Dear Dr. Chani,
Ever since our third child was born, my wife has been extremely depressed. She finds it difficult to get out of bed in the morning, cries all the time, and barely manages to take care of our newborn baby. Unfortunately, she cannot seem to snap out of it. It is really taking a toll on me.
When I realized that my wife’s sadness was not just a passing phase, we went to a psychiatrist. So far the medicine she has been taking is helping a little bit, but my wife is still not herself.
While even before her depression my wife did not always “have it together,” at this point I need to be the husband, father and mother for my family. I feel like a single father. I shop, cook and clean, and arrange for child care for our three children. My responsibilities are endless and it is exhausting.
Yet somehow, I think I could manage to juggle it all if my wife was able to have a normal conversation with me. I would love to be able to tell her about all of the things going on with my job, the children, and the running of our house. It would make all of the difference if she would say “Thank you” for all that I am doing and acknowledge my super-human efforts. But she is always in her own world. She cannot listen to me. She “spaces out” whenever I talk to her. When I ask her about herself, she dwells on her irrational worries and sadness.
I understand that these are all symptoms of her depression and there is nothing that she can do about it. But I am feeling so distant from her that I am starting to feel resentful. Even though I know it is not her fault that she feels this way, I still feel incredibly lonely and frustrated.
What should I do to stay afloat until she recovers from this depression? Is there any way I can connect with her?
Thanks so much,
I admire your fortitude and perseverance in the face of your incredible challenge. Your wife’s depression is difficult for her, but it might be even harder for you. You are balancing more than your usual responsibilities and demands, along with a tremendous emotional drain, without benefiting from any connection with your wife.
It is helpful for you to get more context about what your wife is undergoing and about her potential for recovery. From your description, it sounds like your wife might be suffering from postpartum depression. This kind of depression can be triggered by fatigue, hormonal changes after birth, and the psychological impact of having a new baby.
If your wife’s depression is related to her afterbirth experience, it is possible that the further that she gets from the birth, the more she might return to herself. It is important that you learn more about the general prognosis for her depression. Is it something that she is expected to recover from or is it a chronic situation? If she is expected to recover, how long is that projected to take? Is the medicine supposed to make a major impact or will it just take the edge off her negativity? These are important questions to discuss with the professionals involved in your wife’s care. The answers can help you manage your expectations and help you with coping and planning.
In the meantime, you need to address the secondary effects of your wife’s depression, specifically your own suffering. After the birth of your newborn, at a time when you could have rejoiced with your wife over your precious new child, you are reeling from the repercussions of your wife’s depression. While managing the additional burden of running your household on your own, you are grappling with your own feelings of disappointment and loneliness. Unfortunately, your wife is unable to provide emotional or physical support. You will need to get it elsewhere.
Try to take proactive steps so that you will not feel abandoned by the world. Although your initial reaction might be to turn inward and keep things a secret, that can perpetuate the loneliness that comes with your situation. It is unclear from your letter if you have shared your situation with friends and family. If you have not done so yet, reach out to people in your inner circle and let them know what you are going through. Whether or not they assist you in a practical way, it can be helpful to talk about your stresses and thereby unburden yourself to them. You might also want to share your challenge with some people at work. Hopefully, they will empathize with you and allow you extra time and space. It is sometimes difficult for your friends and loved ones to know what you need and how they can best support you. Let people know how they can help you so they do not have to try to read your mind.
What can you do to deal with the frustration and resentment stemming from your wife’s behavior? Although you rationally know that your wife is suffering and that she is not able to change her mindset, that does not necessarily hold you back from having your own emotional reaction to this crisis. Feelings do not always follow logic. It is normal for you to be upset at your wife, be bothered that she is not there for you or the family, and even feel annoyed that she cannot just snap out of it. The best way to deal with these feelings is to notice them and to confide them to someone. You can explain to that person that even though your feelings are not necessarily logical, they are very real. Expressing feelings often makes them less painful.
Another way to deal with this challenge might be to confide in a professional. It may be your spiritual leader and/or a therapist. A professional is not a replacement for a friend, but it is someone who can be a great confidante with whom to share your feelings and thoughts, as well as someone who can help you gain new perspectives, insights and ways to cope. Speaking to a professional has the added benefit of knowing that what you share is confidential. When you speak to a therapist, you may also not have to worry about feeling judged by someone who you will interact with in the future. In this way, speaking to a therapist can provide a great sounding board for your thoughts and feelings, which can help you manage your emotions.
The general theme here is that it is important for you to work on taking better care of yourself. If you are not in great shape physically and emotionally, you will not be able to care for your wife and children properly. You need to be kind to yourself so that you will be the best husband and father you can be. Try to carve time out of your busy schedule to do things for yourself. You might want to relax, do exercise, play sports, get absorbed in a hobby, or get a change of scenery. These experiences can enrich you and give you an energy boost so that you are able to cope with your situation even better. Turning inward and strengthening your relationship with yourself can be life-changing, and hopefully enable you to get through this difficult time.
Wishing you much success,
Dr. 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 and teaches online courses to help you create your ideal relationship. Get free relationship resources and contact her at www.chanimaybruch.com.