How many times have I seen it? Too may times to count. Man takes woman, woman takes man; man or woman becomes seriously depressed (ill – not just sad or lazy), and man or woman thinks, “If I wasn’t married to HIM or to HER, I wouldn’t be depressed!”
Soon one partner may feel that divorce is the only option, and refusing to listen to her/his spouse or to the voice of reason, the depressed spouse defines all the problems and issues in his or her marriage as stemming from his/her mate’s pathological attitude or behavior. And once the ball start rolling toward separation and divorce, it isn’t easy to stop it. Like the giant boulder in Indian Jones, we often find this an impossibly difficult task. A 100-ton boulder rolling downhill and aimed at you is not only anxiety provoking, it is truly something you won’t be able to stop on your own.
Many of the couples that walk into my office, for one last-ditch effort to save a dying marriage, have already given up. Or… at least one of them has. And once one party has made up his or her mind, it is pretty difficult to convince them that they are wrong or even to believe there is still hope.
Sometimes a brief separation can be a good thing, although I rarely recommend it. When couples are experiencing lots of emotional trauma and/or discord in their marriages, living separately will almost always feel better at first – like a quiet respite from the conflict. This kind of reduction in conflict during a brief separation, does NOT signal that progress has been made!
We must stop defining our mate as “the problem” and wake up to our own problems and idioscyracies that are contributing to marital strain or conflict.
When we are honest, we eventually discover that our preconceived ideas about who is wrong (my spouse) and who is right (me) are very distorted. After all, if both parties are pointing the finger at each other and refusing to admit guilt or responsibility for problems at home, they can’t both be right. The sooner each spouse stops pointing the finger and trying to change their mate, the sooner effective marital counseling and positive change begins.
Unfortunately, in cases involving depression, this tends to be very difficult. If one spouse is constantly dropping the ball, low on energy, unable or unwilling to do anything difficulty, and moody, the other spouse often takes it upon himself to fix their depressed lover. And depression is such a strong mental and physical malaise, that even when the non-depressed (more highly functional) spouse tries to be understanding and caring, the depressed spouse will no doubt misinterpret this act of caring for something he doesn’t want. Then the care-giving spouse begins to burn out or at least feel unnecessary and/or unappreciated.
“Marriage – depression – divorce” need not be the norm (although in our America culture it is). An alternative, less distorted, view of our depressed spouse and distressed marriage is: We are all messed up individuals who sin numerous times and fail every day. And while it is unhealthy to focus on self-deprecating feelings too much (especially if you tend to be depressed already), in order to have a healthy marriage, it is important to say words like: “I’m sorry. Please forgive me.” – “I love you, and I’m glad I married you.“ – ” You are God’s perfect gift to me, and I love you!”