Wife’s depression creates emotional distance with husband

Q: My wife was just diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety. She rarely engages in conversation, and even though she’s on medication, she acts like she doesn’t want to have anything to do with me. She’s not the same person I married. I try to talk to her, and she says it’s just a phase and to leave her alone. I am so hurt. What can I do?

Jim: We’re sorry to learn of your predicament. Clinical depression is a complex problem involving a blend of genetic, biochemical, personal and spiritual factors. That being the case, our counseling team recommends that you not take your wife’s behavior toward you personally. The forces contributing to her emotional distance are beyond her control.

Your mention of a diagnosis suggests that your wife is receiving ongoing care. That is essential in a situation like this. Our counselors suggest that you encourage her to continue taking her medication and to remain under the care of a trained physician or qualified professional.

You might also read an excellent book on this subject: “Mood Swings” (Thomas Nelson; 2001) by Dr. Paul Meier. It will help you understand how to support and encourage your wife while at the same time maintaining realistic expectations and boundaries.

Finally, you should be aware of your own needs during this emotionally trying time. You’re in a difficult position, and you need all the outside help you can get. Seek out a support network through your church or a special interest group. And don’t be afraid to enlist the assistance of a licensed counselor, with or without your wife’s willing participation. Contact Focus on the Family for a referral.

Q: I’m a single mom with two children. My ex-husband doesn’t have anything to do with our kids, which is devastating to them. Whenever my 8-year-old daughter gets in trouble, she starts to say things like “I hate myself” and “I’m worthless.” I think this is due to her not having both parents involved in her life. How can I help her be more positive about herself?

Leon Wirth, executive director of Parenting and Youth: Our hearts go out to you and your kids as you face this difficult situation. Children react to divorce in different ways, depending on age and a variety of other factors that can affect their sense of self-worth.

Younger kids may blame themselves for the divorce, in which case it’s important to reassure them that your struggles as a couple had absolutely nothing to do with them. Teens and young adults may actually feel relieved after the strife of the divorce has ended, and this in turn may cause them to beat themselves up for taking a positive view of a bad thing like divorce.

What can you do to help ease your daughter’s pain? First, encourage her to talk about what she’s feeling and why she thinks these feelings are popping up. Help her to see that, though life has changed dramatically, things won’t always feel as bad as they feel right now. Give her hope for the future, and do everything you can to maintain normalcy and routine in her life.

Also, reassure her that she has value to you, simply because “you are you.” And help her find other healthy adult mentors with whom she can be honest about her feelings; alert teachers, school counselors, youth leaders or a pastor to the situation.

Finally, we’d strongly encourage you and your kids to seek a trained family therapist to help you weather this storm. Contact Focus on the Family for a free consultation with a counselor, as well as a referral for ongoing care in your area.

Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program.