In episode 321, I received a question from a listener concerned about their wife’s mental health as she struggles to address depression caused by childhood trauma. In this post, I offer my thoughts on how you can best help in this situation.
Good morning, I just found your podcast and find it extremely helpful. Thank you for doing what you do. I’m married with 3 kids. 5,4,2 and my spouse has dealt with depression most of her life due to the trauma she’s had as a child, adult etc. She hasn’t addressed her depression and knows she has it. She’s asking for a divorce now and I’m trying to figure out the best approach to recommend seeking help for her depression. You mention we can submit questions to you in your podcast so here I am. Her mom dealt with bad depression and she’s mentioned she feels like she’s doing the same thing her mom did. Thank you
Thank you for the question. Sorry that you’re in this position. It can be difficult to stand on the sidelines and observe someone struggle – especially when it impacts your relationship. Also thanks for checking out the podcast. I hope you find the episodes helpful. If you’re ever curious about whether a topic has been covered on the show before, have a look at the website!
The first thing I want to make clear here is that you can care about her wellbeing or about the impact of her issues on the relationship and family… but you can’t fix her. You’ve probably heard that whole you can lead a horse to water, but can’t make it drink metaphor and that idea definitely applies here. You can give her resources or express concern, but at the end of the day, it is going to have to be her decision about whether she wants to get some form of help.
Is depression the main relationship issue?
I think there is another element here that you need to be really careful about, which is the potential of using depression as a bit of a scapegoat here. She can have depression without that being the reason for your divorce. Obviously, I am missing a lot of context here, but I think that people are often looking desperately for an explanation behind why a relationship failed. Mental health concerns can certainly play a role in how a relationship works out, but you need to be careful about letting the existence of depression blind you to other reasons that the divorce may be necessary. As I said, you can’t force her to get help. You can express your concern and lead her to resources. You can even describe how you think her mental health might be interacting with the family and relationship – how it may be contributing the discord. All of these are okay. But she may see the situation differently, and she is allowed to. She may not see this as an issue primarily related to her depression. She may see this as mainly a relationship issue or there may be other information that I am missing regarding what has transpired with you guys that is the main driver behind her asking for a divorce.
Regardless of the situation, you can offer resources and also offer participation. For instance, you could tell her that you are willing to go to couples/family counseling. This could be useful regardless of whether you remain married because you are still going to be interacting and communicating to co-parent the kids. Trying to separate out the issue of the divorce from the mental health stuff might be a really good frame for her. You could tell her that you would love to see her get some help for her depression and stop struggling so much regardless of whether you get a divorce. It’s simply because you see her struggle and you care about her as a person. I think that it’s important to not try to use this as some sort of bargaining chip or a cure-all way to avoid divorce. If your actual concern is her depression, it’s going to be much harder to make a difference when you have an agenda like that.
Talking to friends and family
If you are able to make that sort of separation and you aren’t just trying to angle for preventing a divorce or trying to position yourself favorably in the divorce, then you can also reach out to other people in her life. In a concerned and caring manner, you can reach out to her friends, family, or loved ones that may be close to her and get their perspective. If they see her situation similarly, they might be a good resource “from the outside” to encourage her to get some help for her depression. Modeling is also a great idea here. If you aren’t in therapy or actively working on your situation, you could do that for yourself. Again, try to separate yourself from a particular goal or agenda other than making a difference for yourself. But by showing that you are willing to work, that could inspire her to do the work as well. No promises, but if it’s also a good idea for you then you should get some professional help anyway.
If you are still in an in-between stage or you guys decide to stick it out or give it a shot, there are also many collaborative resources that you could use. There are books and apps that you can use to work on your communication. There are books about divorce and uncoupling that can be read at the same time and discussed. There are also relationship therapy books that guide you through a process of trying to repair the relationship week by week.
Establishing the right course
The last thing that I’d like you to think about is whether this relationship is actually healthy for you. Assuming you are here in the US, we tend to have this idea that we need to make things in a relationship work no matter what. This is related to the idea of the relationship escalator. There’s a goal. We tend to have a specific direction that we are working toward: meet, date, get serious, get married, have a home, have kids, etc. This sort of deep programming can make it difficult for you to see ways in which the relationship might not actually be healthy for you or your spouse or the kids. Even if the divorce is painful, there is a version of things where it is the safest and healthiest option that you have in front of you. I’m not saying that is certainly the case here, but it’s a question that you do need to ask yourself. Either way, I hope you find some resolution to this situation and I hope that everyone involved is able to stay safe and relatively okay.
You can listen to this on Episode 321 of the podcast!
Thank you for the great question!
If you know someone else who might benefit from this, please do share it with them. Send them a link or shoot over a screenshot, and share it on social media to show your support – you never know who needs to hear this type of information.
Got a topic or a guest you’d like to appear on the show? Or interested in having Duff answer a question on the podcast? Please get in touch! Email Duff and maybe you’ll hear it on a future episode!
Want to help out the show and Duff the Psych?
- Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes.
- Leave a podcast review on iTunes. These reviews really help Duff reach potential listeners, and he appreciates every one!
- Share the show on Facebook or Twitter.
- You can also buy Duff a cup of coffee, which helps fuel the energy that goes straight back into creating more content for YOU!