6, 2004

Response by poster: aacheson: I'm on anti-depressants for 2+ years and a mood stabalizer (I'm manic depressive).

oh posey: lots of alcohol made us seem compatible (self medicating manic depressive that I was).

jessamyn: thanks for the info

LairBob: I have to be careful about making any decisions when manic (even somewhat) too. I'm rapid cycling, so I have ups and downs literally wihtin hours of one another.... or sometimes week long spells. The mood stabalizers keep it that much under control, but I actually go crazy off of them- either manic and psychotic or depressed and psychotic.

Well, it isn't just being less of a slob. I could try that I suppose, even though it is hard to care about sweeping the kitchen when you can barely get out of bed.

Yard work is the bane of my existence even on good days. When I'm feeling sketchy it literally can make me suicidal.

mischief: I don't understand your comment.

I really haven't written this thing off. I love my wife. I'm just feeling a little lost and in need of... something... right now. This all helps. Thanks.
posted by pissfactory at 9:35 AM on July 6, 2004

While it always takes two to tango, I suspect -- as it seems many here do -- that the problem lies more within you than with her.

Your meds are obviously not working terribly well. Yardwork should not induce suicidal thoughts.

Go to your doctor. Go to counselling for yourself. You need to start putting yourself right before you can expect your relationship to be put right.

posted by five fresh fish at 10:07 AM on July 6, 2004

pf: If the drugs aren't working, maybe it's time to work with your doc and try something else.


Well, it isn't just being less of a slob. I could try that I suppose, even though it is hard to care about sweeping the kitchen when you can barely get out of bed.

Yard work is the bane of my existence even on good days. When I'm feeling sketchy it literally can make me suicidal.

says to me that your depression is not at all under control. You deserve a better life than that!

I say this as someone with severe depression that is under control, married to someone with severe depression that is under control. We have our bumps, but most of the time, life is sweet.

Depression is hard to treat, and as you probably know, it can take a lot of tweaking, and things that worked okay once may not work forever. It sounds like it would be well worth looking into a change in therapy.
posted by frykitty at 10:11 AM on July 6, 2004

small things:

I don't really know anything about the manic part, but you might discuss trying a different anti-depressant with your doctor. They work differently for different people, and it sounds like maybe yours isn't working too well right now.

I've got your back on the yard work thing. There have been times that the angle of the sun at certain times of day/season have for some reason just made me want to die. That said, from everything I can gather, being outside and getting exercise seem to have a positive affect on depression. Actually, on people.

Rather than cleaning, then, how about you just start by reducing the need for cleaning. Don't leave shit lying around, etc. Little bits of effort could go a long way. Cheers.
posted by mookieproof at 10:21 AM on July 6, 2004

Well, it isn't just being less of a slob. I could try that I suppose, even though it is hard to care about sweeping the kitchen when you can barely get out of bed.

Be fair. If you make the mess, you clean the mess. Don't like it? Tough shit, life's a bitch, grow up. Nobody likes to clean up. Nobody likes to feel like a maid in their own home. Dealing with someone who has depression is hard enough without the added resentment building up every time they do the dishes, sweep the floor, vacuum the carpets... whatever.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:36 AM on July 6, 2004

PS - Sorry about the tough love; I do know where you're coming from, having picked myself up out of my own self-feeding spiral of despair several years ago. But it's simply unfair not to share in the responsibilities when you live with someone. How much do you love this person? Enough to do stuff you don't like?

But on the topic of being fair: forget about gardening if you're not into it. It's bullshit for someone to expect you to fall in love with their hobbies. If you feel like being nice and helping out, that's one thing -- manipulating it into a "He doesn't love me because he won't trim the Habiscus in his own free time" is just wrong. Strike a deal if she still won't cooperate: you'll do an hour of gardening if she'll come wallow in bed silently under the sheets with you for the same amount of time.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:43 AM on July 6, 2004 [1 favorite]

Well, it isn't just being less of a slob. I could try that I suppose, even though it is hard to care about sweeping the kitchen when you can barely get out of bed.

what do you actually want? Would it be harder or easier to get out of bed if your wife were gone? Do you have clear(ish) goals in other parts of your life? Do you want kids?

Things like being neat or not might be arrows pointing to things for you rather than the real issues - ie, if it seems like too much trouble to sweep the kitchen even if your marriage depends on it, maybe you don't care that much about the marriage. Believe me, I understand not wanting to deal with housework; in my last relationship I was lucky enough to live with someone who actually seemed to enjoy keeping the place tidy but have pissed off enough platonic roommates with my inability to keep on top of chores. And yet, if a marriage I was committed to depended on it, I think I would see it as a reasonable complaint. Of course, this is partly because mess gets me depressed - which is part of why I have trouble cleaning - seeing the mess drains me and I just can't be bothered, but I don't like it. Are you happy in a messy environment? Or do you just feel like your wife is too demanding or picky about neatness?

As for depression being the root of the problem, I'm all for treating depression, but I think it's worth giving some credibility to the idea of depression not merely being "chemical" - ie, that yes, our emotions are chemicals, but also, our chemicals are emotions, and it's possible for a bad relationship to make your depression worse. I was on anti-depressants for a while, but ended up finding that changing some things about my life had a greater positive effect (the meds just made me kind of indifferent - not suicidal, but definitely not happy either. Nowadays I can't exactly say I'm happy, maybe, but I feel like my life has more meaning - I feel like it's worth being alive even if it hurts sometimes). In other words, there could be a bit of a circular relationship there, if the relationship is unhealthy...
posted by mdn at 10:43 AM on July 6, 2004

Drugs are easier than therapy. That's why they don't work.
posted by goethean at 11:35 AM on July 6, 2004

goethean, I TOTALLY disagree. My Dad started Prozac about 14 years ago and it CHANGED HIS LIFE. My sister needed anti-depressants too, and once she finally got on them, it CHANGER HER LIFE, as well. They didn't need therapy, as there wasn't some deep seated reason for their depression as it is with some people. They just chemically weren't right and it fixed that. I am a firm believer in both, being very close with family members who have been "fixed" via either therapy or drugs. Some depression need drugs, some needs therapy, some need both. Sounds like pissfactory could definitely use a change in the drugs he's on, as well as therapy.
posted by aacheson at 11:51 AM on July 6, 2004

goethean, while I would definitely concede that drugs in this category are generally overprescribed, I wouldn't just categorically dismiss drugs as an aid because "they're easier than therapy". If you've got a broken leg, do you tough it out with no painkillers and no cast, because they would just make it "easier"? That just seems a dramatic oversimplification of the whole picture to me.

I don't know anyone who's been able to manage their depression _just_ by taking a drug, but I do know a lot of folks who have put some effort into their lives, done a fair amount of healthy introspection, etc., and still find things a lot better overall when their brain isn't chemically bouncing off the inner walls of their skull. If you've got your own history where they didn't work for you or someone close, then I'm sorry for that, but that's still basically an instance where they didn't work, and not evidence that they're worthless.
posted by LairBob at 11:54 AM on July 6, 2004

While I think I see mdn's point I'm not sure I agree with the way out.

Changing your state of mind is hard. I'm not really sure how I climbed out of my pit, but I'm not really sure just how I got in there in the first place. I wouldn't have expected to, and I didn't - and wouldn't - have any idea of what it is like to be down there unless it had happened to me. Which of course is the position that your wife is in. She won't understand the mindframe you're in, she can only be sympathetic, and eventually that sympathy may run out. It doesn't matter whether she loves you, eventually she may come to the end of her tether and if she does that could well be it. She'll go. I would say it's what just about everyone would do in the same situation. Would you say you were trying to act to stop that? Is it possible that you're pushing against her 'demands' in order to test how much she wants to be there? It could be that mdn is right and you're better off outside the relationship. It may be that mdn's wrong and that you find yourself in even more of hole should it come to an end. Try to work out what you actually want, with your wife, and try to summon up the energy to work on your conclusion. It won't be easy, but not making a choice and just stewing won't be easy on you either.

Or I could be talking out of my arse, and my comments are completely off beam.
posted by biffa at 11:57 AM on July 6, 2004

Response by poster: five fresh fish: You are probably right. I've been charting my moods and they are all over the amp. Back to the shrink...

Also, I used to rather enjoy cleaning. Put on some music, kick back some beers, clean the apartment.... ah... well, no more beer, anyway.

Civil_Disobedient: It isn't that I make a mess and don't clean it. Shit just get's dirty. We have some dogs and they shed. Besides, it isn't just housework. She constantly critiques me and re-does stuff I do if it is just a little wrong (in her view). Or says, do this, or don't do that.

Would it be harder or easier to get out of bed if your wife were gone? Probably not. I don't think so.

Yeah- it sucks to be with someone who is depressed. I dated a girl aobut 10 years ago who got depression baaaaaaad- tried to kill herself. It sucked being with her. This was before I was depressed and I didn't come close to getting it. I broke up with her later on, though I did save her life once (pill overdose- suicide attempt). *sigh* This sucks.
posted by pissfactory at 12:28 PM on July 6, 2004

Chemical depression changes over time with age. People with depression/bi-polar usually start at adolescence when hormones start throwing your body chemistry out of whack. For some, as they get older, it gets better as hormones stabilize, then may worsen as you age and your body doesn't make chemicals as efficiently anymore. You may not have "pulled yourself up by your boot straps" Your chemicals could have evened out.

Also, if you are borderline depressive, then diet, exercise, and sleep patters can affect how your body produces chemicals and put you in a depression or pull you out of one.

Eat right, sleep a normal schedule, avoid alcohol/drugs, and exercise and then you will be doing what you can to help your body be as stable as it can on its own.

Some people are more chemically depressed than others. Those people need meds and cannot "pull" themselves out of it. Some people need meds their whole lives.

This isn't about the relationship as much as it is about you and your happiness/health. Focus on your own happiness. If you are better your wife will probably be too, and if not, then it probably wouldn't matter how much gardening you did with her, it would have failed anyway.
posted by jopreacher at 12:44 PM on July 6, 2004

Something that I don't think anyone here has touched on. Your wife may not really care whether you do the gardening or not. It may be a battle she has chosen because to her, your lack of interest in it represents everything, or many things, about your overall state of mind that she doesn't like, or understand. Gardening is physical, it's healthy, it gets you in touch with nature, you have to go outside to do it, it's practical, it's methodical, it involves discipline. I am going to take a wild guess that if you started to show those qualities in another activity of your own choosing, your wife woudln't really care if you did the gardening or not.

I have been on and off antidepressants and other shrink-prescribed medication a lot, and I have to echo the above sentiments that you definitely need some better drugs. Drugs don't solve all your problems, but with a chemically enhanced perspective on life, you may at the very least be able to come up with reasonable answers to these questions yourself.

In fact, that's the rub, really. The fact that you are asking this (and I applaud you for doing so, it's brave), and that you really have such a hard time forming a solid opinion about it, suggests that you are way, way, way too lost in your own head to get a perspective on your relationship with your wife. Maybe she's a saint, maybe she's your soulmate, and maybe she's a shrew who cares about her garden more than she cares about you. Get better drugs, get involved in something new, and change your perspective. Give yourself the chance to take a fresh look at things.
posted by bingo at 6:40 PM on July 6, 2004

Focus on yourself and your needs and feelings.
posted by ac at 7:53 PM on July 6, 2004

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