Dear Spouse of the Depressed

Here are six helpful things to consider when living with a severely depressed person.

Dear Spouse of the DepressedDear Spouse of the Depressed,

Depression acts like a sucking vortex that threatens everything in it’s whirling sphere.  Your spouse or loved ones depression is out to suck you into its vacuum. You try mightily to rescue both yourself and your spouse.  Each of you sees completely different perspectives of the same thing.  It’s a little like seeing a tapestry from the bottom or the top.      

Your spouse is having a hard time getting up out of bed, getting menial tasks accomplished, and even eating takes a lot of effort.  They see the dark side of everything and the things that once brought them some level of happiness are now non-existent. Their dark comments about everything weighs like a cement block attached to your feet.  

You have tried to be nice and cheer them up, see the bright side, and encourage them, but to no avail.  You may have tried guilt-tripping, manipulating, and shaming them to get them to change.  You may feel rejected by them because you think you should be enough to ‘make them feel happy.’  You may be worried because severe depression is a killer.  Living with a depressed person takes its toll on you and your emotions.  

First, understand that depression is a complex issue.  There is not a universal cause of depression.  There are many drivers of depression including loss, being overwhelmed, not feeling that you have choices, health issues, medications, significant changes in your life, guilt, anger, genetic predisposition, worry, conflict, unhealthy thinking patterns, false belief systems, lack of nutrition and a host of other things.  Then there’s the whole combination of any two or ten of these drivers.  

Depression is a killer of self and of relationship.  To start, I would encourage you to resist the urge to deal with your spouses depression from a place of offense, so that you are able to offer real hope and help.  Here are six helpful things to consider when living with a severely depressed person.

It’s Not About You

Their depression is not about you.  They may be nit-picking you for all of your weaknesses, but it’s really not about you.  While you can and should put up some healthy boundaries around how and when they offer “constructive criticism”, you must also realize the window they are looking through is caked with mud and splattered with gunk. Their perspective is skewed and so you must be able to let certain things go.

Resist the urge to tell them how you’re feeling and how it’s affecting you.  It’s not that this isn’t important, because it is very important.  It’s just that in the midst of deep depression, they can’t respond to it.  They might even want to, but they can’t.  The day will come when this will need to be discussed, but it can’t be today.

Talk About It

You may need to insist that you have a conversation about their depression.  They can be pretty good about minimizing, blaming, and deflecting these conversations, so you will need to keep it focused.  Keep in mind that it can’t be about your wounding or how you feel.  I am not saying your wounding is not real or important.  It is very important.  But they can’t help you with it right now.  You must be able to step out of any offense you are experiencing in order to help them.  Your “help” must come from a place of concern for them.

When you attempt to have an honest conversation about their depression, they will probably try to turn the tables on you with, “well you have problems too”.  This is very common when someone doesn’t want to look at themselves…expect it and don’t get offended. Just agree with them about your issues and promise that you will work on it with your counselor. But let them know you expect them to continue to work on their depression.  

Resist ‘Telling’ Them

The responsibility for change needs to be on the depressed person.  Resist the urge to “tell” them what to do.  Here’s the kicker…I know, that if they just did what you suggested (eat better, exercise, think positive thoughts, etc.) they really would feel better.  You are not wrong.  But it simply doesn’t work to “tell” them what to do. I think you can mention some of the things they are doing which is adding to their depression, like alcohol, sweets, lack of exercise, isolation, etc.  But stop there and don’t tell them what to eat or how to exercise.  They must take on the responsibility for themselves to find the answers.

Set Expectations

While you can’t expect a depressed person to be happy, you can expect them to do their part by not feeding the depression. Coping mechanisms often act like a double bind in that they feel like they will rescue us, but in fact, they continue the cycle.   Like a diabetic is responsible to watch their diet and take their insulin, if they “have” depression, then they are responsible for their depression. You can let them know you expect them to take on their part.

Boundaries

If they refuse to help themselves, then you may need to implement healthy boundaries like not helping them financially.  You can limit the amount of rants that you will listen to.  And you may need to walk out of the room if they begin to nit-pick or yell at you.

Another helpful boundary is to let them know that if they continue in harming themselves, you will widen the circle of people who know so as to get them the help they need.  Any boundary you create will need to be with an attitude of helping them and not as a punishment.  Begin inviting people over who love the depressed person specifically to talk about their emotional state.  Again, not in a shaming way, but in a way that aims to help.  They may not like that, but it’s o.k.  Depression loves to hide and you can help them not to hide.  Anyone who comes to help will need to be coached to not ‘rescue’ the person, but to ‘assist’ the person as they begin making healthy choices.  If the depressed person decides to start eating healthy, then a friend might stand and talk to them as they throw away unhealthy food.  Or a friend might meet them at the gym to start exercising.  A helpful guideline is only do for a person what they are incapable to do for themselves.

There may come a day when a depressed person steadfastly refuses the loving help offered. At that point you might lovingly say, I will separate myself from you and not be near you until you start making healthy decisions.  This must continue to be done in a way that invites them into healthy living/relationship, but keeps you safe.

Find Your Own Support

You will need to find a support network to help you keep your perspective.  This is extremely important because your feelings and wounds are important.  Until your spouse can raise their head above the depression, your support network are the people you need to go to for your needs.  They can also offer perspective, support,  and ideas of boundaries you can set.  

Living with a person who is suffering with depression will take it’s tole on you.  Taking care of yourself and understanding your own emotions will be very important as you help them.  The most difficult task is to not allow the vortex to suck you under so that you can offer real help and hope.  

Reclaiming Healthy Sexuality part 3

When we view our sexual appeal as a means to get validation of ourselves from our spouses, we set ourselves and them up for great disappointment because it doesn’t come from them.

HealthySexualityPart3
Photo Credit: Hilary Storm

This is part three of Reclaiming Healthy Sexuality.   In part 1, I wrote on how as a culture we’ve lost the concept of what healthy sexuality is, that it’s an important part of marriage and there is healing available for those who carry baggage.  In part 2, I wrote on seeing sex as good, and it as mutual.  

In this post I will be writing about what we bring into intimacy and what it is that we try to get out of intimacy.  As we reclaim what has been damaged, it will take work to get back to a good place.  

Sex is About Giving and Receiving, Not Taking

One of the most helpful changes I made was seeing that I had something to offer my husband.  I didn’t understand that before and it used to feel like something was being taken from me.  I still don’t know that I can name what it is that I offer or that he offers me…maybe it’s believing in each other, or trust, or understanding.  What I do see is that it goes beyond the physical act to something more of an essence.  When it simply remains the physical act of self-fulfillment, it loses its potential for good.  When I chose to believe that I had something to offer it brought healing to me.  It’s helped to bring sex back to good.

One thing that has helped in this is communication.  In the movies we often see a glance across the room, an intense and passionate kiss, and then a whisking away to a bedroom scene all happening in about three seconds.  I don’t believe this is the norm, or the standard we should set.  

My husband used to approach me with a hug and I was left wondering, ‘is this a hug or is this a HUG?’ Where was this going?  Because I have a to-do list, you know?  I was intense and flying through the day, or exhausted from the day and now there was a hug.  I was less than receptive, wondering if he wanted something I was not prepared to give. He felt rejected.  It brought on hard feelings on both sides.  

I found it very helpful when we could speak to each other, “hey, I’m thinking of a rendezvous after dinner tonight, are you up for that?”  It allows me to be prepared to give and be prepared to receive what he has to give. We’ve developed our cues, our code words, our glances which invite instead of setting an expectation that gets disappointed.  The verbal or gestured invitation allows for choice.  It’s not a lack of passion to plan an intimate time.  It’s a thoughtful offer to connect.

It’s Not About Self-Image or Validation

We often try but we can’t get our self-image or validation from our partners.  This never works.  Our culture sets us up to believe that our femininity or masculinity is derived from our partner making us feel good about ourselves.  The problem with this is if I don’t feel good about myself to begin with, there really is nothing he can do to change that. Self-image starts with self and he can’t give it to me.  He can’t really even take it away if it’s base is from a clear conscience.  

In other words, if I think I’m worthless, and he tells me I’m worthless then he has just proven my point.  If I believe I’m worthless and he tells me I have worth, then I’m not going to trust his judgment.  I will think he is lying, he has a poor standard, or he doesn’t know the real me.  But, if I believe I have worth and he tells me I’m worthless, then I am going to think he is crazy.   When I have to suck my self-image out of my spouse and he can’t give it to me, I am guaranteed frustration and heartache.

John Eldredge writes in his book You Have What It Takes, “Every boy wants to be a hero. He wants to be powerful, dangerous. He wants to know . . . Do I have what it takes?  Every girl wants to believe that she is captivating, worth fighting for. She wants to know . . . Am I lovely?”

We get our understanding of how to answer those questions as children from our familial and cultural surroundings.  We first pick up what it means to be a man or woman from our parents or significant role models.  We look to them for approval to answer those meaningful questions.  As we enter adolescents it shifts to our peer group.  This is normal but still immature because it opens us up to be manipulated by others.  Ultimately, in the maturing process, it needs to shift to our own conscience before God.  Scripture tells us that every man can know right from wrong (Rom. 1).  When we live in a right way, our conscience affirms us and we don’t fall prey to trying to pull it from someone else.  

When we view our sexual appeal as a means to get validation of ourselves from our spouses, we set ourselves and them up for great disappointment because it doesn’t come from them.  If I don’t measure up to the standard I have set then there is nothing my spouse can do to convince me any differently.  For instance, If I’m not skinny enough for my own standard then nothing my husband can say or do will change my self-perception.  

Getting back to good means finding our validation through a clear conscience before God and liking the person we are becoming.  We then bring the person that we like to our spouse and give of ourselves and receive from them who they are.

In my next blog post I will be writing about honoring our differences, finding connection and what to do with problems beyond relationship issues.  

Sometimes You Gotta Let a Friend Feel Bad

A good friend will not try to stop these emotions, but will sit in the emotions with them.

Let a Friend Feel Bad
Photo Credit: Hilary Storm

When my husband, kids or friend feel bad I want to be there for them.  What kind of a friend would I be if I wasn’t there for them?  I have assumed to be ‘there’ means I try to fix the problem and make them feel better.  If I don’t at least try it’s somehow a reflection on my ability to be kind and compassionate.

Here’s the problem with this…what if my friend needs to feel bad?  I actually feel awkward writing that sentence.  I feel like a heel…like what kind of a friend would I be to think my friend ‘needs’ to feel bad?  Who am I to judge what my friend needs?

There are two areas of life where it’s good to feel bad; grief and regret.

Grief

When we have experienced a loss, we need to feel the loss.  It’s part of a mature life.  It takes time to understand how the loss has affected our life.  We need to consider how to continue without the thing lost.  We need to miss it.

When we don’t spend the necessary time to miss what has been taken from us, we run to addictions in order to not feel the loss.  In America, our favorite addiction is busyness in order to escape our emotions.

But a good friend will sit with someone who is recognizing a loss in their life.  They won’t rush in with platitudes and quick fixes such as, “at least you have other children”, or “God must have other plans for your life”, or “it’s just a house, you’ll get over it.”  No, a good friend will say, “Oh I miss that thing too.”   I’ve written more on grief here.

Regret

We’ve all felt regret at some point.  It is an awful feeling and we don’t like to sit in it.  In order to out run regret we blame, justify, and ignore the effects of our actions.   So, when a friend has regret we sometimes help them to do the same because we know how awful that feeling is. We can even feel good about ourselves because we helped them outrun regret.

This last week I had three people tell me of some very destructive behaviors of their spouses and each of them followed it up with, “but I told him I loved him and everything would be ok.  I forgave him and tried my best to make him feel good about himself.”  Instead of allowing them to sorrow, they fixed the problem.  They rushed in with a platitude of forgiveness instead of communication about resolving the issues at hand.  The rescuer wanted to be seen as kind and merciful.  They also didn’t want to sit in the grief and regret any longer.

I’m not suggesting making a person feel bad.  I am suggesting letting a person feel bad.  Let them bear the weight of the damage of indifference.  Let them experience the brokenness that breaking their word or lies create.  Let them understand the destruction of anger.  Let them suffer the panic of letting go of control.  Let them feel and let them make amends. This is the only way back to a healthy relationship.

The rescuer has many fears in this.  We fear the emotion will last forever.  We fear they will feel so bad that they will run.  We fear they won’t put the effort into changing.  And so, pretending the pieces are back together again is better than requiring the pieces be put back together.  Being seen as a person who holds it together is better than letting it fall apart.    

But here’s the thing… It’s only in the emotion of regret that we come to be ready to change. 

When we stop regret, we stop change and we leave our friend…we leave ourselves…in cycles of destruction.  “If we confess our sins, HE is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” 1 John 1:9.

Feeling Grief and Regret

I think Christians are particularly bad at letting anyone feel grief and regret because we know the end of the story.  We believe that victory is ours.  We believe that our sins are forgiven.  We believe God makes all things good.  But when we rush through to the end, we circumvent the very elements that get us to healing.  It’s as though we should get on a long train of restoration, but we take a teleportation shortcut and we end up in space.

Grief and regret are probably the worst feelings in this life.  Our human nature is to do anything to avoid them.  But these are the very emotions that change the world. A good friend will not try to stop these emotions, but will sit in the emotions with them.  God meets us in the valley of the shadow of death and He restores our soul.  

The Benefits of Unforgiveness

The Benefits of
Photo Credit: Hilary Storm

Forgiving others is a good thing for by it relationships are restored and people are healed.  But forgiving others can also be a hard thing.  In some situations, it can be the hardest thing ever done and in other situations we can get stuck because we just don’t know how to do it.  Forgiving sometimes doesn’t make sense to us.

When a person hangs on so tightly to unforgiveness there is a reason they’re receiving a benefit from it.  

There was a time in my life where I found myself stuck in unforgiveness and I had some great reasons!  In fact, one of the best things I ever did was write down all the reasons I should not have to forgive and I presented it to the Lord.   I was quite pleased with my list and thought I had a pass on forgiving. The Lord very kindly walked me through the list and showed me how I had some misunderstandings about forgiveness.

Unforgiveness Protects from Future Harm

I believed unforgiveness was a benefit to me because it was the only thing protecting me from further hurt. The reality was it was a ten-foot wall built all around me with a ceiling, cutting off all air and slowly suffocating me.

I came to realize that I could forgive and protect myself from further harm. I learned about healthy boundaries, which provided protection so that I could forgive.    

Unforgiveness Protects from Trusting

I came to realize that to forgive someone does not mean that I must trust them.  Some people remain untrustworthy.  It does mean that I want to give them an opportunity to build trust after change has occurred and that I hope they succeed in building trust. (Sometimes that looks like allowing a conversation with three cops present.)  It leaves the responsibility of reconciliation on the person who offended to do the work of change.

Unforgiveness Shouts ‘It Mattered’

I came to realize that to forgive was NOT the same thing as saying, ‘it didn’t matter’.  In fact, I needed to recognize that if something really needed to be forgiven, that was saying that it DID matter.   Christ died for our sins because they matter.  I can forgive and still recognize that the loss mattered.

Forgiveness also needed to cover all the tentacles that the offense created.  A single offense can have reaching impact on finances, relationships with children, extended family, and goals.  It can affect health, travel, schooling, employment and create fear and insecurity.  All these tentacles matter and also need to be forgiven.

Unforgiveness Feels Like Payback

I’m going to be honest here…I felt like payback was righteous and just, but it acted like a boomerang.  Wanting the offender to suffer like I suffered ended up being a consequence on me.  This desire didn’t affect the offender at all.  

Payback does not free an offender from or keep them in bondage. Wanting another person to suffer only enbondages you.  

Unforgiveness Requires a Debt Be Paid

The definition of forgiveness is to cancel an indebtedness and to cease to feel resentment. (dictionary.com)  Now this benefit of not letting go of a debt can be good for the offender.  Sometimes the best thing for an offender to do is to make amends and pay what is owed. It is possible to cease from resentment and allow the offender to experience all consequences they have created.  This is how they grow and change.  When we remove consequences, we stop change.

This becomes a challenge when the wound is gossip, murder, or outbursts of anger.  These seldom have no defined repayment structures.  A simple apology is not enough.  Repayment then becomes a turning away from these destructive habits and altering their behavior.  It’s acknowledging the hurt they have caused and asking for (not expecting) forgiveness, avoiding any excuses.  It also means they accept the consequences of their actions, which means they don’t fight against them and guilt-trip the offended person to get out of the consequences.  Sometimes consequences are life-long.  This is actually good for the offending person to accept.

Freedom from resentment is always possible, but letting go of a debt takes wisdom.  

This is NOT Easy

Just to be clear…there are no 5 easy steps to forgiving.  There are some things that we can forgive in our human effort…a friend forgets to call, a spouse says a hurtful word, etc.  But there are some things, in our own reasoning, wisdom and strength, we will not have the power in ourselves to forgive.  It takes an act of God.  

What Forgiveness Means

Forgiving someone allows you to let go of resentments and you may also need to let go of any debt they owe you: they don’t owe you repayment, they don’t owe you an acknowledgement of how they hurt you, they don’t owe you to change. This is between you and God. What this does is it sets you free from an expectation that may never be fulfilled.  This obviously means forgiveness does not equal a reconciled relationship.

Friends, if you struggle with forgiving someone, I’m sorry.  Your fears matter, your pain matters, and your story matters.  I encourage you to write out why you shouldn’t have to forgive.  Bring your list to the Lord.  Be truthful…even if you theologically know better.  You can write down “I don’t want to” or “they don’t deserve it” or “it’s not fair.”  

It’s very helpful for you to understand the benefits you are getting through unforgiveness so that you can receive these benefits through other means.  

The Lord understands your story and He is kind.  He will give you discernment if canceling the debt is best and wisdom with establishing healthy boundaries.  He will also enable you to trust Him if the debt is not paid and set you free from resentments.  

Responding to Evil

Repentance of the evil and forgiving them does not necessitate the removal of consequences.  

Forgiving
Photo Credit: Hilary Storm

Have you ever been in a relationship with someone that you could not get through to? They just don’t seem to have understand? You try. You explain. You think this is really simple. You try again. They’re actions are hurting themselves and others. You just want what is good for them, but they won’t stop. You try again.   Unfortunately, they want what they want when they want it and nothing will stop them from getting what they want. This is called addiction and it always leads to some form of abuse of themselves and others. They will stop at no lengths and destroy wealth, health and relationships. In essence, evil is winning the day. This could be a relationship of a parent with an addicted child who steals from them, a wife with an abusive husband who hurts her, or even a business partner who sues. Anytime there is a relationship that you truly care for and you don’t want to have simply end there is a tendency to beg and plead in order to make change happen.

In response to these situations some have pointed to Matt. 5:39 as a means of dealing with such evil, which reads, “But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” They state this with the idea that there is nothing we can do but sit and take it. But, are we to just let evil flourish and do nothing? Are there no other options but to be beat up? How is that helpful to anyone involved? As with all Scripture, there can be a variety of applications and we need to look for wisdom so that we don’t apply a single scripture to all situations.

The law in most Eastern cultures at the time was an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Jesus is saying here, “don’t stoop down to their level by doing evil back to them. The law will take care of that. You do good back to them.” It’s important to note that there is a distinction between the government, the church, and the individual. In this context Jesus is speaking to individuals. The government can and should execute just punishment, so that individuals are free to forgive and not execute punishment themselves. The Bible speaks a lot about loving our enemies and doing good to them expecting nothing in return (Luke 6:35). It also talks about resisting the devil so that he flees (James 4:7) and standing firm by taking up the armor of God (Eph. 6). In not resisting evil, it’s not that we don’t do anything. By faith, we war with weapons that are unseen. 1 Peter 3 says, “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.”

The first step in this spiritual war is to not enter into evil myself by acting like my enemy. This means that we don’t retaliate, yell back, or coerce. You already know that when you fight back or defend yourself you don’t get your desired response. They are better at evil and will usually win anyway. Two people doing the wrong thing doesn’t make a bad situation better. In my experience, this is one of the hardest things I have ever done. This takes every bit of trusting in the Lord and spiritual fortitude I can muster. And I haven’t always done this well. To not enter into evil by repaying evil is a great spiritual battle, especially in smaller matters where the law doesn’t preside. So then the question becomes, what does it mean to do good back to them?

The second step is to bless. Sometimes blessing someone is to overlook an offense (1 Cor. 13, Prov. 19:11). Sometimes it is not participating, but exposing evil (Eph. 5:11). It’s also allowing the consequences to happen (2 Thess. 3:10), letting the authorities execute judgment (Rom. 13:1-4). This can come even after tears and talk of sorrow, especially if there is a repetitive nature to the offense. Repentance of the evil and forgiving them does not necessitate the removal of consequences.  In fact, consequences can play an important part of the repentance.  It can actually help the offender, as he willingly accepts the consequences of his actions, to not ever want to participate in the evil ever again!   These things take wisdom and discernment. You can resist evil with hatred in your heart and become just like them (Matt. 5:39). Or you can overcome evil with goodwill in your heart toward them by allowing them to bear the natural consequences of their actions. This is what is good for them as well as everyone else (Eph. 5:11, 1 Peter 3:17). There are a variety of responses we can have, including we simply don’t participate in what they are doing, leave the room or home, cut up bank cards, widen the circle of those who know about what is really going on, break relationship with them, call the police, or press charges.

I submit that allowing a person to bear the consequences of their actions can be doing good for them. Matt. 5:39 has more to do with heart intent than a specific action. As Leslie Vernick says, “we are never called to suffer to allow evil to flourish. We are sometimes called to suffer in order to stop evil (1 Peter 3:17).” It is in these times that we don’t want to act like the evildoer by returning evil. We are called to bless them and that can happen through a variety of options.