Stop Whining About Your Wife and Start Getting Your Life Back

I’m depressed and I’ve had to work really hard at even getting my wife to acknowledge my condition. It has got better but yesterday we went to visit my aunty and uncle in the country. he has had long-term depression like me and it just amazed me how open they were in their house about talking about it. She even asked my 2 teenage kids how they cope with their dad’s moodiness and they seemed openly relieved that someone enquired and allowed them to talk about their suffering too. It was so refreshing, my parents never talk about ‘it’ in front of me, anyway, and my wife was very quiet during the visit yesterday.
I wish I lived in a home like that but my wife is the stumbling block. If one of the kids had my condition, [which I fear one day they will], she’d be gleaning as much information as possible from books, internet, health professionals, etc. and be all over them. But for me, it’s like, f*** you, you’re an adult, fend for yourself.
I can really relate to the comment: ” If you are married, you married someone with a specific chemistry. And if that person has a problem, you promised to help them out. You are not allowed to be a miserable tyrant. If you don’t understand, don’t just complain and be negative. Follow through on your vows . . . for better or worse . . . get in there and help out . . . be active . . . be positive . . .” I could also add the advice: “Don’t just ignore it and pretend it’s going to go away.”
Recently I have been feeling better about things here as through my fairly constant badgering of her, things have got a bit better; occasionally she’ll turn off the TV and talk to me, so I’ve felt better about the improvement. But, after seeing my aunt and uncle yesterday I feel downright depressed today, it’s like we’re light years from where they’re at. I get a similar feeling when I go on those depression forums and you get people saying ” but my partner is sooo supportive, caring and helpful to me.” Hearing that just makes me want to slash my wrists.
I mean what do I frigging do? Split up, hurt the kids more and put myself under even more work and financial pressure or buckle down and accept that I’m only going to get a fraction of the support I deserve?

This is all too common of a situation.  The difficult part to accept here is that YOU cannot change HER.  YOU can only change YOU.  You can influence her.  But little else.

As an exercise, I want you to do something for me.  I want you to step outside of yourself and see yourself as others might see you.  Your wife.  Your kids.  Now, I know very little about how you are.  In your letter, you spoke more about others than about yourself.  I know you are moody and depressed, but I don’t know if you are irritable depressed or hide under the covers depressed or both.  So I am going to take some creative license here . . .

Within a family unit, we all do the best that we can most of the time (hopefully).  We all have needs, however, and we look to those we live with for help with our needs.  Whether it is emotional help such as talking/bonding or practical help such as doing the dishes, we all look to our house-mates for assistance.  If someone in the house is emotionally unable to participate in the giving of support, the others in the house must manage in other ways.  Sometimes it is TV.  Sometimes it is drugs or alcohol.  Sometimes it is relationships outside the home . . . which is fine for kids but not for a spouse.  A difficult dynamic can get set up where everyone develops their independent coping skills that soothe their individual pain, but does not lead the family unit together.  It can lead to everyone feeling very alone.  This is difficult for everyone, but it can feel particularly difficult for a family member who is feeling depressed.  You can feel alone, ignored, and guilty for “causing” problems for your family.  YOU might want to talk about it, but THEY might not.  They might feel that by talking about it, it ‘feeds into’ your depression.  They might also feel at a loss for how to help make you feel better.  They might be frustrated that you have not done more for yourself.  Again, conjecture based on limited information.

I think that the best way to address the issue of your depression within the family is to change how YOU are approaching the depression and the discussions about it.  From here on, no more discussions about how crappy you feel.  Save that for your psychiatrist and your therapist.  From here on, you will only discuss what you are DOING to feel better.  Notice I did not write “going to do”.  I wrote DOING.  From here on, you are going to make a commitment to a more active role in your mood and in the management of your depression.  Get yourself a notebook and each evening before you go to sleep you will write one thing that you are going to do to make yourself better.  It can be simple at first like taking your medicine.  Like talking to or visiting your shrink.  Make it attainable.  Next week . . . write down two things that you are going to do.  And then three.  And then four.  Each week adding an additional thing that you are going to do to make yourself better.  Don’t talk about your depression anymore.  And DON’T tell anyone you are doing this writing down thing until you have done it for a month and it is engrained as part of your new pattern of managing your life.  Then, share it with your family.  But the act of sharing should be an . . . “oh, THAT is what you are doing!!!” experience for them.  By the time a month is over, they should already notice how you are eating better, getting more exercise, reading positive books, meditating, listening to positive and inspiring CD’s, watching inspirational shows on TV and changing what you say and how you say it.  

The most important lesson you can teach your kids (who may be at risk for depression) is to actively manage their moods.  Sitting and whining about it (or complaining to others about it) does NOTHING for mood.  It is all about what you do and how you change the pattern of your thinking.  Once you are more active in the management of your mood, maybe your wife will want to talk to you about it.  She is probably tired of hearing you complain.  Instead, talk to her about the positive things you are doing.  Old habits die hard (notice already how you are reacting to my suggestions of change) so don’t expect her to drop all of her previous coping strategies and start engaging whole heartedly with you.  It will take time.  It may never happen (I do not know what she is like, really).  But DO NOT use her as an excuse to continue to be depressed and miserable.  If you need others to support you emotionally, get others that will support you emotionally (within the bounds of your marital commitment to her–you don’t need guilt on top of all of this depression stuff).  But get moving on feeling better for yourself.  Make your wife and your kids proud!

–Dan Hartman, MD

2 comments to Stop Whining About Your Wife and Start Getting Your Life Back

  • Becky

    Love that! My husband and I have been going through the same thing.. He suffers from depression, and I just got sick of wasting my life trying to make him happy… nothing seemed to work,and it eventually brought me down enough to where I became depressed. It took a lot for me to get out of that mode- It took a lot of self-talk to realize that I was the only one who could make me happy (thanks to Blair Singer’s latest book, “Little Voice Mastery.” I talked my husband into using the same techniques and I can’t say that he is completely cured, however his outlook on life has gotten better. He still needs a few reminders from time to time.

  • chris

    I will keep you in my prayers. Never forget . . . there is always hope!