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Articles from August 2013

August 30, 2013

When Your Spouse is Depressed

I received two great suggestions for blog posts in the past 24 hours. Let's start with how to handle chronic depression in a spouse. I just saw stats yesterday saying depressed people end up divorced in even greater percentages than those with narcissistic personality disorder. It has to be pretty difficult to be married to someone suffering from depression.

Here was the request:

I can't thank you enough for your website. Your archives have been my nightly companion for several weeks now. You are spreading good in the world.

I found one post about depression, but I wonder about assuming love vs. the effects of a parent's clinical depression on children. My husband works a crazy work schedule. He is either at work, sleeping, or watching Tv most of the time. He is clinically depressed and has difficulty socializing. He doesnt have much to give emotionally to any of us. Most days he's pretty flat, or else critical. We have 2 school age daughters and raising them feels like a solo journey most days. In many ways I function as a single mom, though I know I can't compare it to truly being single. In any event, i worry that they are basically being taught how to be depressed and I fear the model of marriage (dad never around or in bed) they are seeing is unhealthy. Both my husbands parents are depressed, so the girls already have the genetic predisposition. They don't need a depressing environment too. I try hard to model happiness and to be the emotional stability in their lives, but I feel so worn out. Its not a good thing for them to be witnessing. Help me apply your principles to this challenge!! Could you do a post about assuming love through mental illness please?

Please only use my first name if you need to. Thanks for being a calming beacon in the night...

Let's omit the name altogether. First, can she Assume Love when dealing with his depression-driven behaviors? Of course. Here is what it means to Assume Love. Your spouse does something that upsets you. Your wonderfully self-protective brain automatically focuses on the threats around you, including the threat of your children suffering from depression and every little thing your husband has neglected because of his brain-induced shortage of energy or hope. He looks pretty awful.

So you Assume Love. You ask yourself, "What could make a man who loves me dearly do what just upset me? What other explanation is there for this behavior that does not put me and the kids in danger?" Just this question frees you to recall things you won't recall while in that automatic response. That's when you recognize that perhaps he had to prioritize earning the money to keep the kids fed vs. staying awake to do things with them. Or that he might recognize his mood is contagious and think he's doing them a favor not sharing it. Or that he might love that you're planning a vacation but be prevented by his depression from hoping it will go well.

You don't have to sweep anything bad under the rug. But before you act on your initial response of sadness or anger or anxiety, you just stop the frantic threat assessment (this man did promise to love you and hasn't done anything harmful over many years, after all, but your threat assessor treats all threats alike) by checking whether there might be a better explanation than the one that upset you.

And you might want to Expect Love, too. If your expectations of what a husband does don't fit with the illness he must deal with because of his genetic inheritance, they are going to make you feel very cheated. But if you receive the love he's able to offer with open arms, you may find you get even more of it than you expected. It will just be very different. When my husband died and I recognized all he had been doing instead of what I has been expecting, it felt like I had been using a rain gauge with a cover over it that had just a few pinholes to let the rain in. In one terrible moment, I suddenly saw all the rain that had run off onto the ground and realized I had a false measure of how much he had cared.

When I began working for Dr. Martin Seligman, I learned my technique of Assuming Love is actually a version of what he and other cognitive psychologists call self-disputing, one attuned specifically to situations involving a spouse. Self-disputing is one of the biggest tools in their arsenal to prevent depression. He grew up with a badly depressed father (the sort who sleeps instead of going to work), so his early research was all about preventing depression and anxiety. (These days, he's known as the Father of Positive Psychology.)

He wrote a bestselling book you definitely need to read: Learned Optimism. It's the antidote to learned helplessness. Then he and some of his grad students decided to trying applying these concepts to children. They chose middle-school kids in the U.S. and China who were at high risk for depression: kids who had lost a sibling to gang violence, who had a fatally ill parent, kids in awful circumstances. And they taught half of them self-disputing and several other tools and watched them into high school. They cut the number who became depressed by something like 60%. And they wrote a book about it: The Optimistic Child.

One of his students and a co-author of that book, Karen Reivich, went on to be a psychology professor, too. She's the brains behind FishfulThinking.com, which has grown into GoldfishSmiles.com. I mention the earlier site, because Karen has a companion site for that portion at nasponline.org/families/fishful. Both are magnificent resources for helping inoculate your kids against depression.

A lot of us fall into the trap of thinking we're doing so much of the parenting that we might as well be single parents. Having been there and become a single parent, let me tell you they are not the same. You lose whatever your spouse has been doing (even if it's just staying in the car with them so you can run an errand quickly) or giving them a ride to karate lessons. You lose a lot of time with them, because you must earn money and the amount you need increases as they get older. And you are suddenly dealing not with the kids you have today but kids who have been through a traumatic event.

My first husband was badly depressed before his death. His therapist thought this was a natural consequence of being ill. (I no longer agree.) He offered me no hope the depression would go away. But my husband's depression overshadowed my own, which was less severe. You might find everything easier to deal with if you read Learned Optimism and start using the tools in there yourself. If you prefer, Karen Reivich later co-wrote a book, The Resilience Factor that offers more of the how-to (after the team had experimented with more tools) and fewer of the research results.

Since fathering the field of Positive Psychology, Marty Seligman has written two great books on how to get well beyond just undepressed. They are Authentic Happiness and Flourish. You will find lots more in there to teach your daughters.

But start with The Optimistic Child. There is no research yet on the impact of optimistic children on depressed parents, but there is one bit of really great anecdotal evidence that your daughters just might help your husband. Marty Seligman was gardening when his five-year-old daughter noticed his mood and ask him why, if she had been able to use his tools to stop whining from her fifth birthday, he couldn't stop being a grouch. He marks that moment in 1995 as the beginning of the Positive Psychology movement.

And for your own relationship with him, start thinking about Third Alternatives. Working so hard obviously does not bring him pleasure. What could you change in your lives that would relieve him of the need to work so hard and give you more of what you really want, instead of what the money he earns is buying to compensate for what you're not getting?

August 28, 2013

Why Be Married? For the Creative Boost

Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while probably know I am totally wowed by Rachel Cornell, also known as the ProNagger. Her "nagging" and her tips, tools, and online support communities keep me on track with both my day job and my marriage writing. I can't thank her enough.

You may not know Rachel is married to a very accomplished painter, Matthew Cornell. His paintings can be found at Arcadia Fine Arts in NY and at Quidley & Co. in Boston and Nantucket. You should know this, maybe even take a peak at some of those marvelous paintings, before you read what follows.

Matthew's father, Donald, posted something yesterday on Rachel's Daily Nag Facebook page that brought tears to my eyes and yet another amazing answer to the question Why Be Married? I have been granted permission to share it with you.

For someone who was not given a perfect body you are the most uplifting, positive person I've ever known. You have helped Matthew in so many ways. He has talent to be sure, but he also has someone behind the scenes that won't let him not to believe in himself. Those who toil in the creative fields must have enormous confidence and passion for their work. Its different than those who draw a paycheck from the state. Matthew is only as good as his last painting. But he has you whispering in his ear these words we all love to hear....you can do it....you're the best....its fantastic. I love you Rachel....the day you and Matthew met was a blessed day and together I hope you can share a wonderful life. God bless you both.

Why be married? For the creative boost...and for the love of the people who love your spouse.

August 15, 2013

Why Your Husband Wants to Leave You

Usually, I write for people becoming distressed over their marriage. Recently, though, I have had an unusual number of comments from folks blindsided by a spouse who wants out. In this post and the one before it, I tackle the question of how to avoid being blindsided.

About twice as many divorces are initiated by wives as by husbands, but even men sometimes say, "I love you, but I am no longer 'in love' with you." If it happens to you, your marriage is not over yet, but it could be soon.

Here's a checklist of causes:

He's afraid of you. You've become a bully. You might hurt him or make him feel like dirt at any moment, usually while you're drinking, doing drugs, or crazy angry. [Solution: rehab, therapy, anger management classes, or Dr. Stosny's Boot Camp]

He has unmet needs he expects you to meet and you're giving them and him the cold shoulder. [Solution: invite discussion of those needs, show you care about them, and help him find Third Alternative ways to get them met that don't conflict with your needs or call for abilities you don't possess]

He's full of resentment over something you did or didn't do in the past. [Solution: tell him your relationship matters a lot to you and ask him what you can do now to get that relationship back on track]

Yes, these first three probably sound very familiar if your read the post about wives who leave. Some issues transcend gender.

He's full of resentment over getting belittled for some small overlooked chore. [Solution: treat your man with respect, even when you feel he's left you in the role of the responsible one; he's no child]

He longs to feel respected but feels taken for granted. [Solution: even though he's probably cut off all romantic gestures, try treating him with the respect and trust you showed initially to win his heart and watch them return]

Physical touch is his Love Language, not yours, and you avoid any physical contact because you want no sex when you're upset with him. [Read Gary Chapman's The Five Love Languages and get to know this language and what harm you're doing]

You broke your wedding vows and cheated on him, even a little, risking his self-esteem, physical health, obligations as a nominal parent if you get pregnant, and ability to trust your words or integrity. [Prepare for a long road back if he'll have you, and go read DearPeggy.com for starters]

You're putting up with disrespect or excessive dependency from your kids, whether he's their parent or step-parent. [Solution: look for Third Alternative solutions to your differences about how to raise them or how they should behave around you]

You're so busy being a good provider, mom, housekeeper, volunteer, or lost soul that you two no longer experience the emotion of love several times a day, that delicious bonus emotion felt in your chest when the two of you resonate with a shared experience of joy, amusement, awe, comfort, elevation, or better. [Solution: make time for it, be present for it, look into his eyes, smile, keep him at the top of your list and resentment-free, and do something enjoyable for a few minutes several times a day]

Anger and resentment, often over a loss of trust and respect, are the culprits in most of these. If they lead to withdrawal, don't mistake this for an improvement. Deal with them head-on and you can find your way back to "in-love" with almost any husband who loves you.

August 9, 2013

Why Your Wife Wants to Leave You

Usually, I write for people becoming distressed over their marriage. Recently, though, I have had an unusual number of comments from folks blindsided by a spouse who wants out. In this post and the one to follow, I tackle the question of how to avoid being blindsided.

If your wife is saying, "I love you, but I am no longer 'in love' with you," your marriage is not over yet, but it could be soon.

Here's a checklist of causes:

She's afraid of you. You've become a bully. You might hurt her or make her feel like dirt at any moment, usually while you're drinking, doing drugs, or crazy angry. [Solution: rehab, therapy, anger management classes, or Dr. Stosny's Boot Camp]

She has unmet needs she expects you to meet and you're giving them and her the cold shoulder. [Solution: invite discussion of those needs, show you care about them, and help her find Third Alternative ways to get them met that don't conflict with your needs or call for abilities you don't possess]

She's full of resentment over something you did or didn't do in the past. [Solution: tell her your relationship matters a lot to you and ask her what you can do now to get that relationship back on track]

She's full of resentment over getting stuck with what feels like a lot more than half the work. [Solution: look together for Third Alternative solutions to reducing the work needed or the amount you can do]

She longs to feel cherished but she feels taken for granted. [Solution: even though she's probably treating you with disrespect and a lack of trust, try doing some of the things you did initially to win her heart and watch how fast that changes]

You speak only one Love Language and she's grown really tired of translating it into her language. [Read Gary Chapman's The Five Love Languages and master a second language]

You broke your wedding vows and cheated on her, even a little, risking her self-esteem, body image, physical health, financial and emotional security, and ability to trust your words or integrity. [Prepare for a long road back if she'll have you, and go read DearPeggy.com for starters]

You're messing with "her" babies, whether you're their parent or step-parent. [Solution: look for Third Alternative solutions to your differences about how to raise them or how they should behave around you]

You're so busy being a good provider or a good dad or a lost soul that you two no longer experience the emotion of love several times a day, that delicious bonus emotion felt in your chest when the two of you resonate with a shared experience of joy, amusement, awe, comfort, elevation, or better. [Solution: make time for it, be present for it, look into her eyes, smile, keep her safe and resentment-free, and do something enjoyable for a few minutes several times a day]

Anger and resentment are the culprits in most of these. If they lead to withdrawal, don't mistake this for an improvement. Deal with them head-on and you can find your way back to "in-love" with almost any wife who loves you.

August 4, 2013

What is the Perfect Environment for your Marriage?

Have you ever thought about the perfect environment for your marriage?

Would it be one with or without snow? With or without hot, hazy, humid days? With or without a lot of rain and drizzle? Does weather lead to fights or resentments for the two of you? Or does it encourage you to cuddle up inside?

Would your marriage flourish if you lived in a place where you open the front door and walk comfortably and safely, whether to cool off before continuing discussion or to have some together time with exercise?

Would your ideal kitchen be one where one of you can comfortably sit and chat while the other prepares a meal? Where you can work side-by-side? Or one small enough to guarantee you've got it all to yourself when you're cooking?

Is your ideal living room one with room for two guests? Six? Sixty two? Would it have a piano? A karaoke machine? A large, HD television for sports?

How about your dining room or kitchen table. Does it feel great to sit at opposite ends and preside over the family or the meal from two sides? Or would you feel closer seated next to each other?

Is it near a swim club? A tennis court? Horse trails? A certain type of dance club or eatery? Old friends? New friends? Maybe a cherished relative or two?

Is your ideal bedroom soundproofed? Locked? Decorated for romance or for relaxation?

What sort of home would help keep you from drifting apart, getting bored, or fighting over your differences? What can you do today to make yours just a bit more wonderful?

The Author

Patty Newbold is a widow who got it right the second time...

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