Henry W., a 44-year-old advertisement company executive, had been married for 17 years before his wife demanded a divorce based on “irreconcilable differences.” Henry and his wife, Mary, had been perceived as a “model” couple. Both were attractive, intelligent, and ambitious, with successful careers.
Mary was four years younger than Henry, and had a successful catering business. During the 17 years of their marriage, each was deeply engaged in the development of their demanding careers.
As both became more successful, time together became less and less available. Both realized this and attributed the change to the cost of “reaching the top” in their respective fields of work.
Mary became increasingly sensitive to the time demands on the marriage and attempted to reduce her work hours. Although she encouraged Henry to do the same, he felt he could not do so, given the immense pressure from his job. The marriage became progressively more dysfunctional. Mary noted that Henry had become more irritable and reclusive.
Despite several attempts to salvage the relationship, Mary felt she was at an impasse after three years of struggling, and left the marriage. Henry was devastated by this loss but felt helpless about attempting a reconciliation.
Co-workers also noted Henry’s irritability and moodiness. He had begun to be noticeably thin – losing 15 pounds over four months. Henry felt perpetually fatigued, even though he was still able to complete his work with no deficiencies. He no longer exercised at the gym and even stopped going to his weekly basketball game with friends.
Despite repeated invitations to social outings with friends, Henry attended none of these, preferring instead to sleep or stay late at work alone. Previously fastidiously neat, he now seemed to care little about how he looked and often appeared unshaven and in wrinkled clothing.
He began to call in sick to work and began to fall behind in his duties. When questioned about his well being, Henry would become defensive and angry.
Eight months after the divorce, Henry’s best friend encouraged him to contact the company’s Employee Assistance Program. He was referred to a psychiatrist after an evaluation. He was placed on an antidepressant and participated in supportive therapy.
After three weeks, Henry noted that his sleep had improved, as did his appetite. Although he was still depressed, he no longer felt the overwhelming weariness.
Gradually, his irritability subsided and he found himself better able to concentrate at work. Over the next several months, he began to explore his anger and regret about the divorce, as well as his sense of failure.
After two months on the medication, Henry began to feel more like himself again and gradually began to resume his previous activities and interests. After four months in individual psychotherapy, Henry joined a support group for divorced persons.
Henry continued to be symptom free on the antidepressants. After 12 months without any depressive symptoms, the medication was gradually stopped. Although Henry still regrets the loss of his wife and marriage, he is able to go forward with his life.