Depressed wife, Unhappy husband

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

Q: From Puerto Rico: My wife has been Dx’d with major depression. Over our 22 years of marriage, she’s been hospitalized 4 times for this same condition. I have – when she allowed it – attended a few psychotherapy sessions with her as a couple. (I remember during one the sessions that the therapist said that she was suffering from an existential crisis, and that she needed medication “at least for life.” Well, her crisis has not subsided while she has been treated with just about all the medication there is for depression and anxiety (Zoloft, Lexapro, Cymbalta; you name it). Honestly, nothing (even psychotherapy) seems to work. Every time she undergoes one of these episodes (which ends up in the hospital) she tells me that although I’m a good husband and father she does not love me and asks me to leave our home. I have left her a couple of times, but she always wants me around. I even asked her for divorce, but she refuses on the basis that she’s mentally ill and can not make that decision. When we are back together, everything seems OK until the next episode.
I love my wife, we have two beautiful daughters, but I honestly feel that I am being manipulated by her. What should I do?

A: Although there are many ways to do therapeutic work, I am surprised that a therapist termed your wife’s illness as an existential crisis. Your wife is not musing about big philosophical questions. She’s ill. You are probably not being manipulated by her. You are both being “manipulated” by her recurrent depression.

I’m not sure what you are asking me. I don’t know what you want to do, much less what you should. It seems that between episodes you have a loving wife and a nice family. But when your wife is in the grip of her despair, she doesn’t feel worthy of you. My guess is that when she talks about not loving you, what she really means is that she doesn’t feel that she is worth your love. Only you can decide if the times between depressive episodes are sweet enough to be worth seeing her through those bad times.

The treatment of choice for depression is a combination of medication and talk therapy. If she is still seeing the philosopher, I do suggest a second opinion. Many people who struggle with depression respond well to cognitive-behavioral therapy. You might also find it helpful to take a look at the book, “Feeling Good” by Dr. David D. Burns. Dr. Burns’ website is feelinggood.com

I wish you and your family well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 24 May 2008

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2008). Depressed wife, Unhappy husband. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 16, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2008/05/24/depressed-wife-unhappy-husband/