Ever since my wife lost her job she has become depressed and socially isolated.
I encouraged her to go out and make new friends but she wouldn’t, so I gave up. Now she has become obsessed that I might be having an affair (I’m not) and questions me exhaustively — sometimes becoming very upset — every time I come home from work.
I find it exhausting and can’t cope with her jealousy any longer. What can I do to get back the woman I married?
I know that you mean well, but telling a woman who is sitting at the bottom of a very dark and lonely emotional hole that she should “go out and make new friends” is like telling a bereaved young mother that she can have another child.
It may be technically correct, but it completely ignores her feelings of pain, loss and vulnerability. While I appreciate that it is not easy to live with someone who is depressed, your wife needs support, not a set of instructions.
Making new friends can be difficult when you are in rude health, so try to imagine how intimidating that challenge can be to someone who feels as redundant as your wife does.
Unemployment is a well-known trigger for depression and research has established that losing your job also increases the chance of losing your relationship. Because depression tends to make people withdrawn and lethargic, it puts pressure on the functioning partner, who is forced to take responsibility for paying the bills, cleaning the house, making social arrangements, calling the repair man or minding the children. Inevitably, that domestic imbalance builds resentment.
In simple terms, depression creates distress, and distress makes people depressed. It is a vicious circle, which is very difficult to break, and married couples who are dealing with depression are nine times more likely to divorce.
I know that it must be infuriating to live with relentless pessimism and paranoia, but you need to keep reminding yourself that your wife’s jealousy is an expression of her fear and insecurity. She has lost her job, her social network and her self-worth, and now she is afraid that she will lose you. Every time you leave the house to go to work she is reminded of her own redundancy, and with no one to talk to, she has all the time in the world to brood about the great relationships you have with your office colleagues and the terrible relationship you have with her.
Rather than trying to convince her that things will get better if she simply “makes more of an effort”, you need to accept that she is suffering from an illness, and encourage her to seek help. Cognitive behavioural therapy in combination with antidepressants is a fast and effective treatment for depression, but there are also lots of online services, such as Moodscope and Beating the Blues, that she could access at home.
You don’t mention your sex life, which is unsurprising. Depressed people rarely feel like having sex. Nor do angry people, and it is quite clear that you are at the end of your tether. In the space of a few sentences you say that you find your wife “exhausting”, that you “can’t cope” with her jealousy and that you “gave up” encouraging her to make new friends. If you can’t contain your irritation in a short letter, I doubt that you can face to face.
Living with a depressed person increases your own chances of becoming depressed, so I think you need to talk to a counsellor. Offloading your frustration will help you to be a little more affectionate with your wife. Research shows that people who are in caring, supportive relationships recover from illness and trauma more quickly, so focus on ways to cheer her up by injecting some humour into your lives. Walk, swim, cycle, cook, learn to tap dance or blow glass. It doesn’t really matter what you do as long as you have fun together.
You may not get back to full sex for a while, but in the meantime, touching, holding hands, cuddling or kissing will keep you physically connected and remind your wife that you love her, that you don’t think she is a “nuisance” and that you want back the woman you married. Be strong.