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Husband is Depressed and Bringing Her Down

QUESTION: After having had the pleasure of gleaning some advice from your previous responses, I was wondering if you could render an opinion for me personally.

I work full time, and I am extremely successful at what I do. My husband works part time, and since I am fortunate enough to have a great job, he stays home with our one-year-old son and five-year-old daughter. It works out well. Our finances are in satisfactory condition, and our children are absolutely wonderful (I know it is because of the time he is able to spend with them and the great job he does). Problem is, he is increasingly becoming depressed with low self-esteem and in turn is beginning to lash out at the rest of us. For instance, when I work late on occasion he is rude, verbally abusive and shows underlying anger at the kids. Come to think of it, any occasion that remotely plays on the strings of his esteem will trigger the behavior. His only pleasure is going to the race track. (He used to race horses.)

It does not matter what I say or do to make him feel better about himself. Of course, I know I am ultimately not the one who can do it. He has to find his self-esteem on his own. He has tried (and been somewhat successful) at his own video business. However, it always comes back to the horses. I've even suggested he go back to racing them, but he declines. Additionally, any challenges are stonewall barriers to him and he does not deal with life's little (or big) arrows well at all. I'm constantly trying to boost him up. What is a woman to do? I do love him, but my primary concern at this point is our family health.

Any advice you can offer is appreciated.

ANSWER: You are right that the impetus for change must come from your husband. Be careful about "saving" him from his parental responsibilities. This could become a pattern of co-dependency, which results in supporting his weaknesses instead of his competency.

Patterns of over-responsibility lead to under-responsibility in the other spouse. These relationship tendencies make a situation ripe for the development of yet further under- and overfunctioning so prevalent in alcoholism and other addictions. Is the race track a semblance of the kind of escape from reality that could be defined as addictive?

Ask your husband to seek professional counseling to address his victimization. He may be suffering depression based upon "learned helplessness." Perhaps he would be open to exploring the ways that his parents modeled solving life problems. Did Mom or Dad rail against the adversities that life threw their way? Did they offer passive complaining with no positive suggestions? Or did complaints yield to proactive steps to take action to secure greater fulfillment? Did one parent overfunction while the other underfunctioned in either of your childhoods?

Your husband is fortunate to have a wife who cares! But his depression is causing him to lash out against those who love him the most. While your sympathy has been well meaning, your husband seems to have responded to it with a loss of self-respect. Consider taking a harder line. Perhaps a "tough love" approach is in order. Require change from your husband, and do not accept less.

Your children are learning the styles and patterns that they witness in their family. Talk with your husband about the kind of family patterns you want to pass down to your children and grandchildren. And consider your own limitations before you jump in to save him!

Change is needed! Do not avoid conflict. Making it "easier" on him in response to his outbursts may reinforce your husband's failures rather than challenge him to find the necessary answers.


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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