Dear Dr. Chani,
I have been leading a double life for the past five years. To the outside world, I am happily married, with an adorable little girl. Yet, in my own home, I feel that my husband and I are almost strangers. I am at the point where I feel pushed to decide if I should seek a divorce or work on my marriage.
When I first got married, I had high hopes that I would have a successful marriage. There were a few concerning comments that my husband made when we were dating, but nothing was too alarming. Things began to change within the first few months after we were married. My husband stopped functioning normally. He had trouble getting up in the morning and had no energy to do anything. Eventually, we understood that he had clinical depression.
Realizing that I could no longer expect my husband to act like himself was a real disappointment for me. I was confused and overwhelmed. But the worst part of it was that my husband told me he had experienced something like this when he was a teenager. I was shocked that he had never told me about it. I felt like there was a breach of trust between us.
At the time my husband first exhibited signs of depression, I was three months pregnant. I am not sure what I would have done had I not been pregnant, but it definitely helped me decide to stay in my marriage even though I felt very betrayed.
Since then, my husband has gone for therapy and he has gotten his mental health back on track. He is even more considerate, responsible and loving than he was before he became depressed. I know he is trying very hard to patch things up between us.
Yet, I cannot get over the feeling that he violated my trust. It created a gap between us that seems impossible to bridge. While I supported my husband during his suffering and eventual recovery from depression, I focused on the disease and helping him get better. I could not give direct attention to the fact that he breached our bond of trust. I have not dealt with my own emotions. I had to put on a show for the world during his depression and I am still doing that. Now that my husband is back to himself, I still feel very emotionally distant from him. For the most part, my marriage is a fake.
What do you think I should do at this point? Do you think I can recover from his violation of my trust? Can I ever feel in love with my husband the way I imagined?
Thanks so much,
It sounds like you are still reeling from an emotional roller coaster. You went from feeling excited about being newly married to discovering that your husband was suffering from depression. Having your husband change so dramatically, so soon after your marriage, is emotionally unsettling and draining, in of itself. That burden would have been the same even if your husband became depressed unexpectedly, without any prior history. On top of this challenge, you had to deal with the shock of finding out that your husband had a history of depression that he did not share with you. It is very admirable that even with all that you had to go through, you put your emotions aside and supported your husband through this difficult time.
Although you were not depressed yourself, you still suffered along with your husband through this ordeal. You suffered and your marriage suffered. Having to “put on a show for the world” during your husband’s depression strained you and your marriage. It might also have prevented you from getting the therapy and other resources you could have benefited from to help you through this crisis. Aside from the difficulty of dealing with your husband’s state of depression, you were deeply affected by your sense of his deception. It sounds like the breach of trust between you was the most damaging aspect of his depression for you. This makes sense. Your pain is real.
In the aftermath of your husband’s depression, it can be very helpful for you to reflect and gain deeper self-awareness. There are many emotions you may feel after going through this kind of traumatic experience. You may be feeling angry, sad, lonely or hopeless. If you are feeling any of these negative emotions, you might benefit from speaking to a therapist. It can be a great relief to have a trained and confidential professional to whom you can vent all of your frustrations. A therapist can also help you gain insight into your perceptions about your husband and your situation so that you can heal from this painful episode.
Specifically, you mention that you feel so alienated from your husband that you are even considering a divorce. It might be helpful to consider what your future would look like if you would actually divorce your husband. Going back into the dating world is daunting and unpredictable. Divorce is difficult in many ways for everyone involved. It would be particularly devastating for your child. Is there an alternative?
An approach that might help you with your relationship is to think about creating a “second marriage” with your husband. Your “first marriage” with your husband was damaged in your mind by your unexpected revelation about his mental-health history. Yet, you are also aware of your husband’s strengths as you describe him as “considerate, responsible, and loving.” It sounds like your husband still manifests many of the endearing qualities that attracted you to marry him in the first place. He loves you and wants to repair your relationship. Explore if you are able to choose once again to marry him for who he is and thereby build a new, strong foundation for a new marriage with the same person.
After you have had the opportunity to have therapy, reflect, vent and reconcile the whirlwind of emotions deep inside you. See if you can turn towards your husband and appreciate him anew. Every day, try to identify one specific positive quality you appreciate about him. If possible, express it to him by thanking him or giving him a compliment. You might also take time to go out together and date each other again.
Through this process, you will develop your evident internal strengths even further and develop your emotional connection with your husband. Hopefully, you will discover an even greater appreciation for your spouse and build a new foundation for your second marriage—to your first husband.
Wishing you much success,
Chani Maybruch is a social psychologist and relationship coach specializing in teaching emotional connection and communication skills for over two decades. She coaches individuals and couples, teaches courses on how to become a master of relationships and provides free relationship resources at chanimaybruch.com. Learn a step-by-step method to improve your ability to emotionally connect with her online course: The RELATE Technique™—Seven Steps to Emotionally Connect Through Conversation. Reach out to her at [email protected]