How Can I Help My Depressed Spouse?
- 2006 13 Jul
Dear Dr. David,
I have been married for seven years and it has been a constant battle. My husband struggles with depression and seems to always be angry and resentful. He is difficult to live with and I am losing my love for him. Our children don’t want to be around him and I find myself more and more afraid of him because of his temper.
What does God say about situations like these? Am I supposed to just tolerate his outbursts and depression, or do I have some choices? I know divorce is not an option, but my love for him is fading fast. We are becoming strangers to one another. Please give me your thoughts on this situation. ~Empty
Unfortunately, your note echoes many others who are in a similar situation—living with men who are angry and resentful, at least partially due to depression. In my book, Does Your Man Have the Blues? I share how many men are emotionally and spiritually depressed. Men with untreated depression, much like Elijah in the Old Testament, are irritable, angry and resentful. However, like Elijah, men can receive help and healing and return to a wonderful life.
A look into the life of Elijah reveals that he became discouraged with his situation and ran to a cave—a common occurrence for many men today. Elijah was exhausted, frightened and lonely. He felt futile over his circumstances. He needed rest, food, companionship, and a renewed faith in God.
Let’s consider some things you and your husband can do to heal from depression.
First, understand that most Christians struggle with depression at some time in their life. Simply knowing that, and not feeling ashamed about it, can be a powerful antidote to depression.
Second, we must seek wisdom concerning the origins of depression. Does his depression stem from unconfessed sin, or guilt over past sins? Matthew records an experience of self-doubt: "They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, ‘Surely not I, Lord?’" (Matt. 26:22) Is there significant loss that simply needs to be grieved? Jesus, himself, was extremely troubled when his disciples wouldn’t stay awake with him in the Garden of Gethsemane. (Matthew 26: 37)
Third, we must take action, making necessary changes in our lives. Depression, though painful, can be the impetus needed for us to change elements of our lives. The Apostle James talks about the testing and trials that come our way to ultimately strengthen us. (James 1) The Apostle Peter says, "In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials." (1 Peter 1:6) Consider what needs to be changed in your lives. What could you do to challenge your husband to make positive changes in his life?
Fourth, in addition to rest, needed by Elijah and prescribed in the New Testament in Hebrews 4, your husband may need medications. It is quite possible that he suffers from a biochemical depression or other physical problem. He could certainly benefit from consulting with a physician to determine if his problems have some physiological origin.
Fifth, both of you could benefit from wise, godly counsel. We must practice the principle of "bearing one another’s burdens." A burden is halved when we share it with a trusted friend. Keeping struggles to ourselves tends to make us irritable, not to mention myopic. Talking things out can be wonderfully healing. Instead of his struggle being divisive, talking about it with a trusted counselor could bring you closer together.
Finally, both you and your husband have an opportunity to see the blessing in this difficulty. If you focus on the Lord, and his promises, you can grow in love through this ordeal. The Apostle Paul shares, "For I wrote to you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve but to let you know the depth of my love for you." (II Corinthians 2: 4) God can redeem every situation, no matter how painful at the time: "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." (Romans 8: 28)
Thankfully, depression is not some malady that jumps out of nowhere to bite us on the behind. It is a predictable outcome to a set of factors that you can understand and, with God’s grace, change.
Do you need sound, Biblically-based advice on an issue in your marriage or family? Dr. David will address two questions from Crosswalk readers in his weekly column. Submit your question to him at TheRelationshipDoctor@gmail.com
David Hawkins, Pd.D., has worked with couples and families to improve the quality of their lives by resolving personal issues for the last 30 years. He is the author of over 18 books, including Love Lost: Living Beyond a Broken Marriage, Saying It So He'll Listen, and When Pleasing Others Is Hurting You. His newest book is titled When the Man in Your Life Can’t Commit. Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives with his wife on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities.