“It often seems that I could fill a practice with cases of falling out of love, so common is the complaint,” writes bestselling author and renowned psychiatrist Peter D. Kramer in his book, “Should You Leave?” He chronicles dozens of cases based on the stories of his patients and arrives at this little mantra: “Depression causes divorce as often as divorce cases depression.”
His insight into the relationship between mood disorders and marriage is fascinating for a person like myself who recognizes the deterioration of marriage in so many surrounding couples, often due to an undiagnosed mood disorder.
Blogger John Folk-Williams at Storied Mind offers a poignant description, a painfully real assessment of what goes through a depressed person’s mind as he or she is contemplating leaving. In his post, “The Longing to Leave,” he writes:
I spent many years feeling deeply unsettled and unhappy in ways I could not understand. Flaring up in anger at my wife and three great young boys became a common occurrence. I’d carry around resentments about being held back and unsatisfied with my life, fantasizing about other places, other women, other lives I could and should be leading. My usual mode was to bottle up my deepest feelings, making it all the more likely that when they surfaced it would be in weird and destructive ways. I’d seethe with barely suppressed anger, lash out in rage and, of course, deny angrily that anything was wrong when confronted by my wife.
I was often on the verge of bolting, but there were two threads of awareness I could hold onto that restrained me invisibly. One was the inner sense that until I faced and dealt with whatever was boiling around inside me I would only transplant that misery to a new place, a new life, a new lover. However exciting I might imagine it would be to walk into that new world, I knew in my heart that it would only be a matter of time before the same problems re-emerged.
The other was a question I kept asking myself – What is it that I am leaving for? What was this great future and life that I would be stepping into? Could I even see it clearly? More often than not, the fantasy portrayed a level of excitement I was missing.
Stories like that fill Kramer’s book, presenting different circumstances but a common issue: faulty brain wiring messing up relationships and proper perspectives shrinking with the hippocampus part of the limbic system (involved in depression). He addresses the reader as if she has come to his office asking whether she should leave her spouse. His response is uniform: “Given that you are asking whether or not you should leave, there is a much better than fifty-fifty chance that you or your partner is depressed.”
The Brown professor is disturbed by the number of marriages that unravel because of an unrecognized mood disorder. He writes:
Many studies indicate that divorce results in depression. My belief is that, at least as often, undiagnosed depression antedates and causes divorce. When a patient discovers all sorts of faults in a spouse or lover, or when long-standing complaints suddenly become urgent, I find it useful to consider mood disorder as a possible explanation. Even minor mood disorders can result in a deep sense of dissatisfaction with relationships. …My working hypothesis is that every complaint will look different once the depressed … spouse can again feel pleasure.
It is my hope that public voices like those of Kramer and Folk-Williams will prompt couples to pause when one or both get the longing to leave, and to ask themselves what is true discontentment and what is depression. I’m with Kramer.
Too often, it’s not your marriage. It’s your depression.
Published originally on “Sanity Break” at Everyday Health.
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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 2 Jul 2013
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Borchard, T. (2013). Is It Your Marriage or Your Depression?. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 11, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2013/07/03/is-it-your-marriage-or-your-depression/