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Husband's Depression is Driving Us Apart

QUESTION: My husband has been suffering from depression for some time. He started therapy in late January and medication a week ago. He is very moody toward both the kids and myself. I worry daily about the effect his depressive behavior has on his relationship with our two children, ages 3 and 5. Our relationship is dwindling as well. We don't have any emotional or physical contact any longer. It's not so much the physical relationship I crave. I miss the emotional perks that I get from communicating and being together. I try to understand that he is sick, but it is so hard. I keep thinking that if he would just try, it could get better. Please help me. I really want my marriage to work.

ANSWER: The good news is that your husband is getting help. He may get worse before he gets better, as this is often a natural progression of treatment for depression. It is likely that becoming a father himself may have surfaced childhood experiences of neglect that have triggered retreat instead of coping. Therapy can provide a framework for understanding, healing and moving forward.

Medication may help take the "edge" off a life-long unrecognized depression. Patterns of helplessness and hopelessness learned in childhood that intensified when faced with the role of "father" may immerse him temporarily. But having someone to turn to will provide the possibility for working through his malaise to achieve a new outlook on his ability to define and shape his life. It can take up to a month for anti-depressant medication to "kick-in", but once this occurs, it may also offer your husband the ability to use the insight he is gaining to change his self-defeating behavior.

Try not to revolve your life around your husband's "depression". Research has shown that a spouse's own mood reactions to their partner's depressive states can spiral and augment depressive disorders. This kind of viscious downward cycle makes it impossible to differentiate normal "downs" from depression, resulting in a narrowed interpretation for feelings in the couples' relationship and exaggeration of symptoms. "Riding" on his moods by overly focusing on his depression can make symptoms worsen.

Talk with your husband about developing a plan together to "fight" depressive patterns, when he is ready to do so. Recognize that your husband is "trying", and make guidelines together about behavior with respect to one another and the children. If your husband responds with anger or in a way that is hurtful to yourself and the children when in a depressed mood, identify a way he can say, "I'm not angry with you, but I need some time to myself, just now". Perhaps he can take a walk around the block which removes him from the situation temporarily and offers a change in scenery to reflect on his intentions. Make it a goal to re-establish a connection upon returning. He may find it possible to alter his behavior after making a proactive attempt to gain a better perspective.

Each small success builds on the next. Behaving differently can lead to feeling differently and vice versa. Establish a positive feedback loop to alter depressive patterns rather than add to them. Make your goals reasonable and you will achieve them step by step, together.

Be sure to acknowledge and make room for each of you to have normal mood changes, but identify patterns of thinking or behavior that cause depression. Books on cognitive therapy and depression by C. Ahrons or others and new books on the market such as the "Depression Sourcebook" may prove helpful. Therapy groups which utilize tools to identify and challenge depressive thought "filters" such as all/nothing thinking, disaster thinking or other distortions of reality may be necessary support for effecting change. You may also benefit greatly from a general women's support group as well as friends to address some of your needs at this time.

Remember the connecting times and the communication you so miss. Let your husband know that you miss him and that you want to be there for him. Educate yourself about the nature of your husband's depression at this time, and what the two of you can do to facilitate his healing.

Remember that your husband is not his depression. The person you so miss is beneath these patterns of depressive thinking. Hang onto your commitment in your marital vows of "for better or worse". He has only just begun acknowledging the need to turn this demon around, and he will need your support to do so. Make it clear that you will not abandon him. You will feel more connected once you feel you are a part of the solution, rather than a helpless victim!

Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter..

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