A while back, a reader asked if I would blog more about my experience with depression in marriage. Since then, the topic hasn’t been far from my mind. Finally, after nine months, I have some thoughts to share.
My husband and I have known each other for about 16 years, and in August we will celebrate 9 years of marriage. Hubby and I have always gotten along very well. We are quite comfortable with each other. Touch being my primary love language, we are frequently and openly affectionate. We touch as we pass each other in the kitchen, as we ride together in the car, as we say goodbye in the morning and hello in the evening. His touch has become so familiar to me, it’s nearly as familiar as my own. Disagreements between us are rare; yelling and snipping almost non-existent.
We both entered marriage with our own unique baggage. Personally, I was counting on marriage to fulfill my unmet childhood need for acceptance and to free me from a contentious, high-pressure environment. What no one told me is that when survival mode ends, latent trauma rises to the surface. And you’re still stuck in old, dysfunctional survival patterns. And life still has current hardships to deal with.
And when you’re already badly wounded, normal losses and disappointments cut three times deeper.
For example, there was an incident involving hubby a few months ago that affected me badly. While the incident was very triggering and shouldn’t have happened, my reaction to it was magnified by my history of abuse and deep grief over a recent loss in my life. Although hubby and I have talked through my feelings a few times now, recovery has been slow. This incident, the grief, demands at home and difficulties at work have caused my anxiety to spike so high that I’m daily exhausted, unable to concentrate, and in physical pain.
It’s maddening, because no matter how much I desire or attempt to rest, my body is stuck in a flight-or-fight response.
My normal constitution is challenging enough. I’m very sensitive to noise and activity, and can get easily overwrought when my six-year-old is leaping about indoors or questioning me incessantly. I’m also highly sensitive to changes in my environment. For example, I almost NEVER rearrange furniture; a new layout can put me on edge for days. I’m deeply impacted when coworkers resign or change offices, or when new people come on board at my job. When I was a child, I kept a collection of knick-knacks on my dresser and could tell when any of them had been moved by so much as half an inch. As a result, I tend to know where all of possessions are at any time. If ever I can’t find something, I go nuts. If the house is too cluttered, I can’t relax.
My sensitivity is only increasing with age. Some people have been described as a stick in the mud. I’m a tire iron in concrete.
Hubby is great because he balances me out. He prefers cold logic to emotion, which is exactly what I need sometimes. But the drawback is that he struggles to grasp my very deep feelings and complicated reactions. This means we often end up on different planes of understanding. In those moments, I feel like we aren’t connecting and get depressed. He responds by getting frustrated.
And he’s not perfect, either. He’s got his own quirks and struggles that add another five layers of complexity to our relationship. Some days, I really have to cling to the fact that we love each other very much to make it through.
I know he does the same.
I saw a guy on Twitter the other day talking about the reality of marriage, and he confessed that he’s often terrified by the thought that his wife will someday declare she’s tired of dealing with him and will leave. Honestly, I’m plagued by that same terror—from both sides. When I started therapy over two years ago, hubby came to one of my appointments and said he felt blindsided by the depth of my trauma. He phrased it as, “I didn’t know you were this screwed up.”
The thing is, I didn’t know, either.
And there have been times when he’s been thoughtless, or the depression has been particularly dark, or we’ve struggled to connect that I’ve thought, “I don’t know if I can do this another 20 years.” It feels outright daunting sometimes. Dealing with my stuff is hard enough. Dealing with my stuff, his stuff, and raising two active boys? Whew.
It’s hard because depression and anxiety cloud the mind, affect perception. He says, “I still love you,” and I think, “For how much longer?” He says, “I’m committed,” and I think, “He’s trapped and miserable.” He says, “You drive me crazy sometimes,” and I think, “He only tolerates me.”
So what do you do? You breathe. You ask for help. You lean on people. You remind yourself why you married this person. You reach for his hand. You have another conversation—an honest but gentle one. You take one day at a time, one hour at a time, one second at a time. You weep. You embrace. You forgive. You discover what you need and ask for it.
But the best advice I could possibly give is just have fun. Have fun with your spouse. Watch TV together. Laugh. Go on dates. Eat ice cream for dinner. Touch each other a lot. That’s what companionship is all about—enjoying the other person.
The root of enjoy is joy. You can have all the love, loyalty and affection in the world, but a joyless marriage is pure misery.
And you have to be intentional about pursuing that joy. It doesn’t happen by itself. The busyness of life naturally crowds it out. And it’s going to be a struggle because connecting and pursuing joy require physical and emotional energy, which mental illness can drain away like a faucet.
But assuming both of you love each other and want to make it work, know this: Marriage is going to hurt sometimes. You’re going to make mistakes that cut each other deeply. You’re going to have a lot of days when you don’t think you’re in love anymore. Lean into it anyway. Be patient with each other. Acknowledge your limitations. Rest. Get professional help. Keep trying. Forgive often. Find your joy. Know that you’re not alone.
The pain should be temporary.